Hurrah! Over the weekend, the previously discussed The Dark Mod released. It’s called 1.0 but they’re also calling it Beta, so what’s a guy to think? Well, a guy’s to think this is splendid. It’s basically for playing Thief-esque levels entirely in the Doom 3 engine (As created with DarkRadiant). You can download the full thing from the site -which includes a training mission, and get any of the three already completed missions from here. And I’ve been playing them all, so some thoughts on the Dark Project and the levels are hidden in the shadows nearby…
Yeah, it’s basically impressive. It’s not perfect but it’s basically Thief… but in Doom 3. For those of you who were disappointed in the less faithful direction Deadly Shadows headed in will be delighted in – well – rope arrows and all of Garrett’s missing chums. It’s not a simple re-creation however, and it’s been tweaked in quite a few meaningful ways. Take Lockpicking, which manages to find its own approach to the picking-locks mini-game problem which has haunted games since Thief. Rather than the original Thief slowly alternating between two lockpicks and waiting or later Stealth games looking-for-hot-points-to-jiggle-free, it instead plays its own sound-sample which loops. There’s a gap at the end. By pressing at that exact moment, you take out that tumbler. In other words, they’ve inserted a skill element but kept (or even extended) the tension as you try and get a lock open before you’re found. Neatly, since it’s sound based, there’s also room for puzzles based around noisy areas. As part of the tutorial level, there’s a section where you’re trying to pick a safe near some heavy machinery – an impossible task until you’ve turned that nasty steam-punk off.
(There’s also an option to make three-repeats automatically take out the tumbler if you’re weak).
In other words, an intelligent development which adds to Thief’s core experience. They’ve tried something similar with the fighting, but it’s less successful – not least because who the hell fights in a Thief game? You’re able to choose different sword-attacks by moving the mouse while attacking. The system can be expanded for those looking for more challenge by you having to manually select the block direction in a similar way. I admit, the system has taught me something about games. I’ve always objected having to select special moves by selecting a move-key – which is the way most people who do sword-fighting tend to go. After all, why should I move that direction for a half-second doing a move? In actual practice, it’s far worse having that fraction-of-a-second on the mouse, because it means it becomes awkward to even look at the person you’re fighting. I’m sure that it gets better with practice, but it’s so initially awkward and the pay-off so tangential to the core of the game, I find it difficult to preserve.
The missions available are really the early ones, being mostly small set-pieces you’ll be playing through on 20 minutes or half an hour or so. The Tutorial actually has far more worth than you’d expect – there’s a lot of the skills you’ll want a place to practice, and it provides a system to do exactly that (For example, the sword-fighting allows you to go through seven increasingly difficult fights). And having a game where you can mantle up onto anything is highly welcome. And the glorious leaning. And…
Back to the missions. The Outpost is probably the simplest, and what I recommend you try first, based around a single small area and a fine place to get back into your Thief groove. Crown of Penitence is probably the best out of the three – it’s got the best compromise between size, complexity and quality – if a little buggy in a few places. Chalice of Kings seems a similar size, but is a more awkward, punishing beast. At least the most obvious route, even with finding a hidden button – I’ve seen discussion that there’s a second – throws you in a position where you have to take single path through an (electric) lighted area past a guard standing with his back to the wall. The best solution I have is try a noise-arrow to take him elsewhere, but there’s about six other guards within its radius, meaning the whole place becomes chaos for a bit. I’m sure I’ll work something else, but for anyone returning to Thief after a gap, it’s a punishing problem.
(The biggest thing being that you have to act without any knowledge of what the rest of the building looks like. There’s no chance to plan or scope out the place – for me, some of the key joys of Thief.)
More general problems… well, it’s tricky to say whether they’re problems with the Dark Mod or problems with the actual levels have been constructed. I seem to be missing with my Water Arrows more often than I feel I should be – especially tricky with the tiny lantern lights, presumably due to a smaller hit area. Manouvering corpses is surprisingly tricky, normally involving me grabbing each limb individually to make sure it goes through the door – some limitations on the ragdolling to streamline this core functionality (i.e. Hiding the body) would be welcome (EDIT: As people in the comments thread have noted, there’s other options to play with – press E to shoulder the body). Oh – and there’s some AI twitchiness, which when married to the voice-responses, is often a recipe for fine comedy. For example, I unloaded my entire quiver of arrows into a group of guards who seemed i) pretty much entirely resistant to ‘em due to their armour and shitty marksmanship and ii) pretty much incapable of walking down the corridor in the direction the arrows were coming from. The best responses were between the can’t-see-the-wood-for-the-trees of a guard looking at the arrow that just hit him and saying something along the lines of “There shouldn’t be weapons here” and the servant in perfect deadpan “there may be a thief about” when his comrades are looking like bequilled porcupines. So, in other words, it really is a lot like Thief.
Despite that nitpicking, this is a strong start. There’s talk of more longer missions imminently. Even now, there’s a good couple of hours of classic immersive sim action here, and I recommend it strongly. You can get it from here and require a fully patched version of Doom 3 to play. And if the site’s still down, you can use the torrent here.