The story of this series began in 1996, when writer and game designer Ken Levine began work on a new project, which was inspired by Castle Wolfenstein and Diablo and was supposed to be a new word in the genre of action RPG. The first concept of the game universe was a zombie apocalypse in the USSR during the beginning of the Cold War. Gradually, this idea mutated in Dark Camelot – an inversion of the myths about Arthur, where Mordred was supposed to be the main character, Arthur was a power-hungry tyrant, and Merlin was a psychopath.
In 1997, the project’s working title was changed to The Dark Project, and the gameplay focus gradually shifted from action to covert. The setting has also changed – from the legends of Camelot, the game gradually moved towards dark fantasy with steampunk elements.
While working on the game, due to financial problems, one of the leading programmers, Warren Spector, left Looking Glass Studios. This led to serious problems with AI development, due to which the project did not move from a dead center for almost a year. Fortunately, the developers have gradually managed to bring their brainchild to a playable state.
THIEF: THE DARK PROJECT (1998)
Thief: The Dark Project
If Looking Glass Studios had been a little hasty and released their project six months earlier, Thief would have been the first stealth action game in history. Unfortunately, this did not happen (despite the fact that the game was released far from the way it was intended, and a lot of content was cut from the release), so the Thief shares the palm in the genre with the ninjas that came out a few months earlier and are now partially forgotten. -simulator Tenchu and the legendary Metal Gear Solid. At least Thief was the first PC game of this genre.
But even despite the presence of such powerful competitors, the game became revolutionary for its time and many developments from it are used in stealth games, action games and RPGs to this day. The Thief was the first game to use the proprietary shadow mechanics, in which the protagonist could hide from the enemies pursuing him.
It was also here that, for the first time in the history of action games, sound began to play an important role in stealth mechanics – enemies could hear the sound of Garrett’s footsteps (that was the name of the protagonist in all parts of the series), and we ourselves could not only guess from the sounds about the approach of opponents, but even estimate how many them, where they are and on what surface they move, because the sounds of footsteps were different for stone, wood and other materials.
Thief: The Dark Project
The game begins with the main character, being a pickpocket boy, trying to rob a member of the mysterious Order of Guardians. Of course, he is caught, but the Guardian is amazed at his skills, offers to join the Order, learn how to hide in the shadows and use the local form of magic. Gradually, old habits take over, and our hero, having significantly pumped up in thieves’ skills, leaves the Order and returns to criminal activity.
But one day he has to enter into a confrontation with representatives of the local Thieves Guild, which is unhappy with the solo career of our (anti) hero and wants to receive interest from him. In subsequent events, Garrett will have to face powerful nobles, crime bosses, undead, mysterious cultists, ancient artifacts and even incarnations of the Gods. When the situation seems hopeless, those same Guardians come to the rescue, and in gratitude for saving Garrett promises to help the Order when the time comes …
This “gray morality” of the protagonist contrasted sharply with most games of the era, when the essence of the plot was reduced to a showdown between Good and Evil. In addition, the game had a deeply worked out plot, a very dark atmosphere and very difficult battles with enemies. But Garrett could hide from them in the shadows, look for workarounds, distract their attention and destroy opponents in creative ways such as planting mines, setting traps or using various heavy and / or sharp objects of the environment.
For its time, the game was also distinguished by the carefully designed, albeit scripted, AI of opponents – they knew how to raise the alarm, interact with each other and organize a complex patrol system.
Despite the bias towards stealth, the first “Thief” also had a very good fighting game, which did not boil down to calling out the enemy, but instead forced to parry the enemy’s blows and carefully think over their own attacks.
In two years, the game has sold half a million copies, which is not bad by the standards of those times, and critics awarded it with an average rating of 9/10 and rave reviews, which noted the revolutionary mechanics, the cool storyline, the general atmosphere of the game and the innovative method of managing difficulty – with increasing the difficulty, the toughness of the enemies did not change, but instead the objectives of the mission changed, and at maximum difficulty it was necessary to complete the levels without killing at all).
To enjoy the game to the fullest, it’s worth downloading the 1999 version of Thief Gold, in which the developers returned all the cut content to the game.
THIEF II: THEMETAL AGE (2000)
Thief II: The Metal Age
The ending of the original powerfully hinted not only at the sequel, but even at its name, because the Guardians promised to call Garrett when the “Age of Metal” arrives. It came in 2000 with the release of the second part of the Thief series of games. And again the game had to be developed at an accelerated pace – the exclusive publisher Eidos demanded the studio to release it as soon as possible, because he was starting to financial problems. At the same time, the budget of the game was cut all the time.
Therefore, despite the noticeable improvement in graphics, the concept, gameplay and idea of the sequel differed little from the original. Unless the environment from the gloomy Gothic has become completely steampunk, the hordes of the undead have been replaced by the ubiquitous guards and dangerous automatons (although in a couple of places zombies still crawl out). But the onset of a new era had a good effect on Garrett himself – thanks to the Order, he acquired a steampunk bioimplant that could be used as a mixture of binoculars and a video surveillance system.
In general, the game has become simpler (now there was no need to completely clean out the levels and take away all values from them, and the battles became easier than in the original), which not all fans liked. But still, the sequel sold slightly worse than the first part, and critics put the “Age of Metal” ratings in the range from 8.5 to 9 out of 10.
Despite the success of the game, Looking Glass Studios closed a few months after its release due to another financial crisis that hit Eidos Interactive (one of the main reasons for the crisis was the unlimited funding of John Romero and his insane long-term construction).
THIEF: DEADLY SHADOWS (2004)
Thief: Deadly Shadows
Eidos not only managed to survive the troubles that led to Looking Glass’s demise, but also retained the rights to the Thief series of games. Having brought the finances in relative order, the publisher commissioned the development of the next part of the series to the Ion Storm studio, which at that time was one of the most hyped, because it was founded by John Romero himself, one of the fathers of the Doom and Quake series. In addition, in 2000, the company released the cult action RPG Deus Ex, in which the stealth component was one of the most important components of the gameplay. Therefore, the publishers had no doubts that Ion Storm would cope with such complex material as Thief.