Itís kind of fitting that over the past few years the stealth genre has sneaked its way up to being so incredibly popular and seemingly ever present in the charts. Iím sure itís only a matter of time before a car game features a race that requires you to get to the finish as quietly as possible. Itís also fitting that the series that pioneered the genre is back and shows us that anything the competition can do, it can do better.
Deadly Shadows is the third game in the Thief series. It sees you once again stepping into the shoes (slippers?) of Garret, the thief of the title. Donít worry if you missed the previous games though, Deadly Shadows requires no knowledge of the first two outings. The game starts with a training mission, which introduces you to all of the skills and moves you are going to need for your illegal trade.
The game starts off rather slowly Ė after the training mission you move onto the first proper mission. Your task being to infiltrate a mansion and steal a seal from the vault. Depending on the level of difficulty you choose then this must be achieved in different ways. An increased difficulty level sees additional tasks or targets being given to you as well as an increased competence in the guardís abilities and levels of awareness. Once this mission is over the game moves on a little more and sees you returning to your home in the city. From here you are free to roam around as you see fit, exploring the streets, talking to affable or avoiding unfriendly people and also doing a little extra thieving. Whilst not as free roaming as the GTA games, it does actually add to the whole realism thing and makes you feel a part of the whole thing.
The world of Thief is a dark one, by very nature you need to sneak around in the dark and avoid being seen. Your most trusted friends are the shadows that hide you from the eyes of the guards. The way Thief plays is beautifully simple. At the bottom of the screen you have the ďlight gemĒ Ė the brighter this is the more visible you are, stepping into the shadows turns it darker and thus prevents you from being seen. You also have three speeds in which to move; Run which sees you cover ground quicker but makes a noise, Walk which slows you down and muffles most of your sound and then there is Sneak, the slowest and quietest of them all.
Each of the levels actually feels like a living environment. Mansions have staff and guards walking the corridors (or sleeping in their beds), whilst the city streets have regular patrols of City Watch. Besides making use of the natural environment to move around you also have a rather impressive arsenal of weapons. The blackjack and dagger are used to knockout or kill an opponent, however they are only effective if you manage to sneak up behind them, going toe to toe with any of the bad guys will see you face almost certain death - if discovered itís always best to run and hide. Also carried on Garretís back are his bow and a collection of arrows that would make Oliver Queen jealous. As well as the standard pointy variety for killing, you have water arrows, which can be used to extinguish any torches (thus creating more darkness), then there are the noisemaker arrows, these are basically a propelled firework that distracts the guards and creates a welcome diversion. As the game progresses you also get a wider variety of arrows, as well as other ways to use them.
The game looks consistently amazing. To make the game work the lighting effects have to be spot on, and thankfully they are. Even the littlest of things look great here, such as climbing a ladder that has a candle above and behind it, as you reach the top you see your own shadow growing in front of you, even including the top of the bow slung over your back. And a first (as far as I can remember) is that you actually have arms and legs, if you look down you can see your own feet, whist neat to look at it actually helps in those tight precise moments. The guards and other NPCs in the game look great, they are well modelled and have loads of detail, but itís not just how they look, but how they act. They move with purpose, their AI seems perfect, reacting to the slightest little noise in a manner that cannot always be predicted. Some of them chase you, whilst others run scared. Another great feature is watching them slay a perfectly innocent person that they thought was you.
Then on top of excellent graphics comes the best sound yet in a game. With 5.1 switched on the sound brings the game to life in ways never before, and you can actually use the sound to your advantage. Sound changes based on how far away or close they are, and also alters depending on the environment. You also get to hear if anyone is sneaking up on you and also from which direction.
As well as a major graphical and sound overhaul bring the game up to 2004 standards, Thief DS also features a 3rd person view which allows you to play the game as you would say, Splinter Cell. This option is a new addition to the series and looks great, being able to see Garrett from behind does (literally) add a new dimension to him. However, maybe it's just me being being a traditionalist but I didn't really like playing the game in this mode, it takes away from the feel of "being there" that only first person views can supply, and as good as it looks, constantly reminds you that you are "just" playing a game... That said, it may just be enough to get those introduced recently to the genre into the way of the Thief - and tempt a few Splinter Cell fans to have a look. It's certainly a bold attempt, and well done to Ion Storm for doing the extra work to include it.
Thief really does allow you to go about the missions pretty much how you want. You can even try to go around killing all the guards - but thatís not recommended. There are numerous routes through each level and many ways to overcome the problems that the game sets you Ė Deadly Shadows is rather clever and awards you for being the same. You are given goals to achieve, but the main goal is to be a Thief - if itís not nailed down then nick it. Look everywhere for that extra loot Ė Thief takes the typical secret areas of FPS games and gives them a whole new reason for being. The replay value of the game (whilst not being endless) is probably as high as you will find for the time being.
As you can probably tell, I love this game. For me itís a more complete package than any other game so far. Itís much more than an FPS game and requires you to think. Slow and steady is the order of the day here, and I find the whole thing more rewarding than Deus Ex IW and Far Cry put together - it may not be as immediately accessible but when you look at the clock and realise that you can now only get two hours sleep before having to be at work, you know you have a winner of a game.
Deadly Shadows is not without its problems. Upon returning to a section of the map you previously left any guards who had been following you will still be there as if no time had passed Ė it leaves you very open to attack and means that you have to be sure that you have lost everyone before moving between map sections. Also some of the sneak attacks fail for no obvious reason and again leave you open to attack. Neither of these however really spoil the overall experience, and are of course nothing that a patch wonít be able to sort out. The only other problem will be for those of you with older systems. The game will be more than playable but to get the most of the atmosphere youíre going to need a fairly powerful PC.
Anyone with a PC should play Thief Ė itís one of the most stylish and complete games (in these days of rushed software) you will ever have the fortune to play. Itís fun and just keeps giving. Just donít expect a standard, all-action FPS.