One of the realities of life is that it's full of risks. Every decision you make has an element of risk as nothing is 100% risk proof – whether it's the decision you make to buy an item or simply walking down to meet a friend. Developers Looking Glass took this risk factor to the nth degree to produce a game where violence is not always the answer and the player won't be getting the next BFG. This game was Thief and just like the main character Garrett (who is also a risk taker being a thief) has paid dividends not only in monetary value but also placing itself in the hallmark of evolutionary computer games.
So this game is all about taking risks – the higher the risk, the higher the rewards as this concept is imbued into the core gameplay. I guess it's also regarded as an action stealth game however I feel it's a little more than just stealth as some missions do require straight out brute force or simply to evade altogether. Basically it's designed to make the player dictate the course of action by giving a set location, a set of objective/s and what you do with it is up to you.
That said the game's difficulty levels are simply based on this concept as there are three levels being normal, hard and expert. The higher the difficulty level, the more objectives you have. I think this is an absolute stroke of genius as most games difficulty levels are based on more or tougher enemies (which at times doesn't really make sense). In Thief, the difficulty levels all makes sense as the harder the game, the more objectives you have. And personally I think it’s best to play it is on expert as this will get you the true feeling for this game – that is being a professional thief.
Every mission starts off you purchasing equipment for that mission. The cash you earned during your previous mission is the starting cash for the next and thus the cash does not accumulate; so it's wise to spend the entire lot. You can purchase a wide range of equipment like rope arrows (love them), fire arrows, water arrows (to dowse flames – very important), moss arrows (making the ground easier to walk on) and so forth. Again, the concept of risk is presented here as to what's more important for you - should you purchase a lot of water arrows? How about those disruptive flame arrows or for the sneaky types, moss arrows or flash bombs? And remember because cash is brought over from your previous mission, you need to be on full alert during your current mission to locate sellable items– again the risk taken to assist you in your next mission.
There are many features in this game that was never introduced effectively with other games. Obviously the concept of stealth is one of them however it gets deeper than that. This game utilises sights and sounds that was never been used effectively before as both of these elements are normally reserved for cosmetic use only. In Thief they are not cosmetics (that is making the game looking good) however places heavy reliance on it – like it's your best and only friend. Trusting on sights and sounds will make your trip a lot easier however depending upon what risk you take (e.g. should I make a noise to attract the guard or just sneak pass him).
The AI also reacts depending upon your actions instead of having a set script – i.e. I see you, I chase you until the end of the world. Cleverly coded, they react like a normal person would. For example – if a noise was made, the AI will either know you are there (by the light indicator on the bottom of the screen) or if you happen to be in the darkest of shadows, it will try and locate the source. So there's no instant spotting and if you are very good, you can literally stand right next to the victim without s/he knowing. I cannot imagine how much detailed programming is required to do this effectively. However all is not one hundred percent (as you can trick the AI but I won't say how) yet it always leaves you a satisfying feeling when you outsmarted them – almost like playing against a human player.
All the characters are not superhuman at all, and that's including you, Garrett. They all move pretty realistic with ‘shock’ animations, slow swings and so forth. Garrett is not a super human behemoth that can take on many blows to the head – he's human therefore will die easy if not careful. Swigging a health potion will increase your life over time so there's no potion guzzling here. Basically anything happens in this game is as realistic as possible. However I'm not a big fan of Garret mantling abilities as the controls are a little odd for my liking - e.g. for me I need to hold down the shift key until he mantles up however there are many times he just doesn't mantle at all or even jump effectively.
The enemies you'll face will come in all shapes and sizes – obviously there will be plenty of guards about however there are also some supernatural ones. At first this didn't gel quite right for me as it puts away the concept of stealth however that feeling was soon squashed as it fits well into the story and the theme of taking risks. An example of this is that you will meet a fire elemental so blackjacking them is out of the question. So will you kill them using your precious water arrows (if you happen to hit it) or simply outrun it and risking death – again it's all about to risk you take.
If I have to choose the single / most prominent feature of this game, I'll say it's the atmosphere it creates. From the get-go, this game will suck you into the world of ‘The City’. It’s a mixture of steampunk / medieval with a bit of the supernatural all rolled into one; and it works quite well too. And because the game's reliance is on sight and sound, it brought the immersion factor to another level. For example: you can hear guards talking about bear pit fights or the haunting sounds emitting from the Horn of Quintus (and that level was my all time favourite by-the-way), I cannot stress enough how this game can suck you right in. Every sight, every sound, every location all have a purpose in mind.
Like all games, this game also has its issues thus not perfect. As mentioned before, Garret’s jumping skills / mantling is a lot harder than it should have been as considering he's a professional thief, it shouldn't feel ‘heavy’. The AI, whilst terrific and almost ‘human like’, you can fool them very easily therefore making things a lot easier than it should. Let's put it another way: there's not one mission where I didn't knock everyone out (unless the person is literally out of my reach). And I'm talking about two guards standing side by side in broad light and I still managed to knock them both out using the blackjack. I won't say how however it's possible (and no, I did not use cheats of any sorts). Garret's inventory can also be improved as it's very clumsy to use in its current state (why not use the scroll mouse option to scroll through?).
Another sour point are the graphics. Not the prettiest game in the market and considering it was released around the same time with Unreal / Half Life, developers Looking Glass couldn't pick a better time. The textures, water affects and so forth are colourful enough however pretty bland to look at. Also because the game uses lighting, there are some areas that are too damn dark to see. I get the idea shadows place a very important role however there are some locations that Looking Glass overdone it a bit. I feel that the lighting should be a little brighter in some areas (and I'm not talking about increasing the gamma) as you can always gauge the light by the indicator on the bottom of the screen anyways.
Because each mission can be approached in different ways, to finish it depends upon what you actually do. I completed the game on expert level and trying to locate everything that needs to be located (i.e. if it's not bolted down, take it), it took me around 2 hrs / level. And because there are thirteen levels, it took well beyond the forty hours mark (as sometimes my trial and error failed). Also each mission feels absolutely different from one another so it does not feel repetitive at the slightest. This game is not for everyone however if you don't give it a chance, you'll never experience a masterpiece in motion. So are you willing to risk not experiencing that?