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Thief II: The thinking person's shooter
(IDG) -- Sometimes, the easiest way to produce something original is to see the perfectly ordinary from a new perspective. Looking Glass Studios did this when it developed Thief: The Dark Project, a standard first-person shooter where the modus operandi was to keep hidden and slay only as required. The challenge for its successor, Thief II: The Metal Age, is somewhat different. How do you follow up a game that stood the industry on its ears, capturing some of that initial thrill without assembly-lining the original?
In Thief II's case, the solution was a matter of tweaking rather than innovation. And if the new release doesn't startle like its predecessor, it still provides a solid gaming experience.
Thief II unfolds like its predecessor, as a series of scenarios preceded by animated sequences with well-written and acted voiceovers. The complexity of the goals depends upon the difficulty setting you've chosen, with higher difficulty levels posing more requirements. If you don't find the challenge of retrieving an object sufficient, consider a Hard or Expert setting that involves retrieving more booty without getting your other booty kicked.
There's a great deal of variety in Thief II's missions, which include stealing plans, tailing a suspect, or escaping from your own apartment. Many scenarios let you deviate from the "best route" approach allowing you to prowl around and gather loot. I find this one of the game's best qualities: an ability to casually suggest a much larger world in which you're free to roam carefully, should you choose to do so.
Between missions you can use the cash gained from your stolen loot to purchase merchandise no well-heeled thief should be without-such as lockpicks, flash mines, invisibility potions, and scouting orbs, which act like miniature stationary cameras and can be used for a little surreptitious spying until retrieved. At any time during a mission you can pause the game, save it, change options, and consult your goals or the mission map. Of course, the map's reliability becomes increasingly suspect as you move through the game.
On the downside, the linearity of the missions may turn off those looking for some control over Garrett's choice of tasks. And doesn't it make sense to reward everybody's favorite thief for using fewer items in a mission by letting him keep his inventory as he moves into his next challenge? Some of the specialty arrows could also be considered over-the-top in a world where physical laws, however futuristic in their application, still rule. Moss arrows to dampen footsteps? What's next: Garrett gets hungry and shoots a food arrow at the floor, which expands into four slices of pepperoni pizza?
The souped-up Dark engine modified for the original Thief is used once again, with similar results. Textures are well-defined-like water rippling in a trough-and the changes in definition and brightness as you move in relationship to an object are impressive. Human figures such as the guards, by contrast, display all too clearly their polygonal origins, and their animations are arthritic. The use of sound (especially DirectSound3D) is excellent, with mingling snippets of genuine conversation approaching or retreating as Garrett moves. The dialog writing is among the best in the business.
All in all, Thief II is a very entertaining "thinking person's shooter" that provides more of the same to fans of the original release. It's tough to learn, but rewards you with an immersive, fun experience.
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Official Thief II page at Eidos Interactive
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