(This is part of my journey going checking out Thief: The Dark Project. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)
Each of us have types of gameplay that are personal anathema. Jumping puzzles and platforming — while enjoyable in my childhood — are sore points with me now. Another mechanic that I’ve often whined about is stealthing. I’ve just never been into sneaking slowly, avoiding confrontation, and being super-weak. Having a mechanic that’s punishing and resets progress on one mistake ends up sending me over the red line.
So hey, let’s play a stealth game, why not?
I put Thief up as one of four games for readers to vote on for a retro playthrough, not because I was eager to get all stealthy, but because it has a strong reputation and is definitely something different. I have absolutely no history with this game and only played the third title for its first level. But the trilogy has been sitting in my GOG library since I picked them up on sale a year ago, and I hate to have games go to waste. Let’s check it out!
Since I’m really new to this series, I elected to go through the training scenario before starting the game proper. I guess I assumed that this would have been a much more primitive-looking game, so the graphics are a bit of a nice surprise. I mean, not 2015-worthy by any means, but not terrible for 1998. Thief uses shadows a lot, so it’s good that they’re easy to identify here.
The tutorial was pretty easy and fast, all things considered. The stealth mechanics are straight-forward: stay in the dark, don’t run over loud surfaces, try to get behind people if at all possible. Got it.
With that out of the way, it’s time to start on my first mission! I’m Garrett, a former Keeper who somehow became a thief along the way. He lives in a weird steampunk city (named — get ready for it! — The City), a marvelous place full of cutting-edge polygons and Minecraft-esque level design.
Garrett is out to steal a scepter from a poncy lord, and since the front entrance is far too well guarded, he’s got to find a different way in.
The control scheme includes the option to lean and peek around a corner, which is pretty helpful when you don’t want your whole torso package hanging out for guards’ swords to puncture.
I contemplate a Leeroy Jenkins-style attack. I wonder if it’s even possible in this game for someone to fend off three guards at once. Maybe that wold break the first level? I don’t try it.
Instead, I journey down into the sewers, come up behind the guard at the well house, and knock him out with my blackjack. Then comes the fun sub-game of Thief called “corpse and unconscious body removal.” See, you don’t want to just leave people lying around — it’s not as if they’ll just magically disappear and grant you loot. What, you think this is a video game or something?
Another underground jaunt, this one through the well pipes and up into the manor. I then stalk a pair of guards around the hallway, thwacking them into dreamland. Gonna be a run on advil in the morning!
It’s kind of fun to slow down and listen to what the guards are saying. The front set of guards were discussing how bear fights these days are kind of lame, since the mangy beasts have to wear harnesses to make up for the fact that they’re lacking real claws. Even better is Garrett’s constant sarcastic commentary.
Lord Bafford’s manor is a LOT bigger than I expected for a level 1 mission. I ended up backtracking a lot, trying to find new areas while picking up all of the valuable loot I could find. Oh, and taking out every guard in the place. My mind kept shouting, “BLACKJACK!” when I came up behind them and judo-chopped them down to the ground.
I did die once to a trio of guards, but I also got revenge by taking out two archers in a stairwell with a sword and then slicing through a guard as he frantically banged on a gong for help. Little did he know that he was the very last one there…
There was one servant in the kitchen who freaked the heck out when I appeared. No option to negotiate, so it was a blackjack to the face for him.
While the graphics are very… EverQuest 1, shall we say, I have to admit that the sound design is spot-on. There’s this creepy noise that permeates the entirety of the castle which helped to set me on edge. Sneaking about to that had me wound up, jumping at shadows.
Finally, after a half-hour of searching, jackpot — the scepter (which was in the Lord’s “throne” room). Can’t lie, that was a heady rush of accomplishment.