Have you played… Thief: Deadly Shadows?

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

I always feel a bit sad when I think about Deadly Shadows. Ion Storm Austin’s spin on Looking Glass’ landmark stealth series is an embodiment of frustrated ambitions. The developers had basically planned for Deadly Shadows to be an open-world stealth game, a sort of medieval Grand Theft Carriage. But the prioritising of the original Xbox combined with lofty technological ambitions meant that, like a man trying to fit an elephant into a fridge, Ion Storm had to mercilessly cut down the scope of its project. Even then, they could only include the important bits, like the trunk and a couple of the feet.

Although it’s hard to ignore the emaciated figure that Deadly Shadows cuts, Ion Storm’s game can prowl and pilfer just as well as the two Looking Glass titles before it. There are some majestically designed levels, such as the Widow Moira’s island estate, Garrett’s creeping ascent of a clock tower in Killing Time, and of course the notorious Shalebridge Cradle, which remains one of the finest and most fearsome examples of video-game horror.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Cradle, it sees Garrett exploring a condemned orphanage that was turned into an insane asylum while the orphans were still living there. Its level design is as cleverly layered as the premise, forcing Garrett to delve ever deeper into a building filled with vivid, traumatic and violent memories.

I’d also like to pay homage to a little-mentioned feature of Deadly Shadows, the oil flasks. Garrett could shatter these on the ground to create an oil slick, and any passing guard would slip on the fluid. I distinctly recall one guard who patrolled near the top of a staircase in widow Moira’s mansion. If you threw an oil flask at just the right spot, the bumbling watchman would slip down the staircase and knock himself out.

Any game capable of producing both psychological horror and emergent slapstick is worthy of your time, and Deadly Shadows is absolutely that, even if it is a mere shade of what it was originally intended to be.

30 Comments

  1. lowenz says:

    The ESSENTIAL unofficial patch (+ Gold Version with “joined” levels + JohnP textures + a lot of TAFFIN’ stuff :D ): link to ttlg.com

    • stele says:

      Thief 1 and 2, with their huge levels, are in my top 5 games of all time, so the tiny levels in this one ruined the experience for me. I should try this patch with the joined levels.

    • Kingseeker Camargo says:

      What does “joined levels” mean? Are those pesky mid-level breaks gone? Because that would be amazing.

      Edit: Yep, I just looked around and that mod was featured in this very website a few years ago, I don’t know how I missed it. Sounds really interesting indeed.

  2. falchieyan says:

    This was my first Thief game so I recall it fondly. I recall reading a lot of complaints from series vets that it wasn’t quite up to the previous two games, but I had no frame of reference so was able to enjoy it on its own. Maybe it’s the same thing that goes on with Final Fantasy 7, with people who played it as their entry into RPGs recalling it as the be-all-end-all of the series while everyone who’d played anything up to that point thought more highly of ones such as FF4.
    The most distinct memory for me about the Shalebridge Cradle was the fact that all of the baddies caused the lights to flicker when they approached. This caused a lot of nervous looking about to locate them as well as sudden terror when I was muckin’ about with a lock and the lights started to twitch.

    • poliovaccine says:

      I grew up on the first two Thief games, as well as modding/making levels for them in DromEd, so I absolutely did have that frame of reference, and I still loved Thief III. I just didn’t have the frame of reference for whatever it was originally supposed to be, so as open as it was, it impressed me just the same. In fact, a lot of what I was doing in DromEd was making towns where every building was enterable/lootable and rooftops were connected and so were sewers and etc… but it was long hard work and I never finished any of those abortive neighborhoods, which made it all the more gratifying when the Deadly Shadows devs just served up exactly what I’d wanted anyway. Anyway, all I mean to say is that I grew up on the two preceding classics, and Deadly Shadows is still my favorite one.

      Also, blasphemously, I like having the third person option. It’d suck if it was third person only, but as it is, I like having the option.

      • Unclepauly says:

        The outlier. Hello.

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        Hooray for having options! Something that many games lack, for various (and perhaps stupid) reasons.

        I’ve only played the demo of Thief 3, never plaed the old ones or even a stealth game before that, but I just had to get it after playing the demo. Still haven’t played it, though, for various (and perhaps stupid) reasons, but I have the game still in its plastic wrapping.

  3. Nolenthar says:

    The one thing I recall the most in the Thief serie was the water arrow, turning off fire source. It sounds super simple nowadays as game genuinely gives you more freedom with your environment (and yet, not all of them by any mean) but this feeling of freedom of turning off a lightsource with an arrow. It was fantastic.

  4. Michael Fogg says:

    Fantastic score by Eric Brosius. Some of the tracks like Rutherford Castle, Forsaken Manse and Museum are on my all-time favourites playlist.

  5. Jalan says:

    I mentioned it in the last “Have you played”, but nope.

    I’m thinking once I am finished with my most recent foray into Invisible War, I may (at long last) start the Thief games proper (though I still love The Dark Mod).

  6. Czrly says:

    Thief 3 wasn’t as good as 1 and 2, to be sure, but compared to the latest offering, it was pure gold!

    Yeah, I’m still angry about the latest one. What a piss-poor game that was.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Thief 3 is a very good game on its own terms, but the thing that I most remember is the first time I tried to swim and Garret instantly died, with no explanation whatsoever as to how he had gone from an accomplished swimmer to someone who dies on contact with water.

    As a series that really thrived on creating immersive spaces, this alone did a lot to damage it in my eyes.

    • DrJ3RK says:

      Between the second and third games, Garret had a traumatic experience in the water. From that day forward, he would freeze in panic any time it touched him, which as you’ve found can be deadly.

      :P

    • Werthead says:

      I remember a very outrageous example of this was in the dockside mission in Max Payne 3, where you die instantly on contact with water, despite cut scenes showing Max escaping from the area by swimming.

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    subdog says:

    I want a new Thief game that is as bold and as reinventive for that series as HITMAN (2016) was for its series. Pretty please.

  9. BaronKreight says:

    I still remember the mission at the orphanage. Creepy stuff.

  10. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Golden age of PC gaming… I wish I could play this for the first time again. Other franchises evolved the formula further but the mix of steampunk, gothic, black magic, Gareth and the perpetual vulnerability of the player character were unique.
    The game was a power trip in a way where you were not killing everything in sight but were invisible if you acted carefully and could outsneak everything. Plus it was damn scary, T2 also.

    • Stardog says:

      Golden age? This game and Deus Ex 2 are the poster children for the dumbing down of PC games for consoles. This is where games became console-focused (at least Xbox-focused) and we’re still suffering from it to this day.

      • Unclepauly says:

        Maybe he meant golden shower age. Where all our best franchises got pissed on.

  11. Horg says:

    Not a bad game at all, it did feel like it fit the theme of the city set by the first two games, unlike the appallingly misjudged Thiefourf. It would have been remembered more fondly if the consoles of the time could handle larger, more complex levels, and the city hub was a worthy attempt at creating a sense of continuity that the first two games didn’t have.

  12. frobishlumpkin says:

    Didn’t know they put a Thief game on DS!

  13. Pharaoh Nanjulian says:

    I was halfway through the Shalebridge Cradle when I last played Thief III. I never had quite a good enough PC to handle it (and I thought it looked fantastic so deservered something better), so it’s been on my shelf awaiting reinstallation. Having played the first two, I still thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of Deadly Shadows, with my magica wand…

  14. Hyena Grin says:

    It was pretty alright. It didn’t really capture the awe and wonder and sheer sense of scale that the first two games did, with their enormous levels without a defined path through them.

    The game deserves accolades just for the Cradle level though. That was some masterful level design for the time. Yeah, a little cliche in concept, but pulled off really well. I had to turn off a part of my brain I didn’t realize I could turn off in order to get through it.

  15. Psychomorph says:

    Was my first Thief game and it defined the term “immersion” for me.

    Although, I find the original Thief games much superior, real art, but I still hold Thief 3 in high regard.

  16. Cryio says:

    Thief Deadly Shadows (especially with the expanded levels mod) is an absolutely amazing game.

    Brilliant story and world lore, atmosphere, really good gameplay, still really good visuals, amazing sound design and easily one of the best designed levels in the history of gaming. Bonus points for a fun small secret level.

    • KenTWOu says:

      Bonus points for a fun small secret level.

      Wait, are you talking about escape from Pavelock Prison? Yeah, that was a really great idea.

  17. fish99 says:

    I probably should since I love the first two.

  18. Jason Moyer says:

    Invisible War and Deadly Shadows are basically like the Eidos Montreal Deus Ex/Thief games for me. I don’t regret having played them at the time, but I can’t imagine re-visiting them now.

    I reinstalled DS and IW recently and the thing that I found most striking about both games is how they were sequels to some of the most imaginative, colorful games ever made and were nearly monochromatic. Both games suffer from being set in corridors (and the DS Gold mod just makes the corridors longer, without fixing the fundamental problem). Thief 3 has an additional problem that wasn’t in IW, where the movement feels terrible because of the half-baked attempt at body awareness. On the other hand, DS fixed the problem IW’s physics had where nothing in the game had any weight or momentum.

    Anyway, good game that I would recommend everyone play once (preferably after playing the first two) but it doesn’t hold up well from a gameplay, level design, or art design standpoint when compared to what I’d consider the core Looking Glass-style immersive sims (Thief Gold/System Shock 2/Thief II/Deus Ex and all of Arkane’s output). Even the cutscenes feel strangely out of place in DS, with inconsistent character models and visual styles. Eric Brosius’ audio work and all of the voice acting and writing are still glorious, however.

  19. KenTWOu says:

    Body awareness, seriously improved AI, advanced lighting and shadows, music and sound design, plus, incredible EAX implementation made Thief: Deadly Shadows way more immersive and ruined previous Thieves for me. In contrast to Invisible War, smaller levels didn’t affect the game atmosphere and believability, but made it more claustrophobic and its stealth way, way more intense. So it’s no surprise that in my opinion Deadly Shadows is the best Thief game, and I loved the City hub so much.