Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Thief: Deadly Shadows is different

I don't know if this blog post is going to make much sense because I'm pretty tired now, I haven't really been able to put my thoughts of Thief: Deadly Shadows together to make any sort of understandable sentences and worst of all I made the mistake of reading through other people's reviews of the game just before starting this post and now I feel like I have less to say about the game itself and more say in reply to other people's views on the game. Also, a little warning: I may mention Splinter Cell a few times.

If you didn't know, I am a big fan of stealth games. I don't know if it's the yellow-belly coward in me who gets scared of the thought of actually having to do battle with enemies, or if it's just that I'm sick in the head and like to sit in dark corners of rooms and prefer to do it in video games because then the owners of the house won't call the police and have me locked away. I don't know, could be both, but I like stealth games to the extent that my idea of improving crappy action games is always the same: make them about sneaking around. Thief: Deadly Shadows is about sneaking around so by default the sneaking game fan in me already likes it, but does the Thief fan in me like it?
I once wrote that Splinter Cell is the ultimate in hiding like a girl, and if that's true then Thief is the ultimate in hiding like a man. Or like a thief. I like the Thief games because they're distinctly unique in the general feeling and gameplay experience. They have their own style of cutscenes and own way of story telling, their own world with unique creatures, their own types of level design with varying mission objectives, and despite being so different and mysterious the world of Thief still makes you feel right at home if you give the games a chance. I'm so tired right now that I actually can't remember where I was going with all that, so I'll just move on to Deadly Shadows since that's what I meant to talk about from beginning. Just remember that I like Thief.

Deadly Shadows is different from the first two Thief games. It's visually different and it's changed a lot of the smaller gameplay elements that made Thief Thief. Unlike Thief I and II, Deadly Shadows offers both first-person and third-person camera modes, most definitely because Deadly Shadows was made for both PC and Xbox and 3rd person view is always better for a console. Naturally the game feels a lot different if you play it in 3rd person, in fact it reminds me a lot of Splinter Cell games in that mode, but even in first-person the game doesn't play out like Thief. You see Garrett's legs and hands while your playing, which admittedly is interesting, but you also seem to sway from side to side while you walk that I found so distracting that I just had to play in 3rd person for the majority of the game. I admit that I prefer 3rd person over 1st person anyway as seeing the character helps with tricky jumps and moving in tighter corridors where it's difficult to tell how close things are, and it looks nice when you see Garret's figure slip from shadow to light and back again or see his silhouette against the blue light coming from  a window while you wait for guards' silhouettes to move away from the light of a fireplace.
The controls seem to have some odd delay that I never exeprienced in the first two games, and Garret also has a newfound tendency to get stuck in the scenery and the invisible parts of objects, something that I found very rare in the originals. There were a few times I had to reload a save because I was so badly stuck between floorboards or rocks, and several times I had to spend a few minutes trying to move around while jumping before Garret got loose again. There were also a couple of spots where while sneaking Garrett would outright stop in thin air, and what is a constant buggery throughout the game is how Garrett often slows down to snail's pace when there is something small in his path that he should be able to just walk over, like if the floor goes upwards a bit or there's a tiny rock on the ground. Oh, and don't even get me started on climbing some of the stairs in the game. Stairs are your enemy! Blessed be the Builder's greatest gifts to us: ladders and lifts! Steps going uphill are the Trickster's work!
There's also a very annoying glitch where, if you jump at a wrong spot Garret never lands. I mean, he sort of... floats in suspended animation. He can float around but not turn, jump, activate switches, open doors or use items or weapons, and the only ways to fix the situation is to drop from somewhere or just reload.
Leaning forward has also disappeared, leaning in general is crap here and knocking people out has become harder.

Looks like Splinter Cell
The enemy AI in Deadly Shadows is downright stupid. People have made a lot of fuss about how it's oh so new and awesome that the enemies can get suspicious about open doors, torches getting doused and missing people and loot and how all these things, for the first time ever, affect how you play the levels, but these are very basic things that actually don't impact the gameplay much and aren't enough to make anyone call the AI smart. First of all, guards made remarks about doors opening and torches getting doused in the first two games already, altough never beginning a search for the person who did it, and in Deadly Shadows they never search around for longer than 10 seconds so how does it supposedly affect your decisions? Sure, I agree, people saying hi to each other when they pass other people in the room or hallway and guards commenting on suspicious activity often and actually at least looking around for a brief moment does affect your experience and immersion into the game as it makes things seem more lively, but it's not evidence of intelligence. What does count as evidence of lacking intelligence is the fact that guards get stuck in scenery just like Garrett does, except that they don't know how to turn around, jump over or reload a save. You know how many times I killed guards just because they were stuck in a doorway I wanted to go through? Once, and even then I reloaded a save since I'm a thief, not a murder. But seriously, they get stuck in places, and what's worse is that they're not competent in anyway even when they're not stuck. Say a guard sees Garrett in such bright light that the light gem that shows you how hidden you are glows almost at max, what happens? You'd think that at the highest difficulty, a setting at which their senses are supposedly "Very High" they'd give chase, but no, more often than not they stand in their place for several seconds commenting that they have seen something, they draw their weapon and check around for about, oh, 20 seconds before going back to their patrol. They have a shorter attention span than little kids on a sugar high in a room full of new toys. What's funny is that they often also check the WRONG FUCKING DIRECTION. No, seriously, they do, and although that doesn't suck for people who accidentally get caught and can't find a suitable hiding place, it does suck for those who are trying to lure the guards away from themselves with noisemaker arrows or thrown items and have the guard coming at them. Maybe they're all just chicken and are too afraid to check out the real threat.
Hell, once when I was spotted and a guard was actually finding his way towards me, he pushed another guard off a narrow bridge because the AI is either a jerk to everyone or completely nonexistant. The noise of the falling guard caused the searching guard to go to basically the end of the entire area far away from me, and the guard who fell down got stuck when she was trying to climb stairs to return to he patrols.
(I would like to point out here that in the first two games combined I only ever saw one enemy stuck in place and he snapped out of it as soon as I distracted him... or it, rather, as it was one of those mechanical spider-faces, stuck between a ladder and a wall)

In the unlikely event that the incredibly intelligent guards spot you, getting away from guards is also not too difficult in Deadly Shadows, at least not for the right reasons. The guards get tired of running nowadays and actually give up chasing you faster than you can scroll through your items and drop a flash bomb. The first time I got the City Watch after me I desperately scrolled through my inventory to find flash bombs. For personal reasons I had the item scrolling set to such keys that it was difficult to run and select items at the same time, but once I turned around to drop the flash bomb... there was nobody there. They all got tired a while back, and I could see them still panting in the (short) distance away.
Only thing that can get you killed is getting stuck in scenery or getting slowed down by the crap on the ground, and this does pose a problem in the small playing areas.
Yeah, the levels are small, and have loading screens. Okay, so the city is open for you to roam in Deadly Shadows, and it's divided into districts, like docks, poor district, market area, old quarter and fine people's district with the museum, but the districts are small and are basically just a few narrow streets looping around one or two larger buildings, and there's not a lot of choice for routes if we're completely honest. You can go left or right or through other districts, but that's about it. No Thieves' Highway here, and not a huge selection of buildings to rob or places to find extra work in either.
The actual story levels are pretty "narrow" and several are actually quite linear. Sure, there may be two ways into a room but overall the levels tend to be more like obstacle courses that loop around the level in preplanned way, with "alternate" ways given to you whenever guards are guarding the "main route" way too closely. Actually, the level designs remind me of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory for the PC quite a bit. Okay, Chaos Theory came out a year later so I'm not saying Thief:DS should've done better or anything, but it does help explain why I bring up Splinter Cell all the time.

Thief: Deadly Shadows changes the way loot works. First of all, unlike in the first two games T:DS tells you how much of the entire level's loot you have, so completionists like me will have a terrible time trying to locate the last 1% that doesn't sparkle like loot in this game otherwise does, especially because the loading screens don't make you feel like going back for a second round just because of some small trinket you don't even need. Of course, since true gamers will play on Expert difficulty that forces you to always find 90% percent of the level loot, you're really fucked whether you care about status screen percentiles or not.
Looting doesn't end on the story missions, as you can have pretty much endless amounts of stuff to steal in the city. Every game day the items in the city are replenished and loot can be gotten from citizens by either pickpocketing or just mugging, and new people are generated out of your sight. As you can guess, you will constantly have more money than you can spend on thief gadgets. Since there are strict limits to how many of each type of item you can carry and because of how little the items cost, the general idea of loot being a good reward for master thieving is gone and seeing how you can buy everything except holy water from shops getting a large (well, at least the maximum) supply of items is no challenge. Picking up loot for the percentile objective to pass missions is more of a busywork in Deadly Shadows than anything. You don't need the loot for items and grabbing it all is barely a challenge, why pick it up, other than because you're told to? In Thief I and II picking up loot was often an objective, sure, but you always WANTED to pick up all loot anyway because it was so useful for the next level and because it felt rewarding when you got those golden goblets from the well-secured office or found the diamond rings from the secret compartment in the fireplace. In T:DS loot just isn't much of a reward and items aren't as valuable to you.

The Thief series' special items like rope/vine arrows, moss arrows and noisemaker arrows are gone in Deadly Shadows in one way or another. Alright, I explained earlier how noisemaker arrows can cause the dumb  guards to go the opposite direction, but most often when I used them, the guards didn't even notice them. Useless. Moss arrows in Deadly Shadows are useful only for having fun seeing guards choke and getting Pagan's to ally with you. In the first Thief games, I found moss arrows almost as essential as water arrows, but in Deadly Shadows I didn't use a single one other than to fire at the Pagan cornerstones. I never had to use them. Useless.
Rope and vine arrows are completely removed. Instead, we have climbing gloves that allow you to climb rock walls. Sounds awesome? Well aren't you just the stupid one then, because the gloves are a rather useless gimmick. You can only climb clean rock walls, and there's always something to prevent you from climbing walls unless the game wants you to: either the second floor is made of wood or there's wooden beams to stop you, or there's metal pipes, or tiles, or a window, or a magical invisible barrier. Always something. I can actually point the only locations where the gloves are useful in the game: getting the two gas arrows at docks district, getting to the attic entrance at widow Moira's, getting in the clock tower, getting the diamond gear loot at the clocktower, climbing back up in the clock tower if you miss those GODDAMN GOLDEN COINS on the way down, getting out of the library in Gamall's lair, getting one of the paintings in the museum and getting out of the hole after leaving the museum. The climbing in itself is also clunky as hell and you'd rather forget the gloves after a few minutes of climbing. Also, if you climb too high you can sometimes actually see that the buildings hold the nightly sky and it's millions of stars inside them. Yeah, some roofs are missing.
Oh, and those scouting orbs that work like Splinter Cell sticky cams are gone. I don't see why they couldn't have been added in. Hah, that's the closest thing to a pun I've ever gotten.

Yeah, Thief: Deadly Shadows sounds pretty horrible now doesn't it? Sounds like the new developer Ion Storm couldn't reach the heights Looking Glass originally took the series, right? Well, here's where I seem to turn 180 and tell you to mostly forget the crap I wrote above. The game isn't bad! See here, because this is just my personal blog and I don't really write "reviews"... well, I sort of re-view games I play, but... you get the point, right? I don't really review anything as much as I bitch about stuff, so I don't feel obliged to put games on even scales or write balanced, easy to comprehend, well, reviews. I wanted to let out steam in the first part of the post, and now I want to... inhale that steam?
Thief: Deadly Shadows is still notably different from the first two games, but the differences can be largely chalked up to natural progress of video games and the fact that Deadly Shadows is the first of the series to be also made for a console, and although saying that everything new and different sucks when compared to the "old days" is hip, it's not always true. The developing studio is different, but they hired a lot of the original Thieves back to make this game, and it shows. Deadly Shadows definitely sounds exactly like a Thief game as voice actors, ambient sounds and sound effects from the first two make a triumphant return. I'd bet that if you made a blind person play all three games back to back, that person wouldn't notice anything was different between the games. Why'd you force blind people play video games to prove your point is a different matter entirely, but note that I'm not the discriminating kind and if blind people want to play of their own free will, let them.

It may have sounded like I complained about the level design, but look again. I compared the levels to Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory for the PC, only the best Splinter Cell game ever created. The levels feel more linear and smaller and whatnot than what I remember from the first two games, sure, but it's largely just because my memory's for shit and because the loading screens in the middle of the levels are quite distracting. If I have to be honest, I'm full of shit and the levels really are Thief-like. I found Moira's manor, the Keeper place and the museum to be VERY similar to my favourite levels from the first Thief games, like Ramirez's, Constantine's and Gervasius' manors, and the other levels remind me a bit of the missions I would rather not remember from the original Thief games. A lot of people and creatures from the original games are back, and I still don't like Hammerhaunts. Only things missing are all the Pagan creatures, spiders and burrocks (good riddance!), but the new creatures like Kurshok are something I could easily see existing in Thief I.
I'd also just like to point out, if I may, that the now legendary level, the one in the Cradle, is not "the best" level. I admit, it's the most outstanding and feels like it's straight out from a lost season of Sapphire & Steel, but similarly to Ice Station Evil from NOLF2 it's only fun because it's the exciting exception, not about action but mood. If the game was all like that one level, it would all be a bit less entertaining.
Oh, and the final level of Deadly Shadows is the best final level of the Thief games. You loot the entire taffin' museum!

Garrett can no longer draw good maps.
Now he can only doodle. Is that a toilet bowl?
The game has a different style of telling the story and doesn't give us those black and white drawings in mission briefings anymore, but the story in itself is still Thief-like and ties into the other two games well, and offers us a good ending for the series. I liked all the references to past events immensely and chuckled lightly when reading about how apparently it was the Builder himself who took down the heretic Karras and destroyed Soulforge. I wrote something bad about the city earlier (if I didn't, I just  forgot, I'm tired) but you have to understand that Deadly Shadows isn't an open-world game. The whole point of the city being there between missions is to serve as a vehicle for the game to drive the plot home. It's not a sprawling city that you're meant to stare at in awe, it's a sort of a hub to help deliver the intended overall game experience, and in that regard it does it's job. The game would be missing a lot if it had just the missions alone.

If you break Thief: Deadly Shadows down into smaller parts not all of those parts look pretty on their own, but in the end it's always a matter of how well all those pretty and ugly parts work as a whole and Thief: Deadly Shadows functions as an entertaining game no matter how rusty some of the gears are. Like with the first two, even with all the things I disliked about them I was sad when the games ended but glad that I played and experienced them, and I felt the same way when Deadly Shadows' credits rolled. I can't defend the annoying loading screens, the bad AI, the bugs, the crappy-like controls or the pointlessness of some of the items, the game is by no means perfect. But then again what game, apart from my all time favourite game The Warriors, is? Even at it's worst Deadly Shadows still feels like it was at least made by people who love Thief and know the series well, and many of the problems I had with Deadly Shadows were just the effect of my own inability to at first accept it's different style. It may feel like it's more video gamey, like it's only a video game adaptation of Thief experience, but playing video games is what we do and I have no idea what the hell I'm saying anymore.
Thief: Deadly Shadows is a stealth game with a Thief theme and that's all you really need to know to figure out whether you personally need to play it or not, forget everything else.
Oh yeah, and the game looks awesome.

Also, since rambling on is free even when it's well past the point where I should've stopped, if you didn't know already they're making a Thief 4. It'll be interesting to see how, if in any way at all, it's tied to the original trilogy, seeing how Deadly Shadows gives the long running storyline a reasonably fitting ending. It all ends like it all begins. I'm afraid Thief 4 might be horseshit in a keep case, if you pardon my French, but you bet your googlies I'll buy it if it's still all about stealth!

All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension.
Transuranic heavy elements my not be used where there is life.
Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet,
Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Thief.
- Something that looped in my head endlessly during the Cradle level 

Images are again from MobyGames.com because I am NOT going to start playing a game at 3 AM just to get screenshots

1 comment:

  1. Admittedly I am a few days behind this one, what with term papers and exams and all, I'll be reading it later tonight and posting my opinion :D.

    Thanks for posting!