Great Game, and the best of the Thief series

User Rating: 9 | Thief: Deadly Shadows PC
The first Thief game, the Dark Project, was an innovative game which, instead of the usual FPS confrontation, combined RPG elements with a first-person 'stealth' aspect to create a highly atmospheric and immersive game. With its imaginative maps, innovative weapons and items, good characterisation, and an intriguing plot, the game was a real success.

Surprisingly however, the second game, the Metal Age, made no advances graphically or in terms of movement.

So by the time the third game came along, Thief was in urgent need of an upgrade. The good news is, it got it. Despite criticisms from some hardened Thief fans, this game is in my opinion the best of the series.

Graphically, Thief: Deadly Shadows (TDS) is a massive leap forward. The maps are generally well realised, with city streets you can almost feel, and various other locations brought to life well, not just through the visuals but also using highly atmospheric sound effects and music. Characters move more realistically and basically the whole thing has been updated to a good standard, even if you're playing it in 2009.

The enemy AI has also improved. To be honest, I got quickly bored of The Metal Age because it was too easy to clear an area by sneaking up on the guards, knocking them out then walking around some big and sometimes rather bland maps freely. In contrast sneaking up on enemies in TDS is a real art, the slightest noise of glimpse enough to have them attacking you, and once that happens you've pretty much simply got to run away or take them down at considerable cost. Also, in the City streets at least, if you do knock out a guard, another one (or even two) seem to arrive to take their place before long, meaning you only gain a temporary advantage and may well end up worse off.

In terms of taking enemies on, things have been made harder due to the replacement of the sword, which was fun to use occasionally, with the almost-useless dagger, the use of which leaves you open to receiving more damage than you're actually able to inflict with it.

Broadhead arrows remain effective against conventional enemies, particularly if you take them by surprise, whilst fire arrows work well against some of the more exotic enemies.

There are also the water arrows, used to extinguish torches, moss arrows to muffle your footsteps, noise arrows to send enemies off in the wrong direction, and gas arrows. Other useful items include mines (very useful against some harder enemies) gas bombs, flash bombs and holy water (for use against zombies).

These items are either found (eg water arrows often lie in fountains) or bought from traders, and as the game requires use of pretty much all of them it's a real incentive to steal as much as possible (over and above the targets set by the game) to buy plenty of each.

One detrimental aspect of the game is that the rope arrow, which was used to fire up at a wooden beam and then climb up, has been replaced by climbing gloves. This is one aspect which has annoyed some Thief fans, and it's true that the rope arrows were fun, but on the other hand the climbing gloves are actually better in some situations. For example if you're being chased by a guard, you can run around a corner and climb up a wall, then wait while they scratch their heads and then walk away… what's not so good is that they're very inflexible, being only any good on flat stone walls – as soon as you reach a outwards ledge above you, or a window frame or anything else, you're unable to make any more progress, which was a little frustrating.

There are many interlinked maps in Thief. As the game progresses you're able to come ago from most of these as you please, choosing how quickly you fulfil each part of the core mission, and giving you the choice to visit one or more of the black market traders to buy/sell and also to do a bit more 'honest' thieving before returning to the intrigue and suspense of the central story. Although in themselves some of the maps aren't huge, they're so well designed that they feel bigger than they are, and also it's still easy to get lost – I found one or two alleys really difficult to find, maybe because of an personal inbuilt tendency to go one way rather than the other, but also because of the level's clever design.

Giving nothing away, the central plot is a genuinely intriguing one which as usual embroils Garrett the Thief (your character) deeper and deeper, with his own primary motivation always being either to extricate himself from some threat or to make a profit. Garrett is, as in the previous games, brilliantly voice-acted and the dialogue remains sharp and humorous. The cut scenes are also very well crafted. The surrounding characters are all given distinct personalities and this again gives the game depth. My only criticism is that there aren't enough different models of the city citizens, meaning you sometimes come across three identical people in the same street.

Simply surviving on the city's streets, with the City Watch, and often one or more other factions, on the look out for you is a suspense-filled task in its own right, but as the plot develops you visit a number of creepy locations where the enemies are harder to dispose of. Chief amongst these is the orphanage/asylum, a setting used in other games but in which the atmosphere is as creepy, if not more so, as the others I've encountered. Playing this part late at night really did have me feeling jumpy!

Incidentally, all this genuine suspense and fear is created without the game resorting to its predecessors' least-attractive characteristic, namely the giant spiders. Always nonsensical, and a real spoiler for arachnophobics, I'm pleased to say there are none in TDS – there are some smallish six-legged bugs crawling around, but they get their comeuppance at a certain point ;)

As well as being suspenseful the game is also great fun. Again, Garrett keeps up a droll commentary – "giant rats… great!" and some of the guards' and citizens' asides are also amusing. I often found myself laughing as once again, after yet another failed attempt to KO a guard with the blackjack, I found myself pursued through the city's streets by an angry mob.

Although capture normally means death, on one occasion I found myself thrown into jail, creating the additional mission of getting my stuff back and escaping – this was a really clever idea and one of a number of 'side missions' which were a good part of the game in their own right.

There is also the real sense of achievement, enhanced from the earlier games, at slipping quietly through an area, stealing a few items then slipping out again. As stated above, the harder enemy AI really does help steer you towards doing so rather than just trying to knock everyone out.

The game is of a good length too, theoretically taking place over a few days, with a number of locations visited in each day. This gives the game a sense of 'real time' which. Together with the fact that there are other events going on around you which cause various bits of fighting and other activity in the streets, really help make you feel part of a bigger picture.

Overall then, I would recommend Thief: Deadly Shadows as one of the best games I've played – there was never a dull moment, plenty of well-conceived maps, a strong plot but enough freedom to tackle missions in different ways and even to an extent in a different order.

In terms of difficulty, I played on the second highest level, and found that generally that provided the right balance between enjoyable gameplay and being also genuinely challenged.

I encountered few bugs, the only thing being that occasionally Garrett would start gliding around instead of walking, something I put down to the game slipping into some kind of developer's view. This was remedied by going back to a previous save.

So in summary, leaving aside a few small things like the rope arrows and the sword, this game is a vast improvement on the previous ones, and definitely worth playing whether you've already played them or not.

To be honest, I'd play this game ahead of the others, due to the previous games' dated graphics. So forget all the carping – remember some people just can't handle change - and go play.