Review: Thief II: The Metal Age
One of the best stealth games that exist.
- Developer: Looking Glass Studios
- Publisher: Eidos Interactive
- Genre: First Person/ Stealth
- Available: Steam, GamersGate, and GOG
- Price: $7-10
Thief 2 is hard to review then when it was originally released. Playing Thief 2 out of the box requires you to install the fan made 1.9 – 1.21 Tafferpatch. This leads to to issue of what was changed from what Looking Glass Studios had intended. Unfortunately, there isn't any full documentation of the 1.9 patch. The patch also contains optional visual enhancements and a community fix patch which changes more things. Then you have the issue of did you install the patch that has the New Dark Engine or the Old Dark engine.
This makes it hard to guaranty that my review will be the same as to how you experience the game and how the game originally was. Now it is possible to run Thief 2 with the 1.8 patch, but it requires a lot of work to get it to run on modern operating systems like Windows 7. Mostly this is the technical and visual qualities of the game. The basic core thief experience will still be the same no matter what patch or enhancements you are using.
This review will be based on the New Dark Engine with Tafferpatch 1.21. You may need the patches to install the game from a disk and you will need one of the two patches to play Thief 2 easily on modern systems.
Thief 2 patches [http://www.ttlg.com/forums/showthread.php?t=131106]
Some time after Garret defeated the Trickster, a new faction has rose to power from the weakened Hammerites, known as the Mechanists. Their new inventions and robots, help them gain popularity among the populace. While this is going on, the City Watch as been reformed under a man named Sheriff Gordon Truart who is cleaning up crime. While things may seam like they are improving, sinister forces are at work. For Garret, it is hard times, and he needs money to pay the rent. Garret's greed draws him into another adventure in Theif 2: The Metal Age.
The primary story this time around focuses on two factions; the City Watch and the Mechanists, compared the Thief which focused on many factions that lived in the city. This does hurt story wise, as there isn't a lot of amazement and wonder to carry the player through the 15 long missions. By mission 10, you will understand all that is going on with the plot and each faction. So all you are doing is going through the missions for the rest of the game. Unlike, Thief: The Dark Project, which based it's levels around the story, Thief 2's story is based around the levels. The other thing to consider is that, this was Looking Glass Studio's last game and they were shut down two months after. Never the less the plot isn't bad, but isn't as good as it could be.
While the primary plot isn't as great, the side stories are great. The side stories are often not related to the plot, but deal with the everyday lives of the NPC's. From the silly to the serious, the stories make the levels and the thief universe entertaining. These side stories can be found from scraps of paper, books, the level design, and overheard dialogue.
While the graphics were not the most advanced in the year 2000, they were not bad and still manage to hold up today thanks to the great art style and level designs. The art style is a mix of steam punk and Victorian era style with a little bit of medieval touches. The blend of low res textures and polygons with the art style creates a wonderful picture to look at and admire.
Now with the new patches available, you can install enhanced textures of various categories. The enhanced sky, water, objects and npcs are great as they do look better, but don't look out of place. Unfortunately, the enhanced ground and building textures are too high resolution that they stand out jarringly. They look too photo realistic and the colors are different from what they are supposed to be. They don't blend well with the art style and are awkward to look at.
Thief 2's art style is somewhat different from Thief 1's. The art style is less dark and fantastical compared to it's predecessor. It also looks slightly cleaner and more sterile, which does fit with the story of the game. This is a more notable jump rather then a gradual blend and growth of the previous art style.
Audio is one of the major strengths that Thief 1 and 2 still retain today. It play a major role in the game play and the immersion of the atmosphere. To be good at Thief is to be able to listen carefully of what is going on around you. So as you listen, you, the player become immersed into the game naturally.
The sounds you make when moving about play a major role in stealth. What type of surface, how fast you are moving, and the noise the npc's are making play a part in how you move. Rug and grass let you run freely with little to no noise, while tile and metal are loud and travel far, so you have to move slowly to remain undetected. With three movement speeds to chose from, this adds to the challenge and tension of the game.
Sound propagates depending on the size of the environment, how enclosed it is, the sound made, and the shape of the environment. All of these are factors a player will be constantly thinking aof as they sneak about. AI reacts to the sounds depending on the loudness, how long it lasts and how far they are from the sounds origin. Manipulating the AI's behavior statuses and movement patterns is a tactic one can use in Thief. All of this is something you still don't typically see in modern games.
The audio also creates immersion when it comes to Thief games. Besides the opening theme and the credits theme, the soundtrack is ambient audio that sets the mood of the place and situation. Different parts of a level can different soundtracks which act as like a story when it comes to the mood. A level can start of as tame, grow more intense as you get closer to your objective and reach it's climax when you get there.
Voice acting is well done in the Thief series. The tones of their voice, the feeling conveyed, and the hidden messages all contribute to the quality of the voice acting. None of the voices are jarring or sound wrongly pitched, audio-wise. Steven Russell, does a wonderful job in voicing Garret, conveyancing his cynical, dry wit that the player can related to the character. This is due to the excellent writing and talents of the voice actors. So much that fans were disappointed when he was not coming back for Thief 2014 game.
If it wasn't obvious already, Thief 2 is a first person stealth game set in a 3d world. The goal is to remain unseen and complete your objectives while leaving your opponents unaware. To do this, player must utilize the shadows and cover to remain out of sight. Shadows vary in how well they can hide the player from the sight of the AI. As the AI becomes more alert, their ability to see improves and reduces the effectiveness of the shadows. Once they see you, you won't be able to hide until you can get out of their range. Levels are well designed in the placement of shadows to utilize and the ability to create shadows through turning out lights and putting out touches.
However, it is impossible to take out all the lights so you must plan carefully. You will be utilizing the light gem on your screen to gauge how well you are hidden. Movement can decrease how hidden you are so you have to pay attention. Most of the time, you can visually gage how well a shadow will hide you without being in it, but sometimes can hide you better or worse then it looks.
Hiding behind cover is another important factor There will be plenty of times where you can't hide in the shadows but must rely on your speed and awareness to evade the sight of the AI. Luckily you have three movement speeds to rely on; running, crouching, and the modifier known as creeping. While the other two are obvious, creeping slows your movement speed down significantly and makes you a lot quieter. This can be used with both running and crouching. Unlike other games, pressing the movement key doesn't instantly produce a sound. Instead, it's reliant on the length of time you hold it down and the movement speed. Once you make a sound, it's duration and sound level is dependent on how long you keep moving.
Thief 2 has three difficulty modes that you can select before each mission. Normal allows you to kill anyone, has the most health, and the least amount of objectives to worry about. Hard mode reduces your health, an increases the amount of objectives. Expert, gives you less health, all the objectives, and not being able to kill anyone. Also each difficulty will adjust the AI's abilities.
Thief 2 has plenty of weapons and tools to make use of during the levels. Thief series brakes these down to weapons and items. Weapons such as noisemaker arrows, or a black jack can be used along with an item at hand like the flash bomb. Except for the blackjack, holding a weapon does effect how you can be seen. From rope arrows, flash bombs, moss arrows, and noise maker arrows; there is something that you can use for any purpose. Each tool has a benefit and a consequence to it's use so none of them overpower each other. On expert difficulty though, The lethal tools will have limited use.
In each level there is loot that you can find. This loot has a certain look to it that you will instantly recognize no time. For many levels, you will need to collect a certain amount and that value changes from level to level. Besides using it for completion an objective, this loot can be used to purchase equipment. Before most levels, you will have access to a cash shop to purchase equipment based on the loot you picked up in a level. Each item has a description that you can read before purchasing. However, even if you get all the lot in a level, you will not be able to purchase everything so chose wisely. You will be given a default set of equipment that is the minimum need to complete a level so do not worry about being stuck.
One of the biggest changes of Thief 2 is how large and more open they are. Each level is very non-linear with multiple pathways to discover in a level. This doesn't mean everything is open up to you though. You will need to explore everywhere to find loot and keys need to open up more area's of the level. If you don't think you can go further, you can find away to go around or the a way to open your progress further. Sometimes you will have to travel both vertically and out of order to proceed.
Levels take place in a variety of places from manors, rooftops, a city district, and even industrial buildings. This helps mix things and provide new add different challenges you face. The challenges feel natural and the places feel real instead of being just another level or rpg dungeon. The difficulty gradually grows as each level introduces new concepts, weapons, tools and game-play elements for the player to learn and master.
AI play an important role in Thief series. Their are five levels of awareness for AI; relaxed, confused, aware, searching, alert. Relaxed is their default state, and confused is when they think they herd or seen something, but not sure. Aware is when they know something is their and they are more sensitive to noise and see farther. Searching is when they are confident enough to look for you and alert state is when they will attack or warn people of your presence. This is done in a gradual way that both helps the player understand what is going on and gives the AI a more human like reaction.
The AI will notice things like torches and lights being out and will even relight them if they feel like it. They can unlock or lock doors, change the length or time of their path, adjust their path-finding based on object in their way, and even change their mind in the path they want to take. This adds both an immersion element to them and adds to the game-play options for a player.
The AI is not far from perfect. They can get stuck around corners or partially open doors, and their awareness statuses can get messed up or stuck. Typical AI problems. Never the less, the AI stands as being well done even in today's modern games.
Thief 2 is a great stealth game that improves on Thief 1 in most cases. More open and larger levels give you more options and ways to proceed. The art style, story, audio, and game-play all work together to create a world to naturally immerse you in. Thanks to the new patches and new engine, The old thief games are easy to install on modern systems. Despite my criticisms, I would whole heatedly recommend Thief 2 as a game that is worth playing for both fan's of the stealth genre and even new players.
Comparison of the New Dark and Old Dark engines
New Dark is an engine that was made by a french Thief fan with the source code of the Old Dark engine. While it is similar the Old Dark engine, it is made differently so it is not a 100% replica of the Old Dark engine. Most of the differences are minor, but are noticeable and can affect how you play. Fan Missions, in particular, may be affected more noticeably, so keep it in mind if you notice something off. Below is a comparison of the difference of the two patches based on my findings.
New Dark patch: - Frontal ambushes very unreliable. - More sensitive to sound - Switch through levels of alertness faster. - Fan Missions may not work correctly or a little different then what was intended. - May need to use the community fix which changes the lighting to 32 bit, which is visually and technically different. i.e. The light gem might not be accurate. No colorful lights. - Compatible with the majority of Fan Missions. - Supports 32 bit color and a variety of Resolutions. - EAX sound is emulated so no need for a Creative labs sound card. - No monitor flickering when starting Thief 2 up. - Fan mission selector built into the patch - No other downloads needed. - 48 audio channels. - More reliable mantel system. Handy for some Fan missions.
Old Dark patch: - Supports many resolutions , but has to be adjusted in the DDfix.ini file. - Supports 16 bit colors only. - Screen flickers when starting up. (not harmful) - Need to download Garret-loader (recommended) or Dark-loader and a script to - play fan missions. - Enemies have gradual switching of alert levels and sight. - Not hyper sensitive to noise. - Still kill somebody when Black Jack fighting on Expert difficulty. - Can do quick ambushes. - Audio channels go up to 24 channels. - Need creative labs sound card to emulate EAX sound - Will not play fan missions made with New Dark engine.
Warning: Don't download and use the New Dark graphics setting exe as it will mess up your graphical settings and the AI alertness. You don't want AI having 180 degree's of vision.
My personal recommendation is to stick with the original engine. It still looks good and run at 60 fps or more in the original missions. Most fan missions run great in it except for a few that push the engine to it's limits. Also, The AI functions the way it originally worked which is balanced for the original missions and fan missions made before 2012.
You will need New Dark to run the fan missions made for it, but you can install Thief twice to take care of that. New Dark isn't a bad engine, but the increased sensitivity of the AI creates more annoyances then needed when trying to be perfectly sneaky. These issues might be fixed in time.
-I love stealth games -I play on the highest difficulty -I try to be as quiet as possible, but I knock out all enemies I can.
I like all kinds of videogames from many genres. I've been playing videogames since I was three from the SNES, Genesis, and Atari. I like to write videogame reviews for fun and to test my writing skills. My blog were I host my reviews is http://justforfungamereviews.blogspot.com/