Thief: DS For £2.09?! And Other Bargains

By John Walker on July 2nd, 2010 at 11:52 am.

It's a steal!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm sorry.

The Steam summer sale thingamy is continuing to offer some ludicrously good prices, as it happens. I’ve just spotted some for which there’s only six hours left, which should fill in some vital gaps on your virtual shelf. There’s Thief: Deadly Shadows for £2.09, BioShock for £3.49, and Titan Quest Gold for £2.49. There’s also Dragon Age, about 80 hours of game, for £11.99.

I can’t get over Thief 3 for barely more than £2. This is one of those games that come 2014 we’ll be writing ten year retrospectives about. If you never did, you absolutely must right now. Just for the heck of it, I’ve pasted my review of the game from 2004 for PC Format.

Thief: Deadly Shadows

There was a time when a blackout curtain was a warning of troubles ahead. Now, it is a sign that the person within is trying to play Thief during daylight hours. Because nothing, not even the vast orb of hydrogen and helium at he centre of the universe, should be allowed to interfere.

There is going to be something of a dichotomy between those who haven’t played either of the first two Thief games and are wondering why there’s a fuss being made, and those who have been looking forward to part three with the anticipation of a tartrazine-enhanced seven year old at Christmas. And then in honour of Mr Venn, there will be a large group of both, a bit disconcerted by the luke-warm reception to Deus Ex: Invisible War. Let it be our job to unite all, into one throbbing mass of enthusiastic happiness.

That slightly unsettling notion aside, we must begin at the beginning. Continuing the peerless mastery of Looking Glass Studio’s catalogue, Thief introduced a brand new concept to gaming: the sneak-em-up. Now of course commonplace via the likes of Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid, in its day the notion of deliberately playing a first-person game as slowly and carefully as you could was thought to be the madness of a mercury-lined-hat-wearing man. In 1998, as games were embracing the logic of the ‘always run’ option, Thief bordered on ‘always crouch’.

Sects And The City

The eponymous burglar is Garrett, master thief. Trained by the city’s mysterious hooded Keepers, he left their academy to pursue a life of more profitable ways, disinterested in their conspiracies and prophecies. However, fate has a way of holding onto people it finds interesting, and Garrett’s pathway inevitably led him back into their tales. Part one told us of the Pagans, part two about the Hammerites, meaning everything is set in place for the culmination of the trilogy. This time about The Keepers themselves.

It’s been four years since the last Thief, and six since the first, so with such a detailed history already in place, Ion Storm have faced the perennial challenge of finding balance between beginning and continuing, introducing and welcoming back. Normally one side loses out. Deadly Shadows transcends this. Careful writing has ensured that the important back story is mentioned whenever appropriate, always in context, and never awkwardly. The finer details for the lifer, throwbacks to levels in previous games, sarcastic asides, and old faces, will go unnoticed by the new, but at no detriment to their experience.

If there is any assumption made, it is that the player will be in the frame of mind for the style of play. There’s a Way of Thief, and it’s not something that can be expressed in the excellent and contextual tutorial level. It’s something that must be learned. For the follower, this will all come rushing back in moments. For the new player, this may take a couple of missions to arrive – so persist through that uncomfortable feeling – it will all begin to feel natural very soon.

After the tutorial and opening mission, the game reveals its most important new feature – the City. Thief has always taken place here, but never before have you been able to roam freely about its streets, alleys and rooftops. Carefully opening up as you progress through the game, the ever-expanding town adds a sense of logic and reality that few other mission based games could boast. When you learn news that there is an important item hidden in a the Hammerite church, how more gratifying it is to recall where that was, and head over there yourself, than for the game to airlift you there behind a loading screen.

But it provides a lot more than this. Loot collected in the previous mission (or from any crime you’ve committed in the city) can be sold to fences, and then the cash gained used to buy equipment from the various stores. What was previously an options screen between missions has now become a device to pull you deeper into the game’s world. This also means that equipment found or unused in an earlier mission remains with you for the next. At first you won’t be able to afford everything you might want… Do you spend the money on water arrows or flashbombs? Noisemaker arrows or health potions? How you choose to approach the challenges will influence your choices, and in turn, your choices will influence how you approach the challenges. (By the later levels, when perhaps too much money is available, you’ll already be so set in your ways that this slight imbalance becomes mostly unimportant).

Under the Influence

This is what Thief: Deadly Shadows does. It /influences/ you. The first three missions are perfect prologues – a neutral mansion, a Hammerite church, and a Pagan lair. If you’d never met these peoples before, you are intimate after completing their introductions. Their language, their mannerisms, their motivations, and their anger, are all expressed and explained. So it is at this point you are given the option to favour one faction or the other. This new feature allows the city to become even more involving, as you can now choose to take on tasks for either side, thus increasing or decreasing your status within them. Become allied, and they will tolerate you. Upset them, and they will attack you on sight. There is no easy alliance however – questions are being asked about both sides throughout, and all the while you struggle with the sincerity of the Keepers’ instructions. This may sound familiar as one of the weaker elements of Invisible War, but here the ability to favour either side at will is more clearly justified and understood. You have no intention of becoming Pagan /or/ Hammerite. You are always Thief. But this doesn’t stop all around from trying to influence you.

However, this influential nature extends beyond the storyline, and leaks into the very design of the game itself. The Unreal engine means that presentation takes a dramatic step forward from the previous incarnations, and the effective HAVOC physics engine allows the world to become far more believable. But it is the level design itself that stands out most strongly. The map sizes are slightly smaller than in the previous games, and there are load points within missions, but this really takes nothing away. The majority of areas feel sprawling, always explorable, and when necessary, tightly claustrophobic. But most of all, this city feels real. Almost alive. As you progress, the semiotics of the design begin to play with you. It teaches you that an alcove might mean you need to hide. Alcoves begin to suggest danger. Until eventually the presence of a good hiding place can send shivers down your spine.

Thief is a series built on the strength of its shadowy spaces, and Deadly Shadows’ lighting takes this further than previously. Bright lights become agony to stand in, unbearable and hideously dangerous. The palpable sense of relief when crouching down in a darkened corner is remarkable. And Garrett’s other foe, sound, is also excruciatingly real. From the atmospheric ambience, to the varying footstep noises of different surfaces, your ears are just as vital as your eyes. Soon snuffing candles and closing doors will be as second nature to you as the most electricity-bill conscious dad.

Cradle Will Rock

There are a couple of issues with clipping and bugs, mostly when you reach the city area Audale. This small section has a slightly unfinished feel about it, less polished than the rest, and becomes the game’s sorest thumb. But it’s impossible to stay angry about this. You may have noticed how little is said of the story in these pages, and that’s entirely on purpose. It’s best this way, believe us. However, it cannot go unmentioned that Thief: DS contains a level more terrifying than anything we’ve ever encountered before. It’s toward the end, and it’s good. It’s so very good. If you played Thief, it’s better than Return To The Haunted Cathedral. Yes.

Here is a living, breathing city. A city with a past, and one in the grip of its future. How you live in it is up to you. Are you a murderer, or an unseen ghost? A fighter for balance, or a man merely out to fill your pockets? This is Thief.

BOXOUT: Guards! Guards!

The guard’s AI has been enormously improved upon. With the excellent use of real physics, clumsily knocking over a candle stick will make a suspicious sound. If a guard is nearby, maybe the other side of an open door, he’ll pop in to take a look. If you manage to make a louder noise, or worse, get seen, expect the response to be much more ferocious. And just hiding in the corner for a bit might not necessarily be enough, as an alerted guard can now rush off to get help or even organise a search. This new intelligence also allows responses to spotting dead bodies (rushing to get others to see and respond), lights going out, or doors being left open. Turn the difficulty for a mission up high enough, and they’ll even notice when their friend isn’t on his usual patrol route. But to match this hike in enemy brains, T:DS also provides means of escape far more interesting than reloading. Flashbombs temporarily blind opponents, providing vital time for escape to hide until all calms down again. All without the frame-breaking gap of hit Quickload.

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117 Comments »

  1. disperse says:

    I boughted it.

    Anyone play this with a gamepad? I’m trying to avoid RSI by giving my poor wrists a break from the keyboard and mouse after a day of coding.

    • Heliocentric says:

      No, but i played splinter cell chaos theory with my 360 controller (which was superiorly awesome for movement but with crap aiming) and this is just the medieval version, amirite?

    • disperse says:

      @Heliocentric

      Well, I figured Thief: DS might be well suited to the gamepad as it probably doesn’t require pinpoint accuracy and twitch reflexes. Also, the variable speed analog stick might be nice to control movement speed over those damn iron grates. (This supposition is based on playing Thief I many, many, years ago.)

  2. Phil Armstrong says:

    Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrraaaaasssmmmuuuusss: You can pick up a copy on Amazon for £3.31, so you’re only £1.22 worse off.

  3. Vodkarn says:

    Does Thief 3 on steam have the same problem as the physical copy, where if you used something crazy like a USB keyboard you’d constantly walk forward?

  4. Duoae says:

    @Phinor:

    Unfortunately all the deals listed were yesterday’s. Due to the time differences, the new day starts and ends at 18:00 UK time.

  5. solipsistnation says:

    Ugh, what? A glowing retrospective/review of Thief: Deadly Shadows? The downright WORST of the games? The one where the “living city” is more like “a couple of semi-active city blocks with loading screens every 50 feet or so”? The one where they DIDN’T IMPLEMENT ROPE ARROWS? Seriously, the climbing gloves were a half-assed replacement. Claiming they were hard to implement was just an excuse– I think they just didn’t want to put as much effort into level design as the rope arrows required.

    The intensely stupid interactions around the loading areas in the split-in-half maps was ridiculous, too– being able to run through a loading screen and be hit by an arrow shot the last time you were in that area that had apparently been hanging there since you left? What?

    The physics engine looked like it had been tacked on later, too– there were only a few places where it was more than just window-dressing, and those were, let me see… The one that comes to mind is a place where you can drop a giant gear on some guards, and, uh, kill them. That’s subtle.

    And I’m going to just come out and say it– developing it on the original Xbox broke the game. Tiny levels, a silly tutorial (“Now walk here. Oh, you walked outside the lines I drew so I’m going to start you over at the last step until you follow my instructions. This is supposedly a wide-open game, but I’m going to refuse to let you explore.”), and cramped design even within the tiny levels… The reason that spotting a place to hide makes you nervous is because the levels are so small that if you see a place to hide it’s because you’re going to NEED a place to hide, because everything is so close together. There are no long empty pieces of street because there wasn’t enough space to make a wide-open level– every piece of memory is vital, so there’s no window-dressing, even though that window-dressing could have been what made the level actually FEEL real. The hub city is the worst at this– 4 tiny blocks of streets honeycombed with semi-secret passages, with very specific places you could and couldn’t get to using the climbing gloves…

    And more: In the hub city, stuff to steal regenerates, as if shopkeepers are absent-minded enough to leave their cash sitting in the window every night, because, you know, maybe whoever stole it last night is rich enough already and won’t bother with today’s stack of coins.

    And so on and so forth. It was kind of a good idea, but it became Thief Lite. I disagree that it was a better game than Thief 1– sure, Thief 1 had its weaknesses, but it did some incredible stuff anyway. Thief: DS missed the point on so many levels that while it’s a better stealth game than most attempts at stealth games from around that time, it certainly wasn’t a GREAT game. It was mostly a pretty-good game. It was the Deus Ex: Invisible War to Thief’s Deus Ex. (Not a coincidence there– there were many of the same problems.) Heck, the fact that Garrett runs by default is an indicator that the designers were sadly misguided from the start.

    Yes, though, the Cradle was fantastic. I won’t argue with that at all– my first run through I was as scared as I’ve been in any game, I think. It’s too bad it was surrounded by a whole lot of not-so-good. I guess if you haven’t already played it, it’s worth the $2.99, but it’s sure not worth paying the full $19.99.

  6. HarbourMaster says:

    Myself and Mrs. HM were disappointed at Thief 3. It was not a bad game, no. But it did not really live up to the Thief template.

    Losing those beautiful briefing cutscenes. The city felt very small and cramped when compared it to the pursuit mission of Thief 2 (Trace the Courier) – now Thief in an Assassin’s Creed style city would win me over – T:DS couldn’t quite do a proper sandbox environment, it was extremely limited. Plus the whole city thing, plodding from A to B and avoiding attention, just became a bit of a chore by the end. And for a real thiefphile, the “Thieves’ Highway” was a sort of a knee in the groin moment, a mere shadow of it’s former self, first presented in Emil Pagliarulo’s Thief 2 total masterwork, Life of the Party.

    It wasn’t bad, no. It’s just not the best of Thief. It was a disappointment for those of us who had fallen madly, deeply, incredibly in love with the original. We’re talking about love here, this isn’t just fanboyism. GOD DAMN VIDEO GAME LOVE. I still cry over the photo album. The times we had together.

    Thief is still Mrs. HM’s favourite game, I asked her. She played the original three times and it’s the only PC game she’s ever played more than once. Thief 3, on the other hand, got uninstalled as soon as it was done.

  7. Jubaal says:

    I recall the original Thief with great fondness so I couldn’t resist picking Deadly Shadows for such a cheap price.

    It is just a shame that it keeps on crashing/freezing on me. The worst trigger seems to be the screen to load your saved game for some reason.

    /sigh

  8. poop says:

    Thief DS feels a lot better than invisible war becuase the only console concessions they had to make were technical instead of gameplay. also the AI in DS still feels pretty amazing, especially when you get moments like when you evade guard so he gets some of his buddies to help search for you and they cant find and the and guard you initally evaded starts saying things like “HE WAS HERE I SWEAR :(“

  9. drewski says:

    So what, that’s like a 9/10?

    /jokes

    I already have Deadly Shadows and Bioshock, so I bought Saints Row 2 for US$3.74. I’ve heard mixed reviews of it but heck, at that price if it entertains me for an hour it’ll be value for monies.

  10. Jacques says:

    Thief DS was a fairly painful experience for me when I played it, it was good, but it was also not. I never played 1 or 2, but I heard that they were great stealth games, and hell I like stealth games, I usually play non stealth games as stealth games.

    The main issue I had was the awkward relationship with guards, which are more common than pedestrians in the city. Have you ever been in a real city with more cops than non-police people? I can’t really imagine it outside of 1984. They are always there, they always re spawn and they make my life a living hell. I believe someone else mentioned Assassin’s Creed type levels making it more fun, and yeah I’d agree, given there weren’t loading screens every couple of seconds, and time didn’t freeze when I left an area. Escaping guards became such a pain I just resolved to kill them, as they only exist to cause me anguish anyway, and to my much expected sorrow, they respawn. Frakking guards are nigh relentless.

    The cradle was good, though i didn’t like it too much while playing through it, granted a bug prevented me from ever finishing it, so my memories are tinged by that.

  11. Hidden_7 says:

    Disclaimer before I start: The Thief series are my favorite games of all time. If I’m ever asked to say my favorite game ever I’ll say Thief, (though if I were being specific I’d probably say T2 was my favorite). I bought Thief 1 when it came out, having played the demo to death using many many months of saved up allowance. In no uncertain terms, Thief made me.

    Thief 3 really wasn’t like Invisible War at all to me. I remember playing the IW demo and thinking “Ok, what just happened? What was that?” I never played the full version until recently when it was included in a steam Eidos pack I got cheap during a sale. I played past the tutorial got to sorta the first main bit and stopped playing, my main thought being “this is embarrassing.” I’ve heard it ends up being decent, but I just found it near unplayable, specifically the cramped claustrophobic levels that gave absolutely no sense of place.

    Thief 3 was different, however. I remember playing the demo and thinking “oh thank goodness, it’s Thief.” It was different, sure, it wasn’t the Thief I remembered, but it was still Thief, at it’s heart. I bought it for full price as soon as it came out and did not regret it. Sure it had issues, the levels were far too small for one. Contrary to John’s review they weren’t “slightly smaller”, they were multiple times smaller. A you could fit at least two, maybe three DS levels into a single TDP level, and TMA missions were bigger even than that. I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say that you could fit all of DS’s city levels, plus an entire mission, say Stopping Time, both parts, into Life of the Party. This doesn’t ruin the game, but it certainly does take away from it; if Thief 1 and 2 are your touchstones for Thief 3 then Thief 3 absolutely cannot feel sprawling. Which is fine, it doesn’t need to, but that’s an issue. The movement could also feel wonky, but that was easy enough to adapt too.

    Ultimately, however, those are minor nitpicks, because Thief 3 is, at it’s core, still Thief. I would say that, at least for me, it is far and away the worst of the Thiefs. But that really isn’t saying much. That would be like picking one of the Half-Lifes and saying “this is the worst Half-Life.” The worst of an amazing group is still miles ahead of everything else, and I think any fanboy attempts to discon Thief 3 would be ultimately pretty foolish. Especially since for all of it’s faults it did give us one of the best Thief levels of all time. It was hard-won, but it definitely earned the right to be considered a Thief game. If Thief 4 is as good as Thief 3 I’ll consider that a positive outcome.

  12. Ergates says:

    Does the Steam version work properly on Vista then? I couldn’t get my boxed copy to install when tried a while back.

  13. Heliocentric says:

    Can you play Thief DS without a stylus because i chewed all mine up while playing brain training and getting stuck.

  14. Jacques says:

    First thing that came to mind for me too, Thief for teh 3DS

  15. Choalmitestraights says:

    You know how video games get made into bad movies? If someone took the theif universe they would make a really awful movie. Which is a shame because something truly amazing could be made. But it never would. Look at ‘A Scanner Darkly’ as something of a form of potential. And rewatch the cutscenes from one two and three. Mostly two.

    I am of the opinion that graphical/technical issues did damage thief three, but it was still an exceptionally good bit of game. Thief two is the one I love however. Something about mechanists and hammerites. Something chilling about how fucked up humanity can be.

  16. adonf says:

    yeehaw ! it’s back on sale at 85% off (that’s 2.99 bottlecaps here)

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