Thief: The Dark Project Retrospective

The infamous menu screen

Why not the entire series?

I have an unusual love for this game. Unusual because, well… it’s a videogame and it has stayed with me for a long, long time. Longer than there has been Facebook. During this time, I’ve graduated, switched 3 jobs, started writing, stopped writing, started writing again, witnessed multiple eclipses, traveled to places I’d have never imagined, fallen in love twice – which reminds me of this one time someone asked me why such an affection for a video game? View the picture below:

Original Lines, penned by the Author

The reply would have delivered a greater impact if I had looked into that person’s eyes, staring deep in his soul and said it, preferably in Stephen Russell’s voice. Unfortunately, it was delivered by the means of an internet forum.

I always wished there were certain tenets towards videogame journalism, particularly criticism. My reason to do a retrospective on the first game in this amazing series is purely subjective.

The emancipation of a genre

They say the theater is a precursor to cinema. The whole idea of viewing a narrative in multiple spaces and time by using a camera to capture it from a variety of positions simultaneously adds a stratum of interpretation to it.

The idea of a video game may not have emerged from cinema, board games will take that credit, but they do owe a lot to films. A First Person Shooter, rather popular and extremely humdrum of a genre back in the mid to late 90s, makes the player essentially hold a camera and move around – and shoot weapons. Here, the director became the player.

I’m assuming the idea of a First Person Sneaker is probably derived by fans of the Rogue class in Role Playing Games who were pretty much irritated with shooting everything that moves in a First Person setup.

The camera, which used to be belligerent, is promiscuous now. It lets the player veil enemy sight. He could now use game elements and the environment to seduce the victims away from a certain ordained path only to sneak past them further, into darkness. It is not about being a human tank, but about being as much evasive as possible.

A Working Class Anti-Hero

Videogames need a certain level of abstraction to make the world much enjoyable. Thief puts you in control of Garrett, a cynical bastard detached from everyone else. He wants to be left in peace and out of sight. He would also lovingly welcome any challenge which could test his unusually masterful abilities and earn him enough wealth to load out some equipment for the next loot and survive till then.

Being in control of Garrett is quite unlike controlling any character in a first person game. Being a stealth game, one must always remain hidden in shadows and move silently. A, rather convenient, HUD indicator will always tell you how much visible and audible you are. Be in a shadow and it numbs down, black as coal. Be in a well-lit area and it screams with a gleam until you can again find a place to shush it.

Garrett empowers you – with the art of patience. You’ll learn to wait in unknown corners, carefully watching the enemy guards patrol. They will cross each other numerous times, making the patrol patterns look seemingly abstract and confusing but, in due time everything will be discernable. Of course, there is always an option of getting rid of some of these guards to make your life a little bearable and slightly less challenging.

Best Friends Forever

Halfway through the game, every meaningful impact in your life, which makes a noise, will sound similar to a skull cracking when it’s hit with brute force. Thanks to the blackjack – a slick little club which can be used to put your human enemies to sleep. Obviously, the victim has to be unaware of your presence.

We are told, very early in the game, about Garrett’s exceptional skills as a pickpocket. An invaluable talent indeed but there’s always use of better tools. There is the, previously mentioned, blackjack and a sword. Use either one to suit your needs. Send enemies to dreamland with the blackjack or finish them off with the sword.

It’s the bow and the variety of arrows, however,which carries off all honours. Moving silently, in darkness is as necessary as creating a space for yourself to move around. Enter the arrows. The water arrows put out torches while the moss arrows lay down a layer of moss for you to cover noisy tiles. There’s also a fire arrow which explodes on impact – although I barely used it in more than a couple of levels – and a gas arrow for, well, gassing out the enemies. It works as a long ranged blackjack, sort of.

But, it doesn’t end here. There are also the mines, explosive ones and gas ones, and flash bombs. The details are unnecessary, like infinity. But killing is unnecessary and fairly pointless – unless you’re facing an undead that is basically immune to the sword and everything sharp and pointy – and the explosives are rare. The point being, you’ll still lurk silently in darkness – creating it wherever necessary – and try to use your inventory to distract enemies or maybe to attract them to suit your needs.

Oh and there are holy water vials too.

Page 2: My Journey continues

  • jugrnt

    I too played the hell out of Thief – and the fan-made missions. Eventually I became obsessed with stacking crates to reach areas I had not yet explored. Made it to the top of some interesting areas. Good times! Still miss that game…

  • Cyborg

    Very solid write-up. Makes me want to play the game again. I considered every gold earnt in Thief as real gold back in the days. Amazing memories. Keep them coming!

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