Computer Game Review: Thief: Deadly Shadows



When I played the first Thief game several years ago I was immediately impressed by the fact that you could find yourself, as the laconic thief Garrett, standing in the shadows of a corridor for minutes, carefully memorizing the rounds of castle guards to calculate the ideal time to creep forward and cosh one over the head. The ‘stealth’ genre had been born. The atmosphere was thick, and far from running about blasting everything in sight, you spent the game avoiding combat at all costs, instead hugging the shadows and sneaking about to accomplish your objectives.

I recently finished Thief: Deadly Shadows on the XBox after playing it off and on for months. On the whole it was enjoyable, though the game suffers from many of the problems that plague computer games in general. For one, it was too long. You rarely hear this complaint in computer game reviews, but if you’re over fifteen and don’t live at home, you just don’t have the time to play these games all the way through.

Once you’ve learnt the mechanics and completed a few missions, the gameplay tends to become repetitive. Personally I think games should be half the price and half the length, so you could enjoy a game to completion and then go try something new. Is it just my attention span?

Secondly, games tend to run out of steam as you approach the end. They should be designed backwards, so the production team is full of energy and inspiration at the end of the game and exhausted, overworked and empty of ideas by the beginning. Having worked on The Omega Stone for a year, I know how long the hours can get as the deadline approaches. A common solution to this syndrome is to suddenly increase the difficulty level in order to stretch out the gameplay, and Thief falls into this trap (excuse the pun), so much so that I resorted to a walkthrough at the end just so I could finish the damn thing.

The next and always the biggest problem is story. The Thief series has developed an interesting world with a detailed background, and there is a story in this game. Unfortunately however it makes little impact to your progress—the sequence of missions is linear, and you can pretty much ignore the cutscenes—done in a nice, dark noir style by the way— and it would make no difference to the game. It’s a shame, because as a result you don’t care about the characters, or a feel a real urgency to complete the missions.

Thief makes few big changes to the series formula, but this game does feature a third-person view which I found myself using throughout—it’s just too much fun seeing Garrett sneaking about in the shadows (and a little easier). The reactions of the many characters you meet—guards, priests, zombies, feral-hippy types—seem quite intelligent until you realise that it is actually quite easy to fool them. For example, several times I found I could run with impunity through a building disturbing everyone on the way, then just settle into a dark corner and wait for everyone to calm down and go back to whatever they were doing. Surely the general alarm would have rung and everyone would now be more alert?

In general however, Thief is a cut above the average game of this type—until you start getting tired of doing the same sneaking about.

Three and a half water arrows out of five.

Update: I should also mention the long loading times, a common problem when playing games ported from the PC to XBox.

Update: Fascinating Game Developer’s Rant that touches on some of the reasons for the kind of gameplay problems mentioned above.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. anaglyph
    Mar 10, 2005 @ 08:57:20

    Same as it ever was. Are we poised on this precipice, do you think, just waiting for that killer game to revitalize the whole sagging industry? Or are kids just so used to this level of bland that they think this is as good as it gets?
    Bring back role playing with pens & paper & dice I say. We never had it so good.

  2. UniversalHead
    Mar 10, 2005 @ 09:34:25

    Apparently roleplaying games are making a bit of a comeback, and with all computer games around, why? Because most people are engaged more by a good story than fancy visuals. The question is and always has been, how do you get a good story into a computer game? Computer adventure gaming is a pretty dead genre, because most of the adventures were linear and ended up being variations on ‘find the clickable hotspot in the scene’. Shoot ’em ups are a completely different genre to my mind. The challenge for the new generation of games is to have gameplay with a story that the player actually is involved in and has a stake in emotionally.
    It’s a big challenge, and frankly I’m stumped at how it’s going to be met.