Several recent stealth-based games have put you in the role of a top-secret, high-tech operative armed with night-vision goggles and a sniper rifle. However, as fans of the Thief franchise know, Looking Glass' series was among the first modern games to emphasize stealth action. In the series, you played as a footpad, named Garrett, who had to make do with a bow and arrow, a blackjack, and his own wits. Fortunately for both Garrett and fans of Thief, he was--and continues to be--an extraordinarily talented thief who has pulled off (and continues to pull off) incredibly daring heists so that he can finally retire. We've finally had the opportunity to get our hands dirty with an early PC version of the next game in the series, called Thief: Deadly Shadows.
The game starts out with an introductory level, complete with objectives read by Garrett in full speech. The tutorial walks you through the basics of the game and explains how crouching makes you move more slowly but more quietly, and it reveals how walking on different surfaces (such as cobblestone, soft carpet, high grass, and so on) makes a different amount of noise. The tutorial also shows you how to avoid detection by sticking to the shadows, and it fills you in on how the game's dynamic lighting engine allows for flickering torches and realistic shadows, which can provide very clear paths for you to sneak along--at least in the easier missions.
You can assess your situation at the beginning of every mission by checking Garrett's objectives, briefings, and equipment. You start the game with only a blackjack (for clubbing guards from behind), dagger (for when clubbing just isn't enough), and a bow (with its cache of water arrows). Though the game has an interchangeable first- and third-person perspective, you don't have an artificial-targeting reticle present when Garrett nocks an arrow; instead, his bow has a small, built-in sight on it. It's easy enough to use water arrows to clean the spilled blood from a fallen guard or to quench a torch just down the hall, but pulling off riskier moves, like killing the lights on the other side of a wide courtyard, require you to skillfully aim your shot in an arc.
Fortunately, you aren't limited to just water arrows, since you can later pick up other items, like broadhead arrows (the kind that tend to kill guards when shot through their necks), noisemaker arrows (which make for great distractions), and fire arrows (which can set enemies ablaze and light torches, when necessary). But, for the most part, the shadows and Garrett's other toys are his best friends. You can also carry flash bombs that can be used to blind guards while you run for the exit, as well as gas grenades that can put enemies to sleep, as well as explosive traps that can put guards to sleep forever. When you do put a guard on ice, you can pick up the corpse and slowly make your way with it to a dark corner to dump it out of sight. (Otherwise you risk detection by other guards.)
In one of the game's early missions, you must infiltrate a huge manor house by either neutralizing the guard at the front gate or by sneaking around to a side entrance and quietly climbing in through a window. Thief: Deadly Shadows will attempt to give you multiple paths to complete your objectives in all of its levels. Taking out the guard at the gate is a much riskier prospect, but it provides a much easier point of entry once inside, while climbing through the window leaves you right next to a heavily patrolled hallway. It seems that the manor house is home to a very large and very valuable gem, and it's one that Garrett feels would be safer with him than with its current owner. To accomplish this goal, you need to make your way to the owner's master bedroom to disable a security system in the basement, where the gem is housed. In the meantime, you must also pick up as much loose loot as possible. The game's adjustable difficulty settings let you determine exactly how much loot you must recover to successfully complete a mission. Additionally, you can also pick up environmental objects, like boxes, to clear your own path in the game. If you're not careful, however, you can end up interacting with your environment in unfavorable ways, like accidentally knocking a sword off of an armory shelf, which causes the weapon to fall to the ground with an alarming clatter.
Thief: Deadly Shadows' control scheme on the PC seems intuitive enough. It uses a first-person-shooter-style, WASD-movement setup, which lets you left-click to attack and right-click to use a nearby item (or pick up a nearby corpse or trinket). Garrett can also flatten himself against walls and can peer around the sides of them too. In fact, it seems useful to periodically switch between the game's first- and third-person perspectives. You get a better shot with an arrow from a first-person view, and you can more easily peer around a corner from a third-person perspective. The game's graphics, particularly the game's lighting effects and Garrett's own highly detailed character model, look impressive. Moreover, the game seems to handle well on a high-end PC with a 2.4GHz processor, 512MB RAM, and a GeForceFX 5950 video card.
Thief: Deadly Shadows appears to be coming along well, and if the game can deliver on its promise to present both challenging stealth-based gameplay and multiple ways for completing each level, it could be the best Thief game yet. The game is scheduled to ship later this year.