Stealing with a conscience
Is it odd that vice is such a highly regarded ambition in videogames? Barring a few indie darlings, most of the highly acclaimed titles of our time have you doing stuff that you couldn’t get away with in real life, which I guess is the point of the whole experience. Put into perspective the fact that several great games have you racking up body counts that would make Charles Bronson skittish, and suddenly, a game about looting doesn’t seem all that bad in comparison.
Sure, thievery is always terrible, especially when it happens to you, but the Thief series softened the moral impact somewhat by making your marks quite unlikeable.
You’re mostly stealing from draconian religious institutions or wealthy and pampered nobles, which makes your moral transgressions a lot more palatable, and lets you fully get into character without your projected conscience getting in the way. It also helped that there was a perpetual feeling of being up against way stronger opponents, and your only option was to stay hidden in the shadows, because if a passing guard noticed your presence, it was usually a quick end to your career in grand larceny.
Now to recap, so far the series has featured the original Thief: The Dark Project, the sequel Thief II: The Metal Age, which were both highly regarded titles developed by Looking Glass Studios. The next entry, Thief: Deadly Shadows, was developed by Ion Storm instead, and was released both for PC and the Xbox.
Deadly Shadows got a bit of stick for limiting level design to make it run on the Xbox, but still had its moments, and the Thief vibe was still very much present.
However, the new Thief game, being developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Ubisoft, seems like it may be shooting its rope arrow a little wide of the mark. The playable builds and trailers so far don’t seem to offer much in the way of reassurance, and seem more geared towards the modern hand-holding kind of gameplay, with an all-action escape sequence at the end that’s replete with lazy Quick Time Events.
So far, the development looks like a bit of a mess, and recently, the devs have even amended some aspects of the gameplay after online backlash from Thief fans. Don’t get me wrong, acknowledging a misstep and working to fix it is a very commendable move, but that they were even in that position in the first place shows that they’re not quite on the same wavelength as the fanbase.
While we’ve got till next year to wait and see if they can do a good job, the good news is that there’s an alternative for people who want to skulk in the shadows and pack their bags with shiny baubles. Even better, it’s completely free.
The Dark Mod is a fan-made tribute to Thief, developed in the Doom 3 engine. If you’ll remember, one of the areas where Doom 3 received the most praise was for the lighting engine, which plays perfectly into the requirements for Thief. While they don’t have the licence to use Thief characters or levels, they nail the atmosphere of the original games dead-on.
It’s finally been made into a standalone program, and included in the base package is a tutorial and one mission, The Tears of St Lucia. The tutorial is extensive, and runs you through a bunch of different systems, all of which feel nice and robust. St Lucia is a well-written heist story with a lot of atmosphere, and one thing that sticks out is that there’s very little hand-holding, which can throw off someone who’s used to modern games. You’re left to figure out things on your own, and once you get to exploring, there’s a lot of stuff to discover. It feels like you’re actually figuring out different ways to get stuff done, as opposed to choosing from a preset list of options that the developers presented.
There are several free missions that can be downloaded from within the game itself, several of which are highly regarded. So head over to thedarkmod.com, download it and get to playing right away, because for that price, it’s really quite the steal.