"Thief: The Dark Project" was a game developed by Looking Glass Studios and published by Eidos Interactive in 30th November 1998. Along with "Tenchu: Stealth Assassins" and "Metal Gear Solid"(which were released the same year a few months earlier), it is considered one of the games that brought the genre of 3D stealth games to life. What was revolutionary about "Thief" however, is that it was the very first stealth game to be played from a first person perspective.
The game was initially conceived in April 1996 as a survival game set in 1950's Soviet Union, where the player has to slash zombies with a sword, because bullets do not wound them. Later the developers changed the idea to something based on the King Arthur tales, albeit much darker, named "Dark Camelot". Both would have been RPGs about allying with factions and Hack & Slash. In the middle of '97 however, they decided to turn the project into a game about thieving and stealth, its codename was "The Dark Project". In late '98, the game was released to critical acclaim; having sold half a million copies, it was Looking Glass's most successful product.
In 26th of October 1999, an updated edition of the game was released, which was called "Thief Gold". It added new 3 missions(and a bonus one) along with 5 new enemy types and made substantial changes to the already available levels. Generally, you should be aware that some important items in some missions were moved to the some of the new ones, and are more scattered around than before; the point was to also expand upon the story. Some dead ends and bugs were fixed too. "Thief Gold" is the version sold in digital distribution services like Steam, and it is the definitive version you should own. What's interesting that you apparently cannot upgrade from the previous edition to the new one without buying it, while with a fanpatch you can do the reverse. Well, one more reason to own "Thief Gold" over "Thief: The Dark Project", it seems.
This is an FPP stealth game set in a medieval/Victorian era world with fantasy/paranormal elements and horror motives, where mysteries and secret loot abide. There are 3 difficulties(Normal, Hard, and Expert). There are 15 missions for you to go through, plus one tutorial mission and one bonus mission only available via cheating. Before each mission you get to see a cutscene(briefing), and then you get to buy items for you to use afterwards. You always pay with the funds you gathered by looting in the previous level, and if you don’t use the items or money you acquired, you lose them. So don’t think about stocking up, think about the mission you are about to play, don’t be afraid of using items. You can always restart the mission though. This is quite a time consuming game, it will take you 25-50 hours on a first playthrough, especially on harder difficulties.
Since this is an old game, it might not run well on modern systems. To get it working, I recommend using this guide. You may find the control scheme a little weird. In that case, I suggest setting WASD for movement, Left Alt for running forward, Shift for sneaking, Space and Ctrl for jumping and crouching, Q/E/X for leaning left/right/forward, Z/C for scrolling inventory left/right, Left/Right Mouse Button for primary/secondary attack, Middle Mouse Button for using and mousewheel for scrolling weapons. You may also assign keys for item/inventory management. You can set the brightness level to whatever you wish from both the options menu and the -/= (-/+ to say it better) keys between backspace and 0. You can also set the ambience volume, you might want to not set it to full loudness, since you might end up not being able to hear some important stuff if you do so.
The story in this game is quite decent. After reading the manual and the store page, you might notice that there are not many plot details told. In order for you to not be confused, without any spoilers, I will describe some of the most important characters in the game:
- Garret. He is the main protagonist of the franchise. A cynical and materialistic, yet extremely sly and skilled thief. In the beginning he was an orphan growing up in the streets, at one point in his life he stumbles upon a Keeper who invites him to take training and also become a Keeper. Many years later, he left the organisation to lead a life of a criminal, using his newly acquired skills to become a Master Thief.
- Hammerites. A religious organisation, which worships a god known as the Master Builder. Their religious convictions are about building and inventing things to bring order into the world. They are some of the people responsible for the creation of the City(the area where Thief games take place) and technological advancements. The Hammer is a holy symbol for them, since they use hammers to not only build, but also fight. Hammerites despise of the undead and Pagans. In some ways, they are similar to Christianity.
- Pagans. Another religious organisation, which worships a god known as the Trickster(also known as the Woodsie Lord, among many other names). They are a polar opposite of the Hammerites, preferring nature and chaos over urbanisation and order, therefore they might be seen similar to real word pagans.. Due to the fact that these two religious factions are mortal enemies, Pagans are generally hiding. They are able to cope with wilderness quite well, they are even able to control it in order to use it as a weapon against infidels.
- Keepers. A secret faction that oversees the City and seeks to sustain balance and safety within it. They are mainly writing books about the history of the world and thinking about its future and past. They are continually searching for secrets in order to find the enigmatic truth, so they learn and teach skills akin to the ones Garrett has gained.
The manual/store page doesn't reveal the plot, because it reveals itself as you play through the game. It is quite engrossing, taking twists and making the player interested in the game's lore, along with making him want to find out what will happen next.
Now, I wish to talk about the gameplay. It is quite spectacular. To be honest, I was expecting that due to how AI was like in games from the game's era, it might have been crappy and lackluster in stealth department. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The enemies, aggressive or passive, are not some mute braindead monsters(even if they are monsters, their AI doesn't suck for sure), they react to what stuff that happens due to player's interference. For example, humans have full voice acting, and they say various things even if they are not aware of Garrett's presence. That makes them seem as if they are real people instead of scripted, simple minded foes like in Doom or Quake. If they sense a disturbance(such as a dead/unconscious body, a loud noise, or something unusual moves before their eyes), they become suspicious and begin searching the area for the culprit. They are likely to go to the place where they saw/heard something weird, so you should be wary of them not going to your location. If they are 100% certain of the player's presence, they will become alerted and chase him around, even in dark areas, it is possible to outrun them and make them lose track of him however. If they are badly wounded, they will run away calling for assistance. The non-human opponents are not braindead either. If they are disturbed, they will search around like humans do. Not all of them might run away though. Slight disturbances in sound and vision will just make the enemies not do anything or perhaps stop for a second. Oh, and NPCs do not get stuck in level geometry, or at least not unless you put some obstacles in their path.
The primary mechanic of the game is hiding in the shadows and being quiet. The darker an area is, the harder to notice you become. If an area is dark enough, opponents will ignore you, unless if they walk into you or you make a loud enough noise. You can see how well you are hidden by looking at the Visibility Gem at the bottom of your HUD. You need to pay attention to how loud are your footsteps. On grassy/carpet surfaces, they are inaudible, you can run & jump as you please. On wooden/stone ones, you have to be more careful, sneaking is recommended. Tile/metal surfaces are your nightmare, as even sneaking next to an enemy on them makes you hearable easily enough. Same rules apply to objects. Dropping objects makes a sound depending on what it is and what surface it lands on, so you can use it to your advantage. Drop unwanted items on a carpet and throw some boxes at a metallic platform distract a nearby guard, for example. You can totally use the darkness to hide bodies, don't hesitate to throw them into closets or into shadowy corners.
Garrett's equipment is wide and has some sophisticated mechanics. The sword can backstab opponents(dealing quintuple damage), and even if you are unable to sneak on somebody, you are totally able to slay him, but it is generally not meant to be used in stealthy encounters, as it can create a lot of noise and create blood, which also attracts attention from NPCs. Not to mention, Garrett is not a killing machine by any means, if he faces multiple opponents, his chances of prevail are narrow. A quick stab will do normal damage, holding it for a little longer will do double damage, and holding it for even longer to do an overhead swing will do triple damage. What's interesting that the sword will swing from the given side depending on the opponent's location. Secondary attack will do a block function, which can parry sword thrusts if done correctly. Attacking with the sword in itself can also parry enemy attacks. You can also use the sword to destroy certain objects, which block your path. Using the sword is not as complex like in Daggerfall or something, but it is more sophisticated than just swinging it like in Hexen 2 or Quake. The blackjack is Garrett's primary weapon, as it can render unalerted foes unconscious via a blow to the head. If you are lucky, you might be able to neutralise alerted enemies too. Be careful, that the blackjack still does a minimal amount of damage. If you hit an enemy with low health remaining, you will kill him. Using the blackjack is the preferred weapon of a stealthy playstyle, since it doesn't produce noise or blood. And nope, unconscious NPCs cannot come round during a mission.
Aside from the above, you have a variety of arrows at your disposal. Broadhead arrows are your standard ranged weapon, if you hit an unalerted enemy in the head/chest with it, you will instantly kill it(except for some cases). Water arrows can put out any sort of flames and can damage fire based creatures, they are also able to clean bloodstains. Fire arrows can cause heavy damage and light some things on fire. Gas arrows create a cloud of gas, which puts nearby opponents to sleep, can totally do so to more than one at a time. What’s also worth mentioning is that these arrows can extinguish burning stuff, like water arrows do. Rope arrows can cling to wooden/earthly surfaces, making a rope you can climb onto; after you're done, you can pick it back up. Moss arrows make the area it hits covered in moss, which renders footsteps inaudible; you don't need to jump between the patches of moss it makes, the entire area is inaudible. Noisemaker Arrows, can distract opponents to a far away area, can be useful if throwing objects or shooting broadhead arrows is not enough.
Don't forget about inventory items! There's the compass, whose red tip points to the north of the map. You have flash bombs, which can blind enemies and render them unable to do anything for 7 seconds, they can also damage the undead somewhat. There's mines, which slide across the ground, then get armed and explode when someone is nearby. They, along with fire, gas and water, can get rid of insect swarms. Don't forget Holy Water, which makes your water arrows the bane of the undead for a limited time. The rest should be self explanatory. Healing items and quest items, use them well.
The level/mission design is a wonderful blend of realistic, believable environments with complex, clever level exploration akin to 90s FPSes. You will be travelling through mansions, cathedrals, caves and other facilities whilst often finding secret switches opening hidden doors, or perhaps even solving some unusual puzzles. You are often given alternate routes on how to find your way around or fulfill your objectives. On higher difficulties, you get more objectives and restrictions, and all you need to do is to obey them. You see, you can fulfill those in any way you wish. Do you want to do it while being completely undetected? Do you want to rush through the level whilst backstabbing and headshotting enemies with the bow? Do you want to do this via showing off your hardcore parkour skills? Go right ahead! Keep in mind, that on higher difficulties you will need to be more pacifist and be required to search things around the map more than on lower difficulties. Some missions can be quite unforgiving in that regard, which is why you should look EVERYWHERE in order to not miss anything. Oh, and you will likely be gathering a lot of valuable information from written text in the level and hearing conversations. Thus, it is recommended to know English to a good degree. From what I heard, there exist fan-made translations though. If you see a “forbidden” sign next to an objective, that means it has been canceled so you don’t need to do it anymore.
Visually, this game was groundbreaking when it was released, being comparable to Unreal and Quake 2 in terms of graphical advancement, it could be called an upgraded display of fantasy/steampunk environment themes seen in Quake 1 and Hexen 2. Nowadays it is somewhat of a mixed bag. It still looks amazing, since some objects have so much detail put into them, but some things are so low-poly and have low-res textures(such as cave geometry), that they look somewhat laughable. Ignoring technical aspect and focusing on artistic design, this game looks awesome. Colourful and varied. Animations are pretty good as well, the are fluid and look realistic. One thing that is worth complaining about however is that there is no kind of carriable torch, so to illuminate dark areas you have to raise gamma up. Audio department is really good as well. Thanks to Eric Brosius, this game has some really good ambience. Voice acting works great, and so do the sound effects. However, one things that should be mentioned here is that there are no subtitles for spoken phrases, therefore you need to focus on being able to understand what is being said, you may want to change the volume.
In conclusion, "Thief Gold" is an immersive, challenging experience. I recommend wholeheartedly to anyone. After you are done with it, you should do as told here to gain access to the Blooper Reel mission, then play Thief 2 and 3. If you want more, worry not, as the modding community for this game has released tons of content for it. You shall not be disappointed when you become a Thief fanatic.