The master of theft makes another return, with a new storyline and new duds. Deadly Shadows combines a little old with a little new, and it's pretty obvious that a certain other stealth game inspired most of the new additions. It's as though Garrett and Sam Fisher snuck off into the shadows together and made themselves a cute little baby that specializes like both and still has new tricks to spare.
All the classic gameplay of Thief is still around, from clubbing and backstabbing guards to shooting magical arrows of water and moss. But while this could've ended up as little more than an enhanced expansion pack, Ion Storm made sure there was good reason for the series to drop the numeral and pronounce itself a new product. The most well known of the new features is the optional third-person view, which you can easily substitute for the series-standard first-person on the fly at the touch of a key. Expanding and enhancing the view, it allows for the obvious peeking around corners and boxes without placing our facially scarred star, Garrett, in danger. Considering that he can now flatten his back against walls - a fairly useless move in first-person - this is very welcome.
The new lock picking technique will come naturally to anyone who's played Splinter Cell, as it works exactly the same. Garrett drops with his tools to the chest/door/cabinet lock and a series of rings appear on-screen. The mouse is used to rotate the pick until it hits the sweet spot that will cause the ring to vibrate, and then holding the pick in location for a moment will slide it into place. Repeat for every ring further down - anywhere from three to six in the early areas I ventured through - to pop it open and have Garrett claim yet more property that isn't his. If you're fast enough, you can sneak behind a guard, pick a lock, run inside, and shut the door with our armored non-friend none the wiser, but those tricky huge locks don't give much chance no matter how quick your hands are.
The lighting engine exemplifies great form and function, considering how beautifully it is layered with the necessity of the dark for sneaking. Creeping through the trail of shadow created by soldiers walking with torches and using the pathways of sound to Garrett's advantage are more great ploys. Making sure to close doors for muffling cries or leaning against them to hear anyone that's inside finally take the sound design farther then merely watching what surface one runs or walks across. The traveling lights and cones of safe traveling lines utilize shadows in a more active manner then before.
The real draw of Thief has always been the missions and guards, and so far it seems to be shaping up beautifully. After the brief tutorial level, Garrett gets a job that he picked up on from some conversations overheard in the beginning. Infiltrate a castle, steal a very precious gem, and then get back out through the same door. Nice and simple - or it would be if almost every hallway and room weren't stationed with guards, easily spooked civilians, or treacherous upper-class citizens. Thankfully, getting caught is still not necessarily the end, provided you're fleet of foot and handy with finding hiding spots. The AI has improved, with far more triggers to get guards curious or flat out chasing with sword drawn. Hearing you knock into items or noticing displaced furniture or missing valuables will get responses ranging from characters debating aloud with themselves as to whether or not that chair was actually moved up to going on an active hunt for your blood.
Clearing out that mission leads Garrett back home and into the city, tracking down dealers, selling stolen merchandise, discovering optional missions and pickpocketing the locals. While many doors are barred for the night, many others are merely locked, and no mere lock ever stopped this thief. Running straight to the destination would've been fine and dandy, but that would've taken all the fun out of breaking into bars, apartments, and houses and robbing people blind. One building I was rummaging through housed a stonecutter who was helping two burglars steal gems and skimming some for himself. They apparently had discovered this trick of his and came back for questioning, and thanks to a total inability to talk his way out of the situation it led to battle, calling for guards, and a few new corpses. I stayed out of the way hiding in the kitchen and was rewarded by keeping everything in Garrett's expanded pockets with no damage to him.
It's rather a shame that the characters - barring Garrett - all look as though some last generation stick-like models were taken and bump-mapped. They look pretty bad in comparison to other recent games but it's not terrible enough to hurt the game, just disappointing. The AI can also be spotty, as I was greeted happily by an armed woman that was planning on assaulting guards while passing by in town, but later when I knocked out a random city guard a block away she ran me down with sword drawn, yelling about how if it was a fight I wanted it's one I would get.
But I've already rambled on too long. Just know that Thief: Deadly Shadows will be a beautiful addition to anyone's collection. I've only made it through the first few levels so far and it's been a stealth game fan's dream come true. Solo residential ransacking exactly the way it should be done.
· · · Christopher Rubin