Thief: The Dark Project
Stealing: it's not big and it's not clever. Thief: The Dark Project, on the other hand, is. When a couple of years ago we first heard that Looking Glass Technologies were working on a new first-person fantasy game, we all became very excited, almost to the point of tears. The reason for this excitement isn't very difficult to source when you look at the company's pedigree: Ultima Underworld II, System Shock, Flight Unlimited.
With this range of hit titles under their belt, you could be forgiven for thinking looking Glass might just move on to something new - like a war game or something. They started off with a couple of flight sims, hit the big time with the two RPGs, moved on to an adventure, and completed a couple of sports games along the way. Luckily, they've gone back to what they do best (we think so, anyway).
Underworld I Love You
Thiefis a first-person, 3D action adventure," says Greg LoPiccolo, project director on Thief and creative director at Looking Glass Technologies. "Stealth and subterfuge are your primary tactics. In order to survive and prevail, you must outwit your foes, not just outshoot them."
Asked whether Thief was an RPG or a first-person shoot 'em up, Greg plumps for the middle ground: "It's a unique composite of genres first pioneered by Looking Glass with the release of System Shock. You do much more than just shoot everything that moves. In Thief, we've created a 3D world that is rich and detailed enough so that you can interact with it in many different ways: you can manipulate your inventory, observe and react to NPCs (non-player characters), fight with ranged weapons or hand-to-hand, and improvise your approach to situations with the tools at hand. We've taken the features of shooters and RPGs that we find most interesting, and abandoned the aspects of both genres that we find cliched and boring."
Compared to the likes of Hexen II, Ultima Underworld II or Lands Of Lore II, where then can we expect Thief to stand in the grand scheme of things?
"Design-wise, Thief is the spiritual heir to the Underworld games," Greg reckons. "We're trying to provide the same richness and sense of immersion, bur augmented by the experience we've gained over the years and the greater capabilities of current hardware. Thief is not a traditional RPG. A lot of the conventions of such games arise from their paper game ancestors, and aren't really the best things to attempt in a computer game."
In Thief you play Garret, a brigand for hire. The 20 or so missions will take you through the dark sewers, streets and parapets of a medieval city. Using the shadows as armour, you get to slit throats, scale walls and listen in op your enemies as you hunt them down. More than just a medieval Quake clone, Thief will require a dexterous mind as well as a swift hand. Your foes will co-ordinate their attacks and work together to track you down. In many respects, it's got more in common with the smash N64 hit GoldenEye than Quake, and that must be a good thing.
"The artificial intelligence of the characters means that they sense the player, using sight and hearing, and broadcast their state by way of speech and gestures," explains Greg. "You don't talk to them much - you're a thief, and not much interested in idle conversation. But you can eavesdrop on them and gain valuable information about their strengths, weaknesses and intentions."
With Thief being mission-based and fairly linear, do Looking Glass anticipate it appealing to fans of the life-draining Underworld games? "We believe that the most successful aspects of those games was that they didn't pre-ordain players' experiences, but empowered players to create their own unique experiences," says Greg. "Creating an open-ended but still focused game experience allows much greater suspension of disbelief than production values alone can ever provide. This is what we tried very hard to accomplish with Underworld and are still trying to accomplish. Our guess is that players who found those games compelling will be knocked out by Thief."
Dark & Long
Announced as early as 1996, Thief has been a long time coming. So what caused the delay? Greg says: "Thie/is the first game we're developing with the Dark engine, a ground-up new game engine specifically engineered to create games with the depth and detail that we're known for. We've put a huge amount of effort into making the Dark engine powerful, flexible and reusable, so that we can concentrate on designing games for a while, not just creating new technology. It's taken a while to get the engine where we want it, but we think that when you see what it's capable of, you won't regret the wait."
The most interesting part of the Dark engine is the Act/React™ system. If it's important enough to register as a trademark, then it must be pretty cool.
"Act/React allows us to abstract various causes and effects, which then allows us to simulate relatively complex, realistic behaviour without having to hard-code countless specific interactions. For example, a chair can be defined as 'wood', and the engine will automatically know that. Because it's 'wood', it will bum when exposed to fire, and float in water. Having these sort of open-ended interactions possible in the game engine allows us to experiment with a variety of different behaviour and scenarios, to a degree that wasn't possible when we had to hard-code everything."
With their new engine running, Looking Glass could well be back on the gaming map. All they have to do is add a few new ideas and tweak the engine, and voila: Underworld III -with knobs on. "We're not saying what's next. Right now we're pretty focused on getting Thief done," remarks Greg. To which we reply: well get a bloody move on!
It's not often that a game is released on budget that sports three spankingly new levels and enhanced gameplay for the original 12, but that's exactly what's happened with Thief. Not content with correcting the minor niggles players found with the classic stealth 'em up (mainly that some levels weren't stealthy enough) in the forthcoming Thief 2, Looking Glass have gone back to the original game and tweaked ail the knobs that could be tweaked. The result is an even more immersive experience, more heart-stoppingly brilliant, with richer characters and harder enemies. The three new levels have been integrated seamlessly into the storyline and give a good indication of where the sequel is heading.
tt's true that there should be a real modern-world thieving game where you get to break into housing estates and nick videos and tellys, but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with a medieval fantasy setting. It's not really worth getting if you already own the original, but for first time players on a budget, Thief Gold is an absolute steal.
Download Thief: The Dark Project
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Thief: The Dark Project Screenshots and Media
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