Review: Thief II – The Metal Age

Again, I want to apologize for the long hiatus between game reviews, but I’m back now and continuing my “turn of the century” playthroughs. Today I give you my long-awaited review of Thief II: The Metal Age. I discussed the original Thief more than three years ago, in anticipation of the Square-Enix reboot. But it took me this long to catch up and play through the second entry in the original franchise. But finally, here we are.

For those unfamiliar with the original game, Thief took the concept of first-person PC games and turned it on it’s head. Instead of being a fast-paced shooter, this game required you to sneak around in the shadows and actually try to avoid killing enemies unless absolutely necessary. It was a smashing success and it was only a matter of time until it spawned a sequel. Thief II took everything that was great about the original game and cranked it up a notch. In fact, this sequel is a great example of developers actually listening to their customers. The folks behind the game took the feedback they received from the first title, and added more of what fans liked the most, and removed some of the concepts that seemed to garner the most complaints. The end result, is a game true to the original but largely superior.

This game takes place one year after the events of the original title. Garrett continues to make his living as a skilled catpurse, relying on no one other than himself. Since the events of the original game, a new faction has emerged in the city. One that believes in a future ruled by technology and machines.  As a result, the nature-worshiping Pagans have been driven out of town and into hiding.  None of this matters too much to Garrett, as he has other things to worry about. You see, there’s a new sheriff in town, literally – and he’s got his eye on putting an end to Garrett’s way of life. However, as one might expect, it’s not so easy to remain neutral. Before long, Garrett finds himself wrapped up in the middle of this conflict between the Mechanists and the Pagans. To save himself, he’s going to have to choose sides.

One thing to know before you decide to jump in to the world of Thief II; this is an older game and one designed for a different age of computing. However, just like the original – there’s a number of tweaks and unofficial patches available that will allow the game to run on modern hardware. I recommend something called “TafferPatcher”. This is a fan-made all-in-one patch that will both optimize the game for modern hardware, but retain the original look and feel of the title. Despite being unofficial, it’s widely respected and very much safe to install.

As I mentioned above, if you enjoyed the original game, Thief II is certainly worth your time. Every single thing that is great about the first title is expanded on here and there’s lots of it. To me, both the size of the levels and the number of mission objectives have increased and become much more engaging. There’s nothing better than sneaking around in the shadows right under the noses of the night watchmen and looting a place clean. The feel of the original game remains intact, but this time with a more engaging storyline.

From a technical standpoint, Thief II feels very much like it’s predecessor. I don’t really see a big difference in the bulk of the game engine. The environments look very similar to those founds in Thief. But, the character textures are greatly improved.  The enemy AI is also quite a bit better – in this game guards will notice more things that seem out-of-place. For example open doors or damaged environmental objects. So, tech-wise, Thief II does show signs of progression over the original.

To me, the Thief series represents a high point in PC gaming. It was a time where the industry was largely engaged in copy-cat behavior. But the Thief series took a bold step to stand apart from all the clones. It was a risk that paid off big. To me, Thief II represents the very best of the series. It’s a game that I recommend to retro PC gamers looking for a unique experience.

Difficulty: Variable–  Thief II offers several levels of difficulty. Increasing the difficulty level not only gives the player more objectives to accomplish during the game’s missions, but also going for Hard or Expert restricts you from being allowed to kill enemies. The game is certainly more rewarding on one of these two settings. But I recommend Normal for most players going on their first run.

Story: Thief II continues the lore and storyline established in the original game, and it’s quite well done. The game story develops a number of ways. First, there are cutscenes between levels. But, tidbits can also be picked up by eavesdropping on various NPC conversations or reading notes and journals that you encounter as you sneak your way through the areas of the game. Players who take their time and explore every nook and cranny will be rewarded with additional storyline elements.

Originality: The trail was certainly blazed with the original Thief. But the concepts laid out by it’s predecessor are highly refined and presented to players in this sequel.  Despite being a sequel, Thief II still manages to avoid feeling like a cheap retread of the original game.

Soundtrack: There not a lot here in terms of game music. But, that’s ok. This game is ALL about atmosphere. You have to listen for footsteps and other audible clues as you play. These sound effects are very well done. This is one of those games that still takes advantage of older surround sound technology – and it does it very well. Ambient noises aside, the voice acting in the game is also superb.

Fun: This kind of game may not appeal to all players. It requires patience and a willingness to learn from your mistakes. This will likely be a turn-off to some, but for those that enjoy stealth games, this one will provide hours of entertainment.

Graphics:  The first two entries in the Thief series are an odd mix of both really good 3D graphics and funky, blocky textures. However, Thief II does improve on the look and feel of NPC characters significantly. This entry also includes improved skybox and lighting effects. Regardless, it still looks very dated when compared to modern games. But it was quite top of the line for it’s time. 

Playcontrol:  No real issues here. The game runs on the standard WSAD keyboard layout for first-person PC games, with some modifications for the game’s unique features. Occasionally, climbing and jumping around on platforms can feel a bit awkward and cumbersome. But, it’s merely a minor annoyance at times.

Downloadable Content:  N/A. 

Mature Content: Mild language.

Value:  Thief II can be found on Steam for around $7.00. For that price, the game is well worth every penny. The amount of content in this game and the quality of this title overall makes it an absolute steal for that price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Thief II, despite it’s age, still holds up as one of the definitive stealth-based first-person games of all time. Fans of the genre that have not yet experienced it, should not hesitate for a moment. This is one game worthy of your attentions. For players who are not sure if this type of game would appeal to them, the price tag alone makes it worth the gamble. You’ll never spend a better $7 on a PC title.

Available on: PC (Steam)

Original Trilogy:

Thief: The Dark Project  –  Thief 2: The Metal Age  – Thief: Deadly Shadows

Reboot:

Thief

Review: Thief (2014)

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This review took a bit longer to put together than I anticipated. My total playtime through the newest entry in the Thief franchise was just over 35 hours. Despite many of the dismal reviews out there on the net, I am glad to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with the game.

As you may know, I enjoyed the original Thief back when it was released. I admittedly have not had any experience with either of the two original sequels (I plan on fixing that soon), so when I heard SE had purchased rights to the franchise and were rebooting the series I decided to go ahead and pre-order it and jump right in on day one. That’s exactly what I did.

Without spoiling anything, I do want to mention that after playing through this new game, the lines between reboot and sequel have become a bit blurred. It seems that this game does take place in the same universe as the original three Thief titles. Aside from several interesting similarities, in this game you play a different “Garrett”. Garrett still lives and operates in The City but it seems that several generations have passed since the original series and his connection to the original character, if any, are unclear.

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The game begins with Garrett and his companion Erin, sneaking about the town doing what they do best. The pair fall into a sticky situation and Erin seemingly falls to her death as Garrett passes out. When he awakens, he learns that he has been missing for nearly a year. During that time, A strange sickness has began to spread through The City and things are near boiling point among the local and various political factions. Garrett is determined to figure out what happened to his missing time and uncover and further details about the fate of Erin. This is where the game begins.

The main game is divided into 8 chapters. At the end of each chapter, Garrett returns to his hidden base in The City’s clocktower. In between the chapters Garrett has full roam of the city and can undertake various thievery jobs or sidequests. Once a chapter has been completed, it can also be repeated. The bulk of the story is unfolded by completing the main chapter scenarios, but there’s a ton of background lore and subplots that can be discovered by taking on sidequests and just exploring and looting various locations within The City. During my play, I complete the game and all of the sidequests, but fell short of finding all unique items and secrets. I plan to revisit the game later when the mood strikes me.

The focus of the game is to follow the story missions and help Garrett complete his objective. However, a big part of the game is finding and stealing various treasures and trinkets. Once an item is stolen, it’s value goes directly into Garrett’s pocket. This gold can be spent to purchase weapons and various thief tools. The game does not feature an experience point system, but throughout the game Garrett will earn Focus Points. These can be used to improve skills and unlock abilities.

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There’s a lot of similarities in this game to the original series. As Garrett sneaks about the city, shadows are your friend. You are virtually invisible when shrouded in darkness and motionless. Most enemies can detect you by both sight and sound. So staying out of sight is important, but so is treading lightly. Running and walking on uneven surfaces can alert others to your presence. Famous tools such as Water Arrows make a return in this game, enabling Garrett to extinguish torches from a distance. But even a suddenly extinguished torch can raise suspicions. The game also features a Focus Mode that Garrett can use to help detect lootable items or traps. Once activated, the focus meter will begin to drain. If empty, Focus Mode is no longer available to use. Focus can also slow time down to make pickpocketing and combat a bit easier, so use it wisely.

As I mentioned earlier, Garrett can also find and acquire unique items. Unique items are displayed at Garrett’s hideout in the clocktower. Aside from being a challenge to locate, looking pretty and unlocking achievements, unique loot has no other value in the game.

Graphically, the game looks amazing. Thief uses the Unreal engine and everything is very well designed. I was really impressed with the visuals of the game. But performance-wise, the game is hit or miss. At first, I thought maybe my machine was unable to handle the game on high settings – so I lowered things a bit and it only seemed to make them worse. This leads me to believe that the game is poorly optimized. About halfway through my time with the game, a patch was released, upping the game to version 1.2. This did seem to improve things a bit, but I still experienced some stuttering and other weird performance issues. I expect these to be addressed over time, but I was a little disappointed to see how glitchy the game seemed at launch.

Also, while large parts of the game play seamlessly, there are quite a number of load screens when navigating around The City. This can sometimes be a bit annoying when hunting down sidequests or simply trying to move between several areas. This is also a good place to note that there are no real shortcuts in Thief. No warps, no waypoints, nothing. If you want to get from the south side of the city to the north side. You’ll have to navigate it all on foot. You will likely spend about 10 minutes and encounter 3 or 4 loading screens in the process.

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Aside from some of these technical annoyances, I found the game to be superb. Atmospherically, the game is fantastic. The City is brought to life and really feels like a living, breathing location. Of course the more memorable locations are presented during the story missions. During the game you will explore a mansion, a brothel, and a haunted asylum to name a few. I should also note that this game has a Mature rating for a reason. There’s a some pretty rough language and even bits of nudity. Also, the asylum is not for the faint of heart. That level is probably one of the creepiest things I have ever seen in a video game. Hats off to the developers here. Fantastic job.

People who pre-ordered the game also have access to a special in-game mission called The Bank Heist. I expect this is be available to all as downloadable content in the near future. — Note: It is quite obvious that this mission was included as part of the normal design. It feels like it was simply locked out for all but those who preordered the title. This is a practice that I have come to despise in modern games. Boo.

Once you have completed the main scenario, you are able to explore the city and replay chapters as you wish in attempt to find any unique loot that you may have uncovered. There’s also a Challenge Mode, that allows you to revisit several locations from the game. Challenge mode pits you against a clock or gives you certain objectives to conquer. There is an online leaderboard for this mode of play, and it seems that future DLC will focus around the challenge mode and not the single player experience. I’m interested to see I’m wrong on this. Time will tell.

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Difficulty: Variable–  Thief offers three basic difficulty levels. I actually recommend playing on the middle (default) setting. The easy setting actually seems to be a bit too simple. While the hardest setting will feel a little more comfortable for players of the original franchise. There’s also a custom difficulty option that allows you to tweak almost every aspect of the game’s challenges. The game also analyzes your play-style and provides you with one of three styles of play at the end of each mission, so trying to complete the game in different ways also adds some additional fun.

Story: The story behind the game is very rich and well done. If you’re fan of the original series, you may actually take away a bit more from the plot than a new player. The ending of the game seems a bit lacking unless you pay really close attention… so keep that in mind. If you blink you’ll miss it.

Originality: The game borrows heavily from the original franchise, while also integrating several elements seen in other recent Square Enix titles (optional objectives like those in Sleeping Dogs, and Player Upgrades like those from Tomb Raider). I’ve also seen several comparisons to Dishonored, but this is a game I’ve never played, so I cannot speak on this.

Soundtrack: The game for the most part focuses on realistic ambient noise. Music only plays when Garrett is detected or during other high intensity places in the game. I found the use of the game music to be quite effective and appropriate. Excellent stuff here.

Fun: A lot of people on the net have had some pretty negative things to say about the game, but I had quite a bit of fun with this title. Despite putting in nearly 40 hours in a single playthrough, I found myself wanting a more. This is always a good sign.

Graphics: This game is a good example of what the modern Unreal engine is capable of. The game has a very gritty and dark feel to it, design-wise. I found it to be very well done. Lighting and fog effects are used appropriately and look really great. Thief is a shining example of what moderns games are capable of.

Playcontrol: I played the PC version of this game, and I feel the default PC controls were very well done. I ultimately decided to use an Xbox 360 controller because of the good experience I had with it during both Tomb Raider and Sleeping Dogs. The gamepad controls were intuitive and felt natural.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Thief is a really good game but it’s far from perfect. If you’re a fan of the series, I think it might be worth paying full price for it. If not, it may be better to wait a few months for the price to drop a bit. Even if you’ve never played any of the original titles in the series, this game is a starting point and is pretty accessible to nearly anyone. Fans of stealth and exploration game will really find it especially enjoyable. If you’re going to play it, go all out – turn off the lights, light a candle and wear a hoodie. Chapter 4 is one heck of a ride.

Currently Available: Steam, PS3, PS4, 360 and Xbox OneOther Reviews In This Series:

Original Trilogy:

Thief: The Dark Project  –  Thief 2: The Metal Age  – Thief: Deadly Shadows

Reboot:

Thief

Review: Thief – The Dark Project

Next up in my archive is the classic first-person stealth adventure, Thief. It looks like a first-person shooter, it feels likes a first-person shooter, but its the farthest thing from a first-person shooter you will ever play. Thief was a unique game at the time it was released. Sticking with a perspective that was popular and familiar at the time, this game took the PC world by storm simply by taking the rules of “run fast, shoot fast” and changing them to “creep slow and don’t shoot at all”. This is a dynamic that was sorely absent from most games of the time, but one that was very welcome.

In this game, you play as master cat-burglar, Garrett. Once a penniless child from the streets, Garrett was taken in by a mysterious order known as The Keepers, and taught the secrets of stealth and skullduggery. Now, after having left the order, Garrett makes his living by burglary. Taking jobs where he can find them and living off the profits. The game starts out in this manner, but it soon becomes obvious that there’s more than meets eye going on behind the scenes – and Garrett has become entwined in a situation more dangerous than he ever expected.

As I said earlier, the game may look like your standard FPS, but nothing could be further from the truth. Thief is a game best played late at night with the lights off and a lit candle on the desk. (Trust me. I tried it!) You must try to stay in the shadows to avoid being seen by guard patrols as you sneak your way into wealthy estates to rob the owners blind, or into heavily fortified prisons to bust out your friends. There are tools to help you on your way: lock picks, a blackjack, and arrows with tips covered in water pouches – to extinguish torches. (Just to name a few). Instead of killing your enemies, its often best to knock them out or distract them in order to sneak by. Your mission is to get in and get out without invoking alarm. Needless to say, this makes for some exceptional game play. To get a feel for what we are talking about, think of the gameplay elements of Metal Gear but set in a world more reminiscent of Hexen.

Each level provides you with a set of goals which must be obtained to complete the stage and progress within the game. Sometimes, this is as simple as sneaking into a location and stealing a specific item. Other times, there are additional requirements. The number of objectives can also increase depending on the difficulty setting in the game. Aside from the main requirements, the game encourages exploration by placing valuable items throughout the level which can be looted. Money earned can be used in between levels to buy extra supplies, so this does have its benefits.

I was fan of this game back during its original release, and playing it today I am reminded why. The atmosphere created by the game is still mysterious and exciting. For this playthrough, I tossed out my old CD ROM and played the GOLD version of the game I caught on a Steam sale a few years ago. Thanks to a healthy mod community, there’s a number of unofficial patches to make the game perform well on modern hardware. The GOLD version of the game includes everything from the original release, plus a few extra levels to help flesh out the storyline. I found these to be a nice addition to the game I played many years ago.

Thief spawned two sequels, which I sadly have not ever played and next month a reboot of the series is being published, which I do plan on playing. I’m interested to see how the concept is carried over in the new release and I fully intend to buy the game at launch and post a review in short order. As for the sequels to the original: I’ll get around to them sooner or later 😉

Difficulty: Variable–  Like many games Thief offers multiple difficulty settings. Normally, I suggest sticking with whatever setting you find comfortable because in most games, aside from the difficulty of the game, not much else is affected (as one would expect). In Thief, this is a bit different. This game is one of those rare exceptions where I actually suggest playing on a higher difficulty level. In this game, there are more objectives to fulfill in hard-mode and this often helps provide a little more detail into the game world. If nothing else, I recommend playing through the game on a lower settings and then revisiting it in hard-mode once you’ve got your feet wet. I think you’ll thank me later.

Story: The story of Thief is very rich and well done. It unfolds both through cutscenes presented between missions as well as through clues and items found in-game. Sometimes, you’ll even catch a bit of chatter from NPCs while sneaking through various areas. All of this makes for a very unique and interesting gameworld. The lore in this game is flawlessly presented.

Originality: The developers really took a risk by releasing a first-person stealth-based adventure. And it seems that the risk paid off. Even though Thief is an older game, it maintains a reputation among many of being one of the greatest PC games of all time.

Soundtrack: Most of the music and audio in the game is atmospheric. In this regards, it is very well done. The first time you find yourself wandering in some deep dark crypt, with only the sounds of your own footsteps and the faraway drip of water, only to suddenly encounter a ghastly moan from around the next corner…. you’ll never forget it.

Fun: I know I say this a lot, but I forgot how much I enjoyed this game. I remember having fond memories of the title, but a lot of it faded with time. I’m glad I decided to include this one in my trip down memory land. Thief is a really a wonderful gaming experience.

Graphics: This is an area where many have mixed feelings, myself included. A lot of this game is beautiful. The level design and artwork is very well done, but many of the textures leave a bit to be desired. Even with the unofficial HD texture pack that is available through the game community, this game shows its age. Lucky for us, most of the game is played in near darkness, so in some ways, it’s not much of an issue. But still, even at the time of its release, the game was somewhat dated looking.

Playcontrol: Thief controls much like most standard FPS games, but it certainly feels different. The playcontrol is a bit stiff and rigid compared to other games. But keeping in mind the style in which the game is played, this is quite forgivable. Still, it does take a bit getting used to at first.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Despite its aged graphics and odd playcontrol, Thief is easily a four-star game. It’s a must-have for almost any gamer in my opinion. That being said, it’s certainly understandable that some people will not find it to be enjoyable. It’s a different kind of game. But with this in mind, I certainly recommend giving Thief an honest try. It is one of my favorites from the era.

Currently Available: Steam  and GOG

Other Reviews In This Series:

Original Trilogy:

Thief: The Dark Project  –  Thief 2: The Metal Age  – Thief: Deadly Shadows

Reboot:

Thief