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Reviewed: Thief: Deadly Shadows
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: August 21st, 2004
Page: 2
For Thief purists, first off, let me assure you - everything you liked about the old games is present. There's a level with zombies, the Hammerites, the Keepers, and the Pagans each. The political intrigue of previous titles is all there, as are myriad side quests. And all the old favorite weapons, including elemental arrows, have returned.

In many ways, however, the game's changed. Some of the changes are necessitated by a console design; load points are common, sad to say. While many gamers would claim that load points are avoidable by dynamically loading the world, this doesn't work for Thief titles because within each section, every NPC is moving on their routes at all times. Dynamic loading would risk getting NPC's stuck in various areas, throwing the game off.

Graphically, Deadly Shadows is a massive upgrade to earlier Thief titles, and looks gorgeous even on the Xbox. Textures are enhanced, especially fabrics, and enemies no longer look blocky. Despite the game's reliance on dark and shadowy areas, this isn't a big problem; there's always enough light to see what you need to see, provided you've set your gamma levels correctly in the options panel.

Most of the game is in the dark and shadows - but despite the screenshots, it's manageable.

Lock picking is now "interactive."

The bow, your only ranged weapon, has returned. Use it when you can't spare the effort to get in close for a stealth kill.

Plotline-wise, Deadly Shadows picks up where the last title left off - you've dealt with the Trickster, you've dealt with the Hammerites, now there's only one group left: the Keepers. They're expecting a time to come shortly when their prophecies no longer work and someone will betray them from within. Naturally, the suspicions are geared towards Garrett, since he's the "outsider" with Keeper training. There's also plenty of sub-plots involving the Hammerites and Pagans, of course, and their constant infighting keeps things lively. New to this title, if you can convince Hammerites and Pagans to get close together, they can be convinced to fight each other and leave you alone.

Control-wise, unfortunately, on the PC the Thief titles have not aged well. The physics system used by the game feels clunky for walking slowly over anything other than flat terrain, and trying to use multiple hotkeys for run, walk, and sneak speeds is problematic. The lockpicking system is hard to get used to, since it's a circular option being maneuvered by the mouse. In some ways, this could be blamed on the designing of the controls to work with a gamepad, but therein lies the rub: despite not being 100% as beautiful as the PC version, the Xbox version is still gorgeous, and the controls are without flaw. Run/Walk/Sneak speeds are all managed beautifully on the Xbox's analog stick, and lockpicking is likewise improved. Even arrow shooting is improved - unlike the PC version, it's possible to back off from a nocked arrow by slowly letting off the trigger.

In terms of AI, the game's improved much - enemies or targets will run away and scream for help on finding a dead or knocked out body, on being mugged, and guards will sound alarms. The moral of the story is, don't be findable when they show up, and dispose of bodies (hide them in the shadows) quickly if possible. It can get a little ridiculous, as it did when I caught six guards and had them all piled in the same dark corner near the Hammerite temple, but it's a workable system. Guards also don't "stand down" (forget that they're on alert) quickly, which is a nice touch - and they actively hunt for nearby shadowy areas, just in case you're hiding there. Flashbombs are a far better way to deal with fights than actually trying to win, as always - Garrett may be quick, but he can't take much damage, and the guards' longswords hurt.

The game's now built around a "hub" system with the city, which is a good thing - instead of merely being rewarded gold at the end of a mission, Garrett has to locate the appropriate fence to sell it at, and then go to shops to pick up his toys. This makes the game slightly less linear as there are plenty of side options to rob the city blind without having to be inside of a mission, and even some faux-"mission" storylines. The most memorable is finding a two-bit thug masquerading as Garrett who extorts high prices to steal a dagger for someone; it's possible to kill the thug, and then complete the mission for him, taking the reward as your own.

Unfortunately, the PC version's also got a few yet-to-be-fixed bugs, including a nasty one that can corrupt savegames. Eidos suggested creating new savegames each time instead of overwriting them, but this isn't a good fix, and hopefully they will address it in the next patch; I'm not too optimistic about this, because despite over a month of waiting, there's no patch to be seen yet. Fortunately, the bug doesn't exist on the Xbox.

Is the game worth buying? Absolutely. If you've the option, for the first time I actually recommend the Xbox version over the PC version of a game, because the controls are just so much nicer and a few of the PC's bugs aren't present.

Added:  Sunday, August 22, 2004
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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