The fourth Thief game introduces some new gameplay mechanics, but also takes some proven mechanics away.

User Rating: 7 | Thief: Deadly Shadows PC

Having popularized the stealth-sneaker genre, the Thief franchise, at the time of this game, faced competition from the likes of Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell, as well as other games that had adopted the mechanics that the franchise has proven to be fun and functional. Thief: Deadly Shadows attempts to offer gameplay elements that are new to the franchise to keep the experience fresh for fans, but it also takes away some reliable mechanics in the previous games.

Thief: Deadly Shadows appears to bring an end to the saga of the titular thief, Garrett, who has been identified as an important player in a prophesy involving the end of what is the Thief universe's take on wizardry. The setting is still the vast unnamed City, which is still awash with corruption, superstition, intrigues, fanaticism and the only thing that Garrett cares about, wealth.

However, the third Thief game makes much better use of its setting than the previous games, which had the player engaging in mission after mission, restricting the player to a specific map for each mission and default load-outs of equipment. In the third game, the game uses sandbox elements that allow players to gather loot and sell them in order to prepare for actual missions, which still restrict the player to specific maps.

This does reduce the challenge of the game by removing the need to conserve as much equipment as possible for the next mission, but for those who had been frustrated by this need, this change would have been plenty convenient: the sandbox world of the City has many homes, warehouses, temples and other places that can be broken into and cleaned out, as well as many NPCs in the streets that can be robbed of their belongings.

There are also other incentives to go about the City, such as seemingly persistent NPCs that would remark on the development of the plot and any major events that had transpired as the story progresses. If not these, then NPCs would have amusing conversations, such as any thoughts that they have given to life outside the city and remarks on the state of crime in the city. This is nothing new in video games of course, for they have already been done in games like the Grand Theft Auto franchise, but it is certainly an improvement over the NPC dialogue in the previous games, which was sparse and repetitive.

Like the previous games, the player takes control of Garrett. In addition to the first-person camera that was prevalent to the series, there is a third-person camera that the player can switch to if he/she prefers it. In fact, players would find that the third-person camera is more practical for purposes of sneaking, because it does a better job of showing the relative distance between the player character and his surroundings. However, the third-person camera does not hide the deficiencies in some of Garrett's animations, as will be elaborated later.

Stealth-sneaker games can be overwhelming to players new to the genre, so it is fortunate that the prologue has been designed as the tutorial mission. In this mission, there are a lot of visual aids that are out of the norm, such as blue footprints on the floor that delineate the path of the mission. The player is also given on-screen texts to inform the player of certain skills that Garrett has and how they can be used to overcome obstacles, which incidentally are placed into the player's path when these prompts come up.

The player will be taught early on about the most important mechanic in the game, which is to evade detection by enemies. The fundamentals of doing so is to stick to the shadows, of which there are many because the City's architects and denizens appear to be rather frugal in placing light sources. Sticking to the shadows hide Garrett's presence from guards, which is even more of a certainty if he stays still and some distance away from his enemies. (The factors that contribute to detection will be explained later.)

In the previous games, the protagonist has the ability to seemingly just blend into the shadows. A light gem in the HUD informs the player of how well hidden Garrett is; a completely dark gem means that Garrett may as well be invisible, but a very bright gem means that Garrett has little chance of evading the sight of on-looking enemies.

This ability of Garrett's had never been well explained before in the series; in fact, this design was so convenient that other games adopted it, despite how unbelievable it is as the shadows in the Thief games and other games are not exactly pitch-dark. In the third game, this ability of Garrett's has been better explained; to mention it here would be to include spoilers, but it should suffice to say that the game took advantage of its fantasy settings to concoct an easy excuse.

As in the previous games, the difficulty setting is used to alter the enemies' ability to detect Garrett in mission levels. At low difficulty settings, they take a relatively long time to spot Garrett even if he steps out into the open, give up quicker if the player has managed to have Garrett slip away and are less proficient in spotting Garrett if he is moving about in the darkness. Higher difficulty settings do the reverse.

There are a few certainties in the mechanics of stealth, despite the difficulty settings. For one, enemies that bump into Garrett while they are in the darkness are guaranteed to detect his presence. Another certainty is that they are certain to check out disturbances (that their A.I. can register; more on this later), with the exception of guards who have been scripted to strictly stand at attention. One more certainty is that the darkness stymies the player character as much as enemies; very dark areas can obscure a lot of details and models, so it can be difficult to spot an NPC that is walking through pitch darkness without any aid of illumination (though most NPCs avoid such areas if they are not carrying sources of light).

The above certainties add to the challenge of the game, but some other certainties detract from it. One of these is that all enemies appear to share the same A.I. scripts for detecting Garrett. Due to Garrett's more-than-human ability to blend into the shadows and his consummate talent for stealth, enemies are always at a disadvantage when looking for Garrett if the player has hidden him somewhere dark. They will never have eyes at the back of their heads, and will never be able to hear a Garrett that is moving softly behind them. This means that all enemies can be taken out from behind, without fail, either with Garrett's melee weapons or some other means.

The differences among these enemies only come into play if the player fumbles and gets Garrett detected, but careful players will find that all unaware enemies are defeated all the same, if not with the same tools, then the same approach.

On the other hand, there are many conditions that can set enemies on alert. Stolen items, open doors, the aforementioned doused sources of light and missing compatriots are among the most common conditions; certain mission levels have additional conditions. One of the conditions is enemies spotting Garrett's shadow, if it happens to be poking out from around a corner. This would be a surprise to players, who may be impressed by such a design. However, players who are not enamoured by this additional challenge would find that it can be removed by simply disabling shadows in the graphics settings. Of course, this can be considered a cheesy and scornful exploit by the rest.

These conditions for detection provide much needed challenge, but they are not perfect; certain occurrences that any player would believe could have roused suspicions among guards do not appear to do anything. This is the case with some sources of noise, as will be elaborated (much) later.

Unlike the previous games, Garrett has been equipped with a blackened dagger instead of a sword for purposes of close combat. To aficionados of rogue-ish characters, this may seem an appropriate change, as a master thief that is armed with a sword would seem odd, from a thematic perspective. However, the sword evened the playing field between Garrett and the guards, and also made combat more methodical as the player needs to time parries and sword swings, the latter of which slowed down Garrett's movement.

Being armed with a dagger means Garrett takes longer to slay an enemy with the dagger than with the sword, but it allows Garrett a lot more agility, as he can still move about while slashing away with the dagger. This means that Garrett can dance around any one of his enemies, virtually all of which are too clumsy to turn around quickly (though some of them have wide arcs to their swings and swipes). This will not work if there are too many enemies in the immediate area, but if the player is certain that there is only one enemy left who cannot be easily approached from behind (such as the aforementioned sentries), dancing around them with the dagger is a convenient if rather cheesy solution.

On the other hand, a misstep can result in Garrett taking a lot of damage; generally, in a fair fight, Garrett is a pushover for any enemy in the game.

Returning to the tutorial mission, it also contains some sneaky surprises for veterans of the series; these surprises also happen to show the different capabilities of the different game engine used in Deadly Shadows (more on this engine shortly). One of these surprises include objects that are not part of the environment and have their own independent hitboxes and physical properties, such as barrels that the player can unwittingly bump into and cause noise, which can alert nearby enemies.

These objects were not in the previous games, but before declaring that these are upgrades over the previous game, it has to be mentioned here that Deadly Shadows does not use the Dark Engine, which was an original engine that was used for the previous games (and which was developed by the now defunct Looking Glass Studios). Instead, it uses a modified version of the licensed Unreal Engine 2, which may seem like a cop-out to the previous game's die-hard fans. This would be especially be so for those who had liked having access to DromEd, the level editor for the game engine; Deadly Shadows will not offer any such bonuses.

Sentiments aside, the use of Unreal Engine 2 (apparently favoured by the also now-defunct Ion Storm) resulted in an overall upgrade for the series' graphical and technical achievements. However, although it would appear that the use of this licensed engine allowed features that are new to the series, it also caused the loss of certain features that were found in the previous games, as would be mentioned later.

Anyway, Unreal Engine 2 allows not just objects with independent physics, but also allows Garrett and other characters to interact with them in believable ways. Returning to the tutorial mission again, the player could observe that NPCs can lift things like crates of goods and send them elsewhere (though the game uses convenient auto-stacking scripts to have things pile up in orderly manners); Garrett can do the same, and the player has to do this in order to uncover secret pathways that are otherwise blocked from view and access.

As in the previous games, Garrett can extinguish light sources that depend on open flames for its illumination. He still has to use arrows imbued with water crystals instead of more mundane means to do so, but thanks to the canon behind them (they are a magically convenient method of storing pure water), there are a lot of them lying around than in the previous games. Doused lights do not remain extinguished though, because guards who have noticed them will move over to re-ignite them, so any cover of darkness from doused lights is only temporary as long as there are still guards on the map.

On the other hand, such behaviour still gives an opportunity for the player to evade guards if they are drawn away from their patrol routes or posts. However, if the player is attempting to take them out while they are distracted, he/she will realize that the animation for re-igniting fires is generally too short to be taken advantage of; of course, the player can attempt to take them out from behind while they are walking towards the light, but he/she will have to consider the noise made from attempting to chase enemies who are not concerned with keeping their footsteps quiet. (There will be more elaboration on the mechanic of movement noise later.)

Later in the game, there will be light sources that cannot be extinguished through the usual means that is dousing them with water arrows. There is usually little that the player can do about these, but sometimes they can be turned off by scripted means, such as locating and using the switch to turn them off. Of course, this is little more different from turning off lights in other stealth-sneaker games (such as those in the Splinter Cell series), but the difference here is that the enemy A.I. is not smart enough to consider turning them back on by finding the switch and throwing it back on.

Again, returning to the tutorial mission, the player will soon be told how to knock out enemies while their backs are turned to Garrett. The Blackjack returns as the tool for the job, being able to knock out human foes, even those wearing helmets, by walloping them on the back of the head. As in the previous games, the player needs to wait for Garrett to automatically do the tell-tale raising of his arm that is holding the Blackjack before he/she can knock out an enemy; doing otherwise (which occurs if Garrett is not close enough to his victim) will simply alert said enemy.

Alternatively, the player may have Garrett readying the dagger instead. The method of attack remains the same, but using the dagger causes the target to bleed and also shout out in pain. The victim being rendered permanently dead and thus never posing a threat again would have been a compensating benefit, but due to an oversight in the designs of defeated enemies, there is not much incentive or bonus to consider using the dagger in lieu of the blackjack, especially if the player intends to have enemies unalarmed most of the time as possible. Enemies that had been knocked out are knocked out permanently; they may as well be dead, because other conscious enemies that do come across them do not seem to be able to revive them. Furthermore, they appear to remark that they have discovered corpses, suggesting that there is either a glitch in the assignment of voice-over clips, or more likely, a gap in the design of the A.I. Of course, this wasn't new to the series – the previous games also treated knocked-out foes as dead foes all the same – but that Deadly Shadows does not do anything different would disappoint those players who had treated this with disbelief in the previous games. Therefore, with consideration given to the above elaboration, a player would see that lethal take-downs with the dagger is just not worth the trouble, which includes having to clean up the blood left by a human enemy to avoid alerting other enemies, if the victim's scream had not alerted the others already.

It has to be mentioned here that enemies that are already alarmed cannot be taken out stealthily with the blackjack or dagger, which is a significant change from previous games. This can be an annoyance to those who prefer to still being able to jump an alarmed guard from behind.

Regardless of the method of neutralization, incapacitated enemies have to be bodily hauled over to places where they could not easily be seen, such as dark places and behind large obstacles. Hauling bodies will slow Garrett down and cause him to make a lot more noise when walking. Other than that, hauling bodies does not seem to be much of any trouble to Garrett, who seems to be able to walk upright when carrying bodies (which can cause a bit of disbelief).

Taking down enemies from behind requires that the player character remains as quiet as possible as he stalks his victim. This is easier said than done because all enemies are capable of hearing, and any misstep can cause them to turn around and discover Garrett. Moreover, the properties of the surface that Garrett moves on are also a factor; hard surfaces like stone or steel plates will make a lot of noise, even when Garrett sneaks at his slowest.

Yet, the designs for the A.I.'s noise detection are not all believable; while it is understandable that NPCs that are not expecting company would find nearby footstep noises suspicious, NPCs that are walking around in public spaces are also alerted to any noise that Garrett makes when he moves about, though said noise could have been attributed to other passers-by.

As a consequence, skulking around in public spaces is ironically more difficult than skulking around in restricted areas. This is due to a number of differences in the distribution of enemies in public spaces and restricted areas: restricted areas, being typically mission-specific levels, are generally (but not all) populated by a limited number of enemies that can be whittled away to nothing, whereas public places constantly spawn new NPCs, which include guards and civilians, to maintain the numbers of these characters in the levels that are considered public. Civilians are just as alarmed as guards are at the presence of Garrett, so the player gets the same amount of trouble from them as far as the player is concerned with staying hidden.

The most significant deficiency with the gameplay implications of noise is that not all noise can be perceived by enemies. For some cases, this can be considered acceptable if they happen to be so for purposes of gameplay expedience. For example, the noises that Garrett makes when he is picking a locked door will not be registered by anyone else, even the guard on the other side of the door.

However, in other cases, they would appear to be oversights on the part of the game developers. For example, a player can stalk two guards, one ahead of the other. Knocking out the one lagging behind would cause him to fall down and make a ruckus, especially if he has metal weapons that can clang loudly on the floor, but his compatriot does not seem to register the commotion. (At higher difficulty settings, he can, but only within a short distance.) This is in contrast with the aforementioned example of objects that make noise when they are disturbed.

Back to the tutorial mission, it also has a small lock-picking challenge to introduce to the player the mechanics of lock-picking. Locks can be picked open by manoeuvring and positioning Garrett's picks at the right locations to rotate the mechanisms within the locks; jiggling of the picks and lock rings gives away the right location to do so. Garrett's picks are indestructible and there does not seem to be any penalty for failing to find the right locations, so lock-picking would appear to be a matter of patience instead of precision.

However, lock-picking occurs in real-time, so there is always the risk that a guard may spot Garrett while he is picking locks. Moreover, entrances to especially sensitive places may be illuminated by lights, adding to the risk of discovery. Furthermore, certain locks, namely those on entrances to sensitive places, will consist of multiple rings, requiring more time and patience to go through them all.

Therefore, it is in the player's interest to locate actual keys instead of picking locks, as keys are more convenient and more importantly, can be used to re-lock doors, thus providing one way of giving pursuer the slip.

Of course, the player can always clear the surroundings of any enemies before picking locks; one of them may even have the keys needed to unlock the locks. However, certain mission levels have respawning enemies, who enter through doors that the player cannot interact with. Therefore, precision still plays a role in lock-picking.

The tutorial will also show to the player that although Garrett may have certain abilities that are beyond the average human thief, he does not have full knowledge of the locale that he is in, the locations of everything that is worth looting or the solutions to every advanced/magical security system. To gain the necessary information for the above, he will have to interact with miscellaneous objects, such as plaques, tomes and books.

On the other hand, having to read about said information is technically a chore and thus is not considered an automatically entertaining thing to do. Only the writing for this can compensate, and fortunately, it is at the very least decent at being a worthwhile read. There are paranoid journal entries that talk of enemies skulking in the shadows, shopping lists that include odd-one-outs and rhymes written either by bards or the insane on scraps of paper.

Being a master thief, Garrett is not one to work a heist without tools. Much of them are in the form of arrows, which include the regular (and lethal) broadhead arrow and the aforementioned water arrows. These varieties are some of the easiest to find, as the materials to make them are common; they can be found and retrieved for free in several places within the City. They also happen to be the most useful and reliable, especially the water arrows, which benefit from the physics scripting of Unreal Engine 2 as they do not need to directly hit something for the water they create to douse it.

Then, there is the moss arrow, which creates a lump of moss, which can muffle even the hastiest of footsteps. The most amusing property of this arrow, which was not in the previous game (and thus is a pleasant addition), is that it can be fired at an enemy's face to incapacitate and silence them as the fast-growing moss fills up their oral cavity.

The rarer varieties include the fire arrows, which are practically explosives in addition to incendiaries; understandably, Garrett cannot carry many of these and these are hardly subtle arrows; nocking them also happens to generate a lot of light. It also has to be noted here that fire arrows no longer move like fireballs as in the previous games; instead, they fly in arcs like other arrows. (This is an understandable and gameplay-balanced change though.)

Finally, there is the noisemaker arrow, which as its name suggests, makes noise as it travels through the air and therefore will attract the attention of every enemy in earshot. It can potentially lure many guards away from their posts or patrol routes.

The returning gas arrow can knock out any enemy that it hits, even from the front and even when said enemy is completely alarmed. To balance this convenience, Garrett carry far fewer of these arrows compared to the rest. (The gas arrow also no longer flies in a straight line.)

Garrett also has access to bombs of a few kinds. These items are not easily found lying around, and often have to be bought from Garrett's suppliers.

The Flash Bomb will be the most used bomb, not because of its ability to stun living enemies temporarily, but because it is one of the most efficient weapons against a certain category of enemies that cannot be permanently taken down through conventional means. (What these enemies are will not be mentioned here, as this can be considered a spoiler.)

The game does not mention this property of the Flash Bomb to the player, but does provide hints about it in books and notes lying around, which is certainly a reward to players who are curious and inquisitive. However, this does make defeating said enemies rather easy, when they are supposed to be some of the most troublesome in the game.

Gas Bombs are specifically designed to be used against human enemies, specifically those who bunch up. The gas clouds do not linger though, and disperse too quickly to be used as an area-denial tool. This makes it only useful for groups of enemies, but such occurrences are few, and outside of scripted events or behaviour scripted into their A.I., are next to non-existent. This makes Gas bombs difficult to utilize.

(However, a secondary property of gas clouds is that they can snuff out open flames. This makes the Gas Bomb very economical in removing a cluster of light sources.)

There are also more exotic items that Garrett can stock, though these are understandably a lot harder to get and due to their volatility or otherwise fragile properties, Garrett carries far fewer of these than arrows and bombs.

Explosive mines are for the occasion when it is more efficient to murder a cluster of guards that are stationed close to each other, provided the player can get them to congregate at the mine. For this purpose, the mine only arms when enemies (but not Garrett, oddly enough) are close enough to it (namely within its kill radius), and this takes a while. This also means that the mine is a lousy solution to shaking away pursuers.

Oil flasks appear to be the developers' attempt to utilize the opportunities given to them by the use of Unreal Engine 2. These items, when thrown onto a hard surface, shatter into shards (the occurrence for which is accommodated by the game engine) and release their viscous contents. The oil does not flow about like real oil so much as it simply creates a puddle where the flask landed, albeit a rather large one. Garrett himself is too nimble to slip on his own oil trap, so this is meant to be used against enemies.

However, while it is amusing to watch enemies slip and fall down in a comical manner, this minor feature also highlights a deficiency in the A.I.: enemies just do not seem to register the presence of the oil slick (at least before it is ignited). This means that Garrett can lure a whole bunch of them over to the oil puddle and have them all fall over, and then ignite the puddle with a fire arrow or some other combustible means, dealing a fiery death to every one of the fools (whose models end up with charred decals, which may amuse those with a sadistic streak).

Finally, there is Holy Water, which has highly situational use as it is only effective against a certain kind of enemy that doesn't have mortal limitations in its fortitude. However, due to the hidden benefit of a certain aforementioned item, Holy Water would lose its utility quickly once the player has discovered that, especially if the player considers Holy Water to be too rare and expensive. On the other hand, Holy Water can create a puddle on the ground that stays for a while, possibly allowing the player to defeat many of said enemies by luring them over the puddle.

Garrett is ultimately a mortal, so the player will have to monitor his health or risk a game-over. He can operate at the same efficiency regardless of his health level though, so losing too much health is not a punishing failure. In the previous games, the player can heal Garrett through several means, including eating food. In Deadly Shadows, there are only two ways of replenishing Garrett's health: healing potions and magical fountains. These are less amusing than having Garrett wolf down on food and heal slowly, but they are a lot more stream-lined, gameplay-wise.

Observing the movement of enemies is an important aspect of the gameplay of any stealth-sneaker. For the purposes of observing far-away enemies, Garrett (still) has access to his mechanical eye, which can zoom into the distance to spot enemies. It is still a cool and useful device, but despite the canon behind it, it gives the impression of being the result of a convenient exploitation of the steampunk elements of the Thief franchise's backstory.

Being a game that is titled "Thief", it is understandable that the game is much about stealing valuable things. There are many kinds of loot and treasure in Deadly Shadows, perhaps more so than in the previous games, thanks to the use of Unreal Engine 2.

There are several different containers for money, ranging from pouches and purses to boxes and sacks of coin (though loose change occurs rarely in the game). This is the only kind of loot that Garrett can collect and convert to cash on the spot, so it is in the player's interest to go after these if the player wants to raise funds with the least amount of hassle. However, they use very mundane models, and if it is not for certain graphical designs that highlight all kinds of loot periodically with sparkles so that they catch the player's attention, these bags of money would be hard to pick out from the rest of the environment.

Other kinds of loot have to be brought over to a fence to be sold. Apparently, for convenience of design, Garrett retains his inexplicable ability to pack away loot of all shapes and sizes on his person without encumbering himself. The player needs to only skulk over to the nearest fence and offload them, and there are no price differences between fences. There are price differences between different kinds of loot, but functionally, they are all the same: "vendor trash", to borrow an RPG term.

They do serve the purpose of showcasing the aesthetic variety in the models in this game though. There are paintings, antiques vases and exotic curios to be swiped. However, some of them appear to be convenient palette swaps of each other, such as gems of different colors and, similarly, rings with different colored gems mounted on them.

Some of these are considered as one-of-a-kind treasures, and are appropriately given unique models. Every mission level will have at least one of these and they become a measure of the player's performance. Most of the time, to the player who has not already experienced the game, the presence of these items is hinted at through documents that lie around in the map, but some are simply hidden away without any clues pointing to its existence, though a lucky player can still stumble upon a hidden switch or movable brick that uncovers the piece of treasure. There does not seem to be more reward than just the (generally) higher prices that these treasures can fetch though.

Speaking of fences, they replace the mechanic of buying items before missions in previous games. To buy items, Garrett needs to visit shops that are hidden from plain sight across the City; their locations are still marked on Garrett's map. This change feels much more natural. However, it is not without some minor flaws.

A mathematically-skilled player would notice that the prices offered by fences for loot are rather low, if compared to the prices that they are offering for the tools that they sell. Of course, this can be explained away as a consequence of illicit movement of stolen goods and/or simple greed on the part of the fences, who are after all the only people that Garrett can deal with. Yet, it will still give the impression that the valuables that Garrett steals are little more than chump change.

On the other hand, due to the open world gameplay elements in the game, there would be no shortage of valuables to be stolen. In between mission levels, the player can have Garrett stalking and pickpocketing folks on the street, breaking into houses to steal things and exploiting other marks to refill the cash counter and restock on items. Furthermore, that some gear can be found lying around waiting to be stolen for free means that the player can delay a visit to the cut-throat fences.

However, collecting loose loot and gear can become rote rather quickly as there is little other reward for having pilfered a lot of stuff. Fortunately, there are incentives to explore the open-world segments of the game, namely the opportunity to engage in what can be considered side-quests.

In addition to the main story, there are other smaller plot lines to be tracked (and this will enter Garrett's journal, conveniently enough) as the game progresses. These side-plots are updated by eavesdropping on conversations that occur in the open-world segments of the City.

To fulfill the technical requirements for eavesdropping, the player only needs to have Garrett close to the NPCs that are executing the conversation; background noise is not a factor, which can cause disbelief if the player discovers that the journal has been suddenly updated for no immediately apparent reason while skulking around in the streets and balconies of the city. Therefore, it is in the player's interest to turn on subtitles, though players who do not like text appearing on-screen would not be happy with this.

Returning to the matter of side plots, tracking these eventually leads to the divulging of locations of special loot, often found in the levels that had been designated as part of the open world segment of the City. Although these locations are not part of the mission levels, they may be no less difficult. Even if the player has come across these locations before, more enemies will be spawned once the locations have been identified, typically to protect said loot. Sometimes, these treasures are located deep within very dangerous places, such as crypts that are frequented by undead. Nevertheless, if the player is looking for a challenge, these side-plots can provide some.

Some of these side-plots, and parts of the main storyline, concern interaction with two opposing cultural/religious/political factions in the City. In the previous games, Garrett has very rocky relationships with these factions, considering that he often stole artifacts from them. In Deadly Shadows, after the events of Metal Age (the second game), his relationship with them has become even more fluid (though this is likely due to gameplay convenience instead of developments to the canon).

The player can alter these relationships through very simple means. Stealing from these factions or harming their members (especially so if they are killed) sours them, and the player will happen to do this a lot as they have a lot of good loot to be stolen. Bad relationships mean that the player can expect their members to be hostile and have choice curses for Garrett whenever they spot him (for his identity is known all too well to them).

Appeasing these factions are completely optional, but good relationships allow Garrett to enter their less sensitive territories without being harassed and collect items that are not wealth-related. For example, the Pagans often have plants and springs that spawn moss and water arrows, respectively, while the Order of the Hammer has forges that spawn materials for fire arrows, workshops that can be cleaned out for bombs and altars that can be cleaned for Holy Water. The NPCs that belong to these factions also have some amusing things to say to Garrett if he encounters them while they are not hostile, though Garrett cannot engage them in conversation, which can be a bit disappointing to players who had been hoping for a slightly more sociable Garrett.

The respective methods to appease these factions are not of equitable difficulty though. To appease the Pagans, it is as simple as firing moss arrows at their easily overlooked shrines (which also happen to be markers for locations in the City where they believe a little green would liven things up), or fire arrows that are not broadheads at their magical cocoons, which are placed in hard-to-reach but otherwise safe places.

To appease the Order of the Hammer, the player has to permanently slay undead, which is far riskier than any method to appease the Pagans, but undead apparently respawn. Another easier method to appease the Order of the Hammer is to hunt down certain creatures that cause the decay of steel, but these are fewer in number compared to undead and do not respawn.

It has to be mentioned here too that some of these methods will not be workable until the player locates the documents that unlock the scripts to do so. The player can also improve relationship with one faction by angering the other, considering the mutual enmity between them.

However, regardless of relationships, enemies that belong to these factions are always hostile in mission levels that involve them, which are typically set in their most sacred estates that Garrett is definitely not welcome in.

Other open-world elements that are worth noting are the presence of the City Watch in the streets. Like the two factions, they are well aware of Garrett's existence and his reputation, and are more than happy to capture him; even if Garrett falls in combat with them, they always capture him, with the exception of mission levels, which result in immediate failure of the mission. Getting captured simply has Garrett respawning in Pavelock prison, which is a place that Garrett is plenty familiar with. Breaking out of prison can be methodical and rote, as the layout and placement of guards appear to be always the same every time; the player is rewarded with some loot that the generally corrupt City Watch has confiscated though.

Garrett has a home of sorts, but this is little more than a safehouse where he rests in (which is a rare occurrence) and stores his less-portable equipment. The latter includes a practice door that would be fitted with locks that the player has bought from fences; the player can practice lock-picking using it. However, as mentioned earlier, the lock-picking mechanic should not be too hard to understand for most players, so it is not of much use throughout the game.

Mission levels appear to retain the same designs that have been used for missions of previous games, with respect to difficulty settings. Lower difficulty settings result in lower densities of enemies, sloppier enemies and a more resilient Garrett, while higher difficulties do the reverse. Two aspects of the difficulty that would be very familiar to veterans of the franchise also returns: these are the requirement on the value of loot that the player has obtained and the number of special treasures obtained. Higher difficulties require the player to garner more loot. The highest difficulty setting also adds a challenging requirement of no civilian casualties (hostile enemies are still fair game).

However, it has to be mentioned here that difficulty settings only apply to mission levels; the open-world segments of the City are not affected. This is an odd design decision, but it does allow some versatility in design as the player can pick the difficulty setting to be used in a menu that pops up before Garrett enters a mission level.

The specifics of the mission levels would not be described here, as most of them can be considered spoilers if described. However, it should suffice to say that the player can expect the same calibre of writing that can be had from previous Thief games, which is good, except that this time around, there are more voice-overs to accompany the writing, and most of them are provided by Garrett's voice actor, Stephen Russell, who is still more than adequate at reprising his role as the cynical master thief.

The mission levels also give an excuse for the game designers to have the player stalking through very interesting locales. Despite the City being mostly urban, there are plenty of outlying territories or even regions within the City itself that have very different themes. Some of these are not even the locales for mission levels themselves, but transit locations between the open-world segments of the City and the mission levels. Examples include an abandoned and haunted merchant caravel, neglected segments of the City that has been overrun by nature (and turned into one more haven for the Pagans) and sprawling graveyards, to name a few. The mission levels are even more expansive and breath-taking.

It will be difficult for the player not to have an impression that the game designers have made good use of the Thief franchise's fantasy background and also coupled that with more than adequately clever level designs that make skulking around quite satisfying.

Garrett's map is still rendered with hand-drawn sketches that do not tell the player where he is in a level. While this lack of convenience can lead to some frustration, the medieval fantasy theme of the game does give a good excuse for this. Otherwise, every other important detail like the location of notable loot and entrances to interesting places are marked on the map.

It has been mentioned earlier that the use of Unreal Engine 2 appears to have removed some of the mechanics in the previous games that have been proven fun. The most significant of these are the removal of vine and rope arrows, which in the previous games allowed Garrett to scale vertical surfaces. Instead, the only means that are allowed to the player are suction pads that allow Garrett to climb up walls that have been made with stone blocks, and only such surfaces; he can't scale any other.

If this is not disappointing enough, especially to the series' veterans, his climbing animations are even more displeasing. They may have been generated through motion-capture, but they look awkward and clumsy, likely as a result of the game fumbling for the right animation scripts as the player moves Garrett around the wall.

There are also some silly bugs in the game that mar the game's otherwise next-to-flawless technical achievement. The retail version of the game of the game has a bug that prevents Garrett from knocking out seated characters with the Blackjack; this bug appears to remain unfixed, likely due to Unreal Engine 2 not having been made to facilitate sitting animations and hitboxes. Another bug that remains unfixed is that Garrett can collect gear items even if he has collected them up to the maximum number of said items that he can carry at any one time; this means that the extra items are simply lost.

Another annoying bug causes the difficulty settings of the game to be reset when saved games are reloaded, though this has since been fixed.

At least the use of Unreal Engine 2 allows for other animations that are far more believable and impressive. Garrett has the bulk of these, understandably enough for a character that happens to be a master thief. He can creep, sneak, crouch, flatten himself against a wall and lean around corners in believable manners, though perhaps only those versed in stealthy movement would be able to recognize whether the motions used are appropriate for purposes of stealth or not. Other characters have fewer animations, but are otherwise adequately animated so as to be believable.

The use of Unreal Engine 2 also lets the game appear far prettier and visually pleasing than the previous games, as to be expected of a game that runs on Epic Games' licensed technology. Compared to other games that peruse that graphics engine at the time, this time game would not be one-upping them in terms of graphical pizzazz. However, compared to the previous games, more believable light sources, shadowing, textures and models are definite upgrades. Another miscellaneous benefit from the use of Unreal Engine 2 is that a convention in shooters (namely those that use Unreal Engine 2) can be used in this game: loot and equipment items that Garrett moves over are automatically added to his storage. This is convenient, if a bit too convenient to be believable.

Most of the voice-overs in the game fit the personality of the characters that are being portrayed. The crass City Watchmen are tart-mouthed, common folk come off as appropriately and typically petty and ignorant as they are wont to in fantasy games, Order of the Hammer zealots are fittingly fanatical, etc. The best of them are those of Garrett's himself, of course. However, there are some possibly displeasing voice-acting, such as those for the Pagans, who still sound squeaky, raspy or otherwise generally irksome. The writing for their lines, which suggest insanity, does help mitigate this somewhat, but it is doubtful that there will be players that find their voice-acting comfortable to listen to.

As a game that emphasizes noise as a factor in the gameplay, the sound effects have to sound believable. Fortunately, most of them are, such as the footsteps that characters make as they walk across floors of various texture and the crackle of open flames. The Thief franchise's steampunk elements also allow for the humming of electrical devices and the cranks of clockwork machinery. There are also unearthly moans and howls that accentuate places that are intended to be spooky and dreadful.

The music, crafted by Eric Brosius, is mostly ominous and foreboding to listen to. The music can increase the suspense of the game beyond what its gameplay can achieve, which would tell a lot on how effective it is at propagating the atmosphere of the game. On the other hand, the tracks may come off as creepy to some, and even the most pleasant of them would cause a bit of unease.

In conclusion, Deadly Shadows may be a worthy entry in the Thief franchise, but any advancements that it had achieved with its changes and improvements also introduce flaws into the game, both minor and significant, such as the aforementioned bugs. It takes a few steps forward in the franchise, such as introducing fun and worthwhile open-world elements to the game, but also takes a few steps backs, such as removing rope mechanics.

Discussion

0 comments