News: Thief Deadly Shadows

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The Thief series has its genesis on PCs. Originally created by fan-beloved but commercially unsuccessful Looking Glass Studios, the first two games brought the experience of stealth action to PC gamers before serious interest in the genre was stirred up by games like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell. Instead of towing a military line with a socio-political bent, Thief follows the tale of Garrett, a master thief who combs the streets of a seedy medieval town, looting as he pleases and somehow simultaneously stopping the onslaught of fanatical factions bent on destroying the world.

It's several years since the last Thief game. Moreover, the series never appeared on consoles before. In the time between the last game and now, Ion Storm, the developers of Deus Ex: Invisible War, have taken the series over. Eidos, the original publishers, retain the rights to the series, and Warren Spector, the head of Ion Storm, worked on the original game for the middle third of its development cycle. But instead of just letting his expertise guide the development, he's done his best to recruit key members of the original team back -- story, sound design, graphic design and other aspects are handled by the original staff who worked on the first two games. But bringing the world of Thief to new audiences on both the console and PC has caused advances to be made in the game's design.

Thief "is all about one thing," according to Spector. That's sneaking. Stealthiness. Clinging to the shadows and remaining unseen. But according to Spector, Thief isn't like other popular stealth games. A chief difference is the A.I. of guards. In other games, they march in set rotations and have a predictable field of vision; in Thief, they're more responsive, and have complex levels of A.I. programming that allow them to take different courses of action depending on available information and the situation you're in. Some guards act alone; others are programmed to act in squads. If a guard sees you, he's a threat -- not merely something to be briefly avoided.

But in the way that Deus Ex: Invisible War was designed to achieve success with a wider audience, so too has Thief evolved from its original incarnations. "You can't make games for M.I.T. grads," Spector quipped, referring to the complexity and difficulty of past games. To bring new gamers into the Thief world, important changes have been made that smooth the transition between this game and its predecessors as well as antiquated design decisions and present-day ideas.

Thief 3 features a new third-person mode. The most striking is the addition of a third-person mode. Initially it wasn't in the design, but after some Ion Storm employees hacked it in to an early version of the game, its versatility and appeal became obvious to everyone involved. You can switch on the fly between first and third-person, and the game can be played entirely from one perspective or the other; it's up to you to figure out just how you like your game. A tutorial mode has been added to bring newcomers up to speed, but Spector promises it won't be as lengthy tedious as most games'.

In the original Thief games, Garrett was more or less incapable of combat; so much so that it became frustrating to many players, including Spector. While he's no match for a squadron of heavily armed guards, he has some teeth to him this time around. Increasing the player's offensive capabilities not only adds a new gameplay element, it keeps you from having to throw your progress away just because you can't sneak your way through every second of the game flawlessly. A variety of tools and items will be at your disposal to help flesh out the game's mechanics; some can be used in multiple ways -- for example, water-tipped arrows can put out torches or wash away telltale bloodstains. Gas-tipped arrows can put guards to sleep, and flash bombs blind them. Of course, straight fighting is an option, and for that Garrett carries a trusty dagger.

As was demonstrated by Ion Storm staff at Eidos' offices, you'll need your wits, skills, and these special items to make it through the game in tact. The main game follows a fairly traditional mission structure. Typically Garrett's tasked with searching out a well-guarded relic and liberating it from the depths of a compound. Immediately as the demo began, it was easy to note that what surfaces you walk on are important, noise-wise, as the guards can hear you easily. Sticking to the shadows, cast realistically by the same engine that powered Deus Ex: Invisible War, is also key.

Guards talk to themselves and each other as they patrol the grounds. It's important to listen to them as their speech gives hints about how you should proceed as well as gauging their general mood and awareness. Just as a real thief would, you must pay attention and wait for the right moment. The level architecture is filled with nooks, crannies, and alternate exits and entrances so you can find multiple paths to your objective. You can take the stealthy way in or try and zip past guards and lose them. You can use objects in the environment to block out light, and you can track guards by their shadows before you even see them. Since the game has multiple difficulty levels, you can strive toward becoming a master after you begin to get the basics down pat, too, offering multi-layered enjoyment to fresh-faced pickpockets and hardened felons alike.

What ties together the game's missions is a free-form "city section" where you start out in Garrett's abode. His apartment is filled with useful items that periodically replenish and a practice room complete with target and sandbag for honing your battle skills. In his apartment complex are rooms designed to let you grow into your skills before heading out into the more difficult areas, and you can choose to hit the town between missions to pick up loot from the tenements surrounding his home -- this is useful for buying necessary supplies, but you can skip straight to the next mission if you're so inclined. If you scout around you can find hidden areas and challenges; leaping from building to building can get you access to secluded treasure rooms, for instance. Mixing together a traditional game structure with a freer experience seems to offer the best of both worlds as we tread between eras of game design.

For those wondering about the story, Spector wouldn't divulge much. It's the third part of the three-part narrative begun in the first Thief game years ago, but supposedly newcomers won't have to know all the details to enjoy the story. Garrett is a cynical loner, not unlike most stealth heroes, and goes about his job with a certain detachment. The Keepers, a cultish group reliant on prophecy, decide that Garrett is actually a foretold betrayer that will bring about disaster. It's up to you to extricate him from this mess, but how that's done and what it all means is still a mystery. It's apparent that there's an intricate tale here, though, which has the feel of a dark fantasy epic.

Visually, the game has an appealingly grimy look. Since the game runs on the same engine that powered Deus Ex: Invisible War, light and shadow are omnipresent. Consequently, it also runs rather slowly on the Xbox at present, but we've been promised better performance than the console saw with Invisible War. Presumably the same will be true for PC, as that game still presents some performance issues on even the hardiest systems. The game exudes mood, though, and its dark medieval setting offers a very different feel than Deus Ex. If everything comes together, Thief: Deadly Shadows will offer a bold new way of looking at stealth gaming; at the very least, it's a curious game that will offer an interesting perspective on the genre. As we draw closer to the release, we'll find out just how PC gamers react to a retooled Thief and how Xbox gamers like its bleak world.

cant you just give us your own personal summary on the game? reading all that is kindof annoying... also a link would help wink

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