[Editor’s note: Every two weeks, we’ll pick a classic game to play and discuss. Then the choice of the next game will be made by a randomly selected participant from the current week. It’s like a book club, but with videogames. Join our forums if you’d like to participate. This week’s choice, by a poster who identifies himself as Rock8man, is Thief II.]
I thought this might be a good time for us to re-evaluate how we feel about stealth. Do we still have the patience to observe a guard on his patrol and wait for the right moment to slip by him? Or are we now so wired for instant gratification in our games that perhaps the Thief series will no longer resonate with some of us?
We will be playing Thief 2: The Metal Age. You can purchase the game from Good Old Games here. They currently have the latest (unofficial) patches incorporated into the download so that all the rigamarole you needed to go through during most of the last decade to get the game running properly is now a thing of the past. You can play on modern monitors on high resolutions, and run it on any modern system. Just download, install, and play.
I have to admit, as big a fan as I was of the original Thief, I only got to about the third level in Thief 2 when it originally came out before I got sidetracked. I always meant to go back, but when I did try to go back, my computer at the time had a lot of technical problems in getting the game running. So I’m really happy that the technical hurdles are finally behind us when it comes to running this game.
Another confession: For me, playing Thief was all about getting in and out with the least amount of interference possible. I’ve read many a tale from my fellow gamers about their deft use of the blackjack. But I always viewed the blackjack with as much disdain as the sword. Aside from the first guard you have to take out in the original Thief as a tutorial for how to use the blackjack, I finished that game without ever resorting to it again.
So it was quite the surprise to me when I fired up Thief 2 after all these years, and one of the objectives on Expert difficulty is to incapacitate 8 guards with the blackjack! Oh my! Apparently the Thief 2 designers did not share my feelings about the blackjack. Also, the game starts you in a level where you’re actually interacting with a Lady you have to rescue. And yet, the game doesn’t really have the animations and robust enough AI to pull this off as something that feels even remotely real. In Thief 1, when most of your interactions are with the undead and with guards who listen for your footsteps or spot you in a well-lit room, the game managed to create gameplay systems and AI that felt real enough to be very immersive. Not so much here at the start of Thief 2. It all feels a bit awkward. Like they’re trying to achieve something that their engine is not capable of. Couple this with the ridiculous requirement to club 8 guards, and my return to Thief’s universe is less a tense thriller and more a slapstick comedy of errors as I sometimes miss the guards and end up in a circle strafing loop until I clear out the level and knock out all the guards. Hurumph. So much for patience and stealth.
Come on Thief 2 designers. I know you can do better. I hope the 2nd level fares better.