Castle Wolfenstein, originally released for the Apple II in 1981, was the first game to ever use stealth. It wasn't until 1998 that we got to see the next form of stealth based games in two Playstation titles you may have heard of, Metal Gear Solid and Tenchu: Stealth Assassins. That same year their was a little known PC game that came out and pushed the limits of what an first person perspective game could do in terms of stealth play. From the great minds that brought us Ultima Underworld and System Shock, came the PC masterpiece entitled Thief: The Dark Project. And with it, introduced us to this man...
This is what he calls home
And this is his world
The Thief series has a unique and twisted setting oozing with dark atmosphere. It combines a disturbing mix of medieval steam punk, fanatical industrial cults, and pagan magic.
I dare say that Thief is probably the most engrossing series I've ever experienced. Everything is designed to make you believe. From the ambient sound, to the interactive level design, as well as the hidden backstory given in the form of readable diaries and eavesdropping on conversations. Even the menu screen has grinding gears and menacing machinery while you change settings.
Immersion is something the people behind Looking Glass Studios perfected. Sadly they went bankrupt after Thief 2 in 2000. However, the same people from that studio continued to do things correctly later on in a little game you may have heard of called Bioshock. Say what you will about that game, you can't deny that the atmosphere is an incredibly creepy and unique experience.
If you play this game with the lights on, your doing it wrong.
Thief is also one of the most tragically misunderstood games ever. During the time of its release, every game of the FPS genre on PC consisted of the same formula; find guns, find bad guys, shoot them dead. Thief was NOT like that, at all and most people just didn't get it. Garrett is a master thief, not a murderer. That’s not to say he won't snuff out a life or two when pushed, quite the opposite in fact. He'll plant an arrow in your skull and not even think twice about it if he has to. It’s just a hassle to hide dead bodies, that’s all.
Selfish by nature, he is a thief after all, the only valuable life is his own.
"Thief is the single most terrifying, immersive, and rewarding game I have played and the one single-player game I continue to replay … There are countless books I wish I had written; Thief is one of the few games I wish I had worked on."
- Marc Laidlaw, Valve (writer/designer: Half-Life 1 and 2)
Thief is a game that is meant to be role played. Yes, you probably could put the difficulty on easy, grab your sword and run around all willy nilly chopping up people and completing missions. If that’s the way you play, you are missing the point entirely.
Thief is also a shining example of using the first person perspective correctly. It’s not just so you can aim better with your bow. Your suppose to feel like your in the game, seeing as the character sees and doesn’t see. Never actually being able to view Garrett as you play is a design choice that helps to put the player in his boots, that is until they completely missed the point in the third game.
Folks just passed him by, like he wasn't there.
While his origin is a bit of a super hero cliché it does however work in doing two things at once, provided a set up for the training mission as well as give an introduce to Garrett's relationship with The Keepers that will become a huge part of the plot later on. After the little training mission is complete, the story skips ahead almost 15 years where we find Garrett is a cynical, sarcastic and legendary king of thieves that has made a living off robbing the fat and wealthy nobles of society without them even knowing.
They don't tell us why Garrett left the Keepers exactly. Who doesn't want to hang out with a bunch of soothsayers, living in the sewers, whispering prophecies and annotating the history of mankind in secrecy? Sounds fun, right?
Less is always more though and a little mystery to Garrett's past is essential to pulling the player in even more by piquing their curiosities. Who is this man? Who were those Keepers? Why the hell was that intro movie so freaking crazy? All these questions will keep you gripped to your keyboard, desperately seeking answers. Remember when I said everything in this game is designed to immerse the player in to the game’s world? I wasn’t joking.
Over the course of the three Thief games, Garrett goes through a lot of changes. It is a complex story, which is precisely the way he doesn’t want things to be. He is a man who likes things simple, allowing him control over any given situation. That’s how meticulous he is in his craft. Careful planning leads to quick and quiet execution, with no messes or surprises. At the end of the day, all he wants is to be left alone. Karma is a huge bitch though. And while the Keepers basically allowed him to leave and live as he pleased with a life of crime, eventually things catch up with him.
Garrett is constantly bothered with having to correct wrongs he inadvertently became a part of in a big way. That doesn’t mean he won’t crack a safe or two while he’s saving the world though. After all, it’s his neck on the line, why shouldn’t he be able to make a dishonest buck or two?
What He Means To Me
So now we get to the real heart of this write up. The reason I love Garrett happens to also be the reason this game still has an underground cult following still to this day. He offers me the perfect escape from life
because when you play Thief, you don’t just play as Garrett. You are Garrett. It’s a game that practically opens a doorway into another world where you become this anti-hero that robs people blind then turns around and saves everyone with some amazing feat of heroics. The strong bond you will end up having with its fictional leading role is a very different experience than most games.
Sneaking through dark corridors, picking locks, knocking out guards, dousing torches, hiding bodies, rappelling off of rooftops, solving riddles, finding secret passages, making that narrow escape from detection, stealing anything that isn’t nailed down and just generally being a sneaky badass gives you this nervous anxiety you’ll soon learn to love. Keeping your calm just as Garrett would in tight situations takes practice and becomes an addicting thrill. It’s exhilarating when you start to make those right decisions with precision timing under pressure. The first time you find yourself stuck in a long open hallway with locked doors and you hear a guard coming around the corner grumbling to himself about his lack of dinner… you’ll know what I mean.
It’s as much of a mental game as a physical. All of your senses are honed in on not being caught. Almost like stepping in to the zone, where you just focus so much on what you’re doing, everything around you just kind of melts away. You forget about everything else for awhile.
After the first few introductory missions, the story begins to unravel in such a way that both Garrett and the player are left in the dark. There’s no lame amnesia cop out here, just spectacular writing. You’ll be second guessing things just as he will, because you’re both sharing the same experiences. In that sense, you really feel like you are him. So when things happen to the character, they are also happening to you. When it hits the fan plot wise, you’ll really feel the pain and anguish in his voice.
Speaking of his voice, the more of it you hear, the more you’ll fall in love with him. It’s a very rare thing to come across a game character that’s so engaging you hang on his every word. You’ll even start to look forward to mission briefings as they are narrated by Garrett himself. He’ll give his own thoughts and insights on the task at hand and as he fits the plot pieces together, so will you. Soon you even begin to think like him. A suspicious mind racing through a weaving tale of twisted plots, always on the guard for the set up, the fall, and of course, the big payback.
Stephen Russell is for Garrett what David Hayter is for Solid Snake.
His smooth yet menacing tone coupled with a unique style of delivery becomes engraved in your mind even as you play. Their are rare moments where he will make a joke out loud to himself and chuckle as certain things happen to you during play. Every time, its a delight to here insight from the voice inside your head that is you. Sounds odd, but it works so well.
Garrett’s story arc over the course of the games is fascinating. You’ll come to find that in this dark world Garrett is actually the single shining light of hope to be found. Which is absurd because he’s a thief that lives in the shadows and wants nothing to do with the laws of civilized
society. This is exactly how you’ll feel too as the more you discover about the inner workings of the influential powers controlling the city, the more you'll find a genuine dislike for just about everyone. You’re the only level headed person that isn’t cooking up some crazy scheme to wield dark supremacy. All you want is to whack a few guards, steal a few purses, pay the rent and look cool while doing it.
Underneath his suspicion and contempt for organized religion and politics though is a lost soul that wishes things were different. He just sees no point in doing anything about it. That is, until he is forced to. It isn’t until the story comes full circle at the end do we get to see what his true character is worth.
For anyone interested in shining up their PC retro goggles and playing through the series for their first time I assure you, if you can get past the outdated graphics and the drastic changes in the third game, you won’t be disappointed.