Well now, here is a brilliant little surprise. Who’d have thought the best game set in the Thief universe this year would be an itsy bitsy isometric Ludum Dare 29 entry? Maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement, but Beneath The City really is a smart (though sadly brief) execution of a really fun idea. In short (but undeniably stout), it’s a real-time turn-based stealther set in Thief’s City. Each time you dash in any direction with a lithe tap of an arrow key, so too does every guard on the map. There’s also light sources to account for, water arrows to fling, and a mystery to partially unravel. Garrett – the real Garrett – would be proud.
Yeah, I didn’t like nu-Thief as much as John, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway.
Beneath The City isn’t really focused on sound design like the Thieves of yore, but the top-down visual language of each area (including some trepidation-inducing fog-of-war-style effects) makes up for the lack of a sense quite nicely.
The simple act of movement is imbued with both thiefly grace and a chess-like helping of fear. Slick animations make dashing feel so very good, but you can’t get careless. Guards will spot you, and they get double the number of turns once on alert. You don’t have a blackjack either, so it’s ghost or become a ghost. An extremely limited supply of water arrows and a couple turn-doubling dashes will only save your sickly skinny hide if you’ve got a fool-proof plan to go along with them.
Beyond that, the real showdown here is between you and the game’s level design. Given that Beneath The City was made in 48 hours, it can’t touch old-school Thief in terms of openness. However, what’s here is competent (if not entirely unique among stealth games), and the challenge escalates at a respectable clip.
For every cut corner, however, Beneath The City impresses with minute details. Water arrows are implemented wonderfully, instantly taking out the nearest light source in a room. As you’d expect, they alert nearby guards but give you the benefit of a thick cloak of pure darkness. Dashing into said darkness with a guard nipping at your heels is a thrill even when everything is technically turn-based, as I discovered on multiple occasions. And then my avatar would automatically press himself against a nearby wall and furtively shift to watch as guards passed by. Like I said, it’s the little things that make this little game.
Beneath The City’s biggest problem is that it’s not really complete. It currently lacks its full plot and level selection, as it just barely squeaked its way beneath LD49’s shuttering gate. The systems in place here are fantastic, though. I’d love to see this concept spun out into a full (or at least fuller) game. You can try it for free right here.