Reviewed: July 16, 2004
Released: May 25, 2004
Back in 1998 Looking Glass Studios launched a new genre in gaming, the ďstealth simulationĒ. The late 90ís was a time when FPS games were flourishing. Quake, Doom, Heretic, Hexen, Duke Nukem, and countless other titles were all the rage, but Looking Glass decided to try something different.
Known for diverse and often very unique titles (Ultima Underworld, British Open Championship Golf, Flight Unlimited), Looking Glass replaced the action with suspense, guns with a bow and a blackjack, and a new style of gaming was born. The days of storming into a room with guns blazing were now replaced with sneaking, eavesdropping, observation, and thievery.
Whether they were tired of endless killing sprees or just looking to explore the dark side of being a master thief, gamers loved the concept and Thief: The Dark Project became one of the highest rated games of all time, destined to launch a sequel of equal success.
Thief: Deadly Shadows is the third installment in the legacy of Garrett, a master thief who slinks around in the shadows of a unique hybrid world, part medieval, and part early-Industrial Age London. This affords several fanciful locations like castles and large stone cities full of dark alleys, sewers, and other mysterious locations.
Thief has always been about stealth, both silence and invisibility, and while the previous games did an admirable job of conveying those elements into a standard FPS-style game, it is only with todayís level of technology that the concept can be realized to itís fullest potential. Only with 3D spatial sound and advanced lighting and shadows can you truly become a thief.
Deadly Shadows continues the legacy of the early games. You still play as Garrett and the Pagans, Keepers, and Hammerites all play an important part in the story. Garret was being trained to become a Keeper and now his former masters ask him to ďretrieveĒ several items that may play a part in a troubling prophecy. Naturally, your missions and the entire story are shrouded in mystery, and only when you are totally sucked into the game will the twisting plot reveal itself.
The first thing you need to know about Deadly Shadows is that this is a slow and meticulous game. Those seeking a lot of action had better look elsewhere. If you thought games like Tenchu and Splinter Cell were slow then you havenít seen anything yet. For those with the patience and skill, there is a hugely rewarding gameplay experience buried in this title.
Whether you are a veteran of the earlier games or a newcomer, you will certainly appreciate the well-crafted tutorial that guides you around the level with a set of glowing footprints and precise clues on what to do and how to do it. By the time the tutorial is over you will be more than qualified to tackle the real missions.
The city is massive, divided into several sections, and you will explore most of it throughout the course of the game. Along the way you will steal plenty of treasure, some of it is quest items and others are random trinkets that you can unload on the local fence to earn money to buy better equipment. The only problem with this system is that the fences are scattered all over the city and many only take a certain type of item (jewelry, artwork, etc). This can lead to a bit of extra travel during the course of the game.
The city is also populated with plenty of NPCís, including both innocent citizens ripe for the pick pocketing, and the ever-present and ever-alert City Watch. The AI for the guards is most impressive in that they will see and hear any suspicious activity like a broken light or an open door, track evidence, search for intruders, fight, or give chase. Unlike a lot of enemy AI, the guards in this game donít give up as easily once they are on your trail.
To help you in your quest for ill-gotten booty is a wonderful assortment of weapons and tools. Obviously, your weapon of choice is your faithful bow, which can be armed with an assortment of arrows ranging from fire, water, gas, moss, and noisemakers. Each arrow has a specific function but the gameplay is open enough to allow you to experiment with different tactics. You could lure guards away with a distracting whistling arrow or gas them into a pleasant slumber.
Water arrows are probably your most valuable asset as they are the only thing capable of extinguishing torches and fire pits, a necessity in creating those ďdeadly shadowsĒ for you to lurk about in. Admittedly, about half of the city is lit by electricity so water will only get you so far in your stealth activities.
Conversely, fire arrows are useful in lighting up darker areas or creating new and perhaps more useful shadows. Deadly Shadows, as the name might imply is a very dark game and rightfully so, but you will likely find yourself having to play the game in total darkness yourself just to enjoy it. The sophistication of the lighting and real-time shadows immerses you in an after-hours world like no other game has before.
Enough about arrows. You also have gas grenades; flashbombs, oil flasks, and even a primitive form of proximity mine. Then you have the traditional weapons of thieves; daggers and blackjacks, as well as assorted gear like gloves, lockpicks, and even a mechanical eye that allows Garrett to zoom in on his target. All of this gear is available in stores or hidden about the city in secret stashes.
The control is excellent. While I am usually the first to complain about playing FPS games on a console with a gamepad, the gameplay in Deadly Shadows isnít about quick movement and precise targeting, so the limitations of the gamepad arenít as apparent. Managing weapons and inventory is easy. The black and white buttons independently cycle the two lists and the left and right trigger uses items or weapons as necessary.
The D-pad is used to lean around corners or zoom with your eye and you now have a useful wall-hug ability. The jump button serves a dual purpose and when held down will allow you to climb up (mantle) onto ledges. Basically, everything you need is a single click away. The analog control offers smooth variable speed movement and excellent camera control. The vibration effect is a crucial part of the lock picking process and gives you instant feedback on your progress.
Mission design is carefully integrated into the ongoing story but by the end of the game you canít help but feel a bit of repetitiveness. Almost every mission has you navigating a portion of the city, infiltrating a building, stealing some stuff, and escaping undetected. Sure, thatís what the game is supposed to be about, but the designers could have stuck in more alternate routes through the city, or just done something to give these missions a bit more variety.
On the bright side, there was one situation where I was captured by a guard and put in jail, stripped of my items and looking quite helpless. My natural tendency was to hit the restart button but after a bit of exploration I found I was able to escape my cell and loot the jailhouse for some items that would have otherwise been unavailable to me.
The one thing that is truly dynamic in Deadly Shadows is the assorted cast of extras. The streets are populated with hundreds of people engaging in their own personal business and conversations. There are over 300,000 lines of dialogue so eavesdropping never gets tiresome and you can often find some useful information hidden within the idle banter.
Thief: Deadly Shadows is a game of such visual complexity that it could only appear on the Xbox. Admittedly, the levels are small and even some of the interior locations arenít as big or complex as I would have liked, but the sheer quality of the textures, lighting and shadows is such that only the power of the nVidia chip could create them. The characters and textures are all a step up from Ion Stormís previous Xbox effort, Deus Ex: Invisible War.
If you aren't sure what style of game your prefer, Deadly Shadows offers you the ability of playing from a third or first-person perspective. With a tap of the BACK button you can toggle between these views. In some cases a certain view is actually beneficial, so using this feature is often more than just a luxury, it's strategy.
Naturally, the Xbox is forced to play the game at lower resolutions than you would likely play on the PC, which makes the sluggish framerate all that more surprising. Thankfully, the gameplay is slow enough that the lagging framerate doesnít hinder the experience. Considering the required PC specs for this game are about 2-3 times that of the Xbox, itís a wonder the game plays as well as it does.
The lack of an opening movie was a bit surprising but the menus and overall presentation was excellent and in keeping with the mechanical themes of the earlier games. Overall, Deadly Shadows is a very stylish game that is simply a bit too demanding for the platform, but still very playable.
When the darkness obscures your vision itís time for your ears to take over. Presented in stunning Dolby Digital, Deadly Shadows delivers a powerful yet subtle mix of haunting themes with some of the best environmental sounds ever heard on the Xbox. If you are playing in standard stereo you are only getting a fraction of the experience.
Wind, water, voices, squeaky doors, creaking floors, and the crackle of fire are just a few of the sounds that bring Shalebridge to life, and more than 300,000 lines of recorded dialogue bring the population to life, so the entire game world is a very real living and breathing place. Itís wonderfully immersive and quite easy to get lost in after several hours of gameplay.
Deadly Shadows is a substantial offering as far as console games go. You can expect anywhere from 15-20 hours of solid gaming and those who like to take their time and explore and steal everything that isnít nailed down can squeeze several more hours from the title.
The story and the missions are rather linear and there are no branching plotlines or multiple endings, so there is no real incentive for replaying the game anytime soon after the initial pass. The lack of multiplayer will certainly be missed by those who spend more time on Xbox Live than they do in the real world, but there is more than enough game here to warrant a purchase.
Stealth games are quickly becoming a huge sub-genre in both third and first-person action titles, but no one like Garrett can give the genre the true stealth-simulation twist that has made the Thief franchise as popular as it is today. Ion Storm has definitely learned some important lessons from Invisible War and while there is still room for improvement, this is their best Xbox game yet.
Thief: Deadly Shadows creates a super-realistic environment and weaves a sinister storyline full of plot twists and plenty of suspense to create a game like no other. If this is your first taste of thievery or if you are a long-time fan of the series, you wonít want to miss out on Garrettís best adventure to date.