Top 10 moments in Thief

May 12, 2009

The Thief series were hugely influential and critically acclaimed games of freedom, set in a giant steam punk Victorian inspired gothic world in a metropolis merely known as “The city”. It was with such unique elements that both Looking Glass and Ion Storm managed to craft fine experiences drawing from every genre to produce varied missions and ideas. As such it’s hard to judge moments that were generally experienced by every user but even with its focus on choice, the game always contains moments of awe, humour and sheer horror, in every form. Warning Spoilers ahead!


The First Mission (Thief Dark Project)

There a definitive sense of awe in the first mission of The Dark Project, after that brief tutorial, when you step into the shoes of your master thief with the sole task of robbing Lord Baffords mansion for a precious sceptre. That’s it. That’s all you’re told, left out in the dark streets patrolled by guards, with multiple entrances into the building. Do you simply take the main entrance by force with your sword, or find a way into the sewers? Perhaps that guard has the key to the well? How will you distract him? It was entirely your decision and from as early as the first mission you were given freedom to handle your mission however you wished and whilst it wasn’t the best moment in the series, it was the moment of inspiration when the foundations for the rest were put in place and one of the most influential and intelligent games of all time got underway.


The Rooftops (Thief II The Metal Age)

Thief II was a decent jump in technology from the first game and no more was it apparent than when you took to the rooftops of the city, with the entire metropolis sprawling before you with that omnipotent tower in the distance your target. Not only was it an incredible gothic vista, but the streets below you were alive, machines and citizens below, busy in their night lives, passing windows let you listen in on conversations of worried families, guards from opposing faction killing each other from rooftops and you’ll even stumble across burglars escaping a house in hot pursuit from security. Never mind the fact that the tower itself too was an inspired setting, an upper class party full of nobles and steam punk slaves, the journey just to get there was exciting. Oh and there was a hidden mages tower where you could summon the dead. Brilliant.


The Mines (Thief The Dark Project)

In the first games second mission you’ve been sent to find your friend, being held in a hammerite prison in a mountain top location. The only way in? Through some derelict mines and this moment is important as its here that your first exposed to Thief’s dark horror. Only a small way into the mine you come across a dead body, nothing unusual there, even if it is surrounded by health draining flies. Further through the dark tunnel you reach an elevator and make your way up and through deeper until with sheer horror you face truly disgusting foes, zombies rendered with gut wrenching sounds and horrible skin. That’s not even the real horror, the real horror is that you know the bodies you passed on the way in aren’t dead, they are undead and you’re quite possibly trapped. Worse still, you can’t kill them with conventional weapons…


Undercover (Thief The Dark Project)

In one if the Dark Projects later missions you must go undercover as a hammerite guard to infiltrate one of their temples and steal two items of importance. This was great because even within the confides of the first game the game play had been evolved, this was social stealth, not shadow based. Here it was your actions not your visibilities that defined how you were detected and only by fitting in and avoiding attention could you get by. Of course you can always abuse your new position, setting the alarm in one part of the building and watching them run past you without the slightest suspicion was grand.


The Vote (Thief Deadly Shadows)

Halfway through the third thief having been outlawed by the keepers your forced to make your way back into their headquarters to find some answers. Once in their inner sanctum you pass a large meeting in an auditorium where a vote is about to be cast, with the matter at hand being the moving of a guard from the library to the door before your objective. Initially I took this as a warning to expect a guard ahead but on my second play through I found out that this vote is happening and that you can knock out those who wish to vote yes and keep the guard where he is, clearing the way for you. It’s a tiny moment in a vast game but a shining example of the attention Ion Storm paid to the game’s world.


The Blood Trail (Thief II The Metal Age)

In Thief II after having followed an informant for an entire mission to try and steal their letter you then find that after an ambush they’ve gone and your only hope of finding them outside the city is by way of a trail of blood illuminated by eerie mushrooms in the creepy forest. This trail takes you through a haunted village, whose ghosts tell you a tragic story about their death at the hands of the merciless mechanists, the mysterious group your trying to learn about and avoid. Then after a simple puzzle leads you through a portal into another dimension and through an alien world filled with sentient eyeballs that watch you, to poisonous plants and ape men that hunt you down with blow pipes before finally leading you deep into the realm of an old enemy. Safe to say, you didn’t think the trail would end up where it did.


The Haunted Cathedral (Thief The Dark Project)

Upon being hired by the mysterious Victoria and Lord Constantine to obtain and object known as “THE EYE” you must infiltrate the quarantined area of the city, to reach a cathedral where the object is held, where the undead rose up in a horrific cataclysm. Never mind the fact that just the thought of facing the zombies again was terrifying but a whole city of them wasn’t comforting. It was confusing, full of riddles and puzzles, where turning on the light meant death but leaving it off was scary as hell. Then after braving an hours worth of nightmarish streets you finally reach it and its locked. Sealed. Door won’t budge. You’re told by a mysterious voice from inside that you must obtain four items to gain access and begrudgingly you leave, taking another two tough missions to gain these items and it’s your return that marks worse horror.

Inside not only does the artefact speak to you, the cathedral is full of invincible ghosts known as hammer haunts whose walk has the sound of rattling chains, the echo of which coming behind you always surely signals death. Then once inside, even though you didn’t want to, upon your first step the door seals behind you, you’re trapped. Getting in was bad enough, getting out is worse.


The Eye (Thief Deadly Shadows)

The final mission of deadly shadows was classic. It was inside a museum with thousands of loot and the maximum security. It was a homage and trial to those who had braved the hardest difficulty of the previous games and would truly test your skills as a master thief. The only entrance is a doorway in bright light, surrounded by guards, each object is somehow trapped and alarmed and every corner of the museum is being watched and fully lit with water proof lights. It was hard and a true trial. The real surprise was the return of an old friend, the “Eye”, who constantly speaks to you throughout the rest of the mission, speaking of your times together and providing a monologue additional to Garrets, and creating a humour that is so black, only Thief’s dark world could support it. This was a mission for the fans, truly and sincerely.


The Betrayal (Thief The Dark Project)

After surviving countless in the mission assigned by Constantine and Victoria (see number 4) you finally return with the prize, “The Eye” and deliver it with a relief that finally your ordeal is over. Constantine says something Garret fails to understand and then without warning, Constantine gains a third eye, erupts into a terrifying demon and Victoria morphs into a pagan creature, sprouting vines from her hands to restrain you. One of Garrets eyes is removed and he’s tossed to the floor, half dead as the pair leave by means of supernatural leaving you wounded in a mansion full of twisted creatures. After all the hard work you did, to have this occur is just jaw dropping disbelief and sheer rage at the unexpected twist. Betrayal never hurt so much.


The Cradle (Thief Deadly Shadows)

Its should come as no surprise to fans of the series that this is number one, as Deadly Shadows undeniable achievement was The Shale Bridge Cradle, an abandoned orphanage/ insane asylum that was set on fire, and as Garret so consciously comments “If there’s a way to cram more misery into one building, I can’t think of it,”. Its a mission so twisted, evil, haunting and difficult it should be played by everyone who calls themselves a gamer for the experience of some of the most perfect and well thought out design ever in a game. Its exceptional level design, sound design, enemy design, all just brought together to make something so utterly disturbing it lingers with you for days, if you can force yourself to even make the first step into the building. Even from outside, the cold atmosphere of the dark building, misshapen and towering above is unsettling enough to make a player not want to take the one entrance available to them. The basement, you circle around the entire building to find another but eventually you have to face it, the one place you didn’t want to go is the one place you have to start. No one should spoil the level for you, only hint at the horrors, the echoes of children’s laughter and dark visuals are used to create the atmosphere but the tension comes from the little touches, the shadow that passes the window, the deliberate flickering of lights and that unstoppable enemy lurking in its shadows, a creature visually distraught and unlike anything before it in the series and yet so instantly memorable for its horror. And of course what makes it all worse is that this isn’t Doom or Resident Evil, you can’t fight your way through, here the shadows are your only ally and they’re the one place you don’t want to dwell, a horror/stealth mechanic has always been Thief’s drive but only here was it perfected with such art and creativity that at points you’ll just stop playing out of sheer dread.

Here everything that made Thief famous came together, in Deadly Shadows crowning achievement, executed flawlessly for traumatic results. Did I mention your characters suicide is the only way out of the level? Scariest level, ever.

SO there you have it, my selection of Thief’s best moments even if this is only a tiny handful of them, I’ve not even included the famous Benny or haunted ship, the forgotten city or Constantine’s insane mansion. For another time.

Sam Greer.


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