Imagine, if you will, a first-person shooter in which it is not necessary to kill everything and everyone who crosses your path. There are a few like that. "Thief" takes it a step further, though. "Killing is messy," says your character at one point. While playing the game in Expert mode, a stated goal of many of the missions is specifically NOT to kill anyone. Rather than heavy weaponry and the adrenaline rush of charging an infinite horde of beasties, the goal in "Thief" is subterfuge, subtlety, and patience. Most especially patience.
The game is also quite replayable, by choosing different playing styles for yourself. Some players choose to play by not killing or knocking anyone out at all, except when a mission requires it, which is rarely. Though I myself have not yet played through the game this way, I can see the challenge and fun it would present.
That's not to say you can't fight in it. It wouldn't be a first-person shooter if that were the case. But no, your character (Garrett) is a thief, equipped with a sword for close work, and a bow for pretty much everything else. Since Garrett's hand-to-hand skills with the sword aren't the greatest, using ranged attacks with the bow is generally preferable, and more in keeping with the theme of the game. You can shoot someone, or something, with an arrow from the shadows (and get away with it) far more easily than you can try to hack at them with a sword. And don't forget to hide the bodies when you're done, as leaving them lying around will make it much more likely you get caught by anyone you've overlooked. You're also equipped with a blackjack for rendering guards unconscious, which comes in quite handy when the need for silence is paramount.
Sound, unlike most FPS games, is one of the key elements of gameplay in "Thief." Sound can give your enemies away, just as it can give you away to their ears. Sound can be used to distract and confuse your enemies as well. Different surfaces yield different sounds, and changing your walking speed can dramatically effect the sounds you make. Walking on wood yields a hollow thump, while walking on grass makes a gentle crunching noise. Walking on stone gives off a harsh clacking, but walking on carpet is nearly silent. Walking on metal produces a resounding clang which can be heard for quite a ways. The sounds you make become your enemies as much as the sounds your enemies make become your friends. Sound is an important tool in this game, unlike any other.
Of course, the visual aspect is important too, and it's just as key to gameplay. As a thief, often evading confrontation rather than inviting it, your best bet is generally to stay in the shadows as much as possible letting guards and others pass while you remain unseen, waiting. A light meter at the bottom of the screen helps you know when you are visible to others and when you are not, but the excellent lighting effects of the game provide plenty of clues as to which areas are safe and which are brightly lit. When you need darkness in a lit area, sometimes the only way to get it is to put some torches out for yourself. The graphics of "Thief" are very good overall, but the lighting effects are what really stand out in terms of excellence, especially due to the fact that light is as critical a tool and sound. Bear in mind that the dark places in "Thief" can hide an enemy just as effectively as it can hide you... and sometimes, they do.
With its close attention to detail, and its careful use of light and sound to enhance the experience, "Thief" is one of the most effectively immersive games I have ever played. I am reminded of the first time I played "Doom" or "Quake" and I saw the first glimmerings of what the FPS genre could do. "Thief" takes that concept and extends it much further, forcibly making the player pay closer attention, and thus get involved in the world of the game much more deeply than other games have ever required. "Thief" tasks the player to examine every shadow, jump at every little sound, and take chances on the best way through tight situations. Couple this involvement with a top quality storyline, worthy in itself of a big-screen treatment, and you've got a fantastic game -- which is exactly what "Thief" is: fantastic.
"Thief" made me re-learn everything I ever thought I knew about playing a first-person shooter. My instinct to shoot first and deal with the consequences later fell quickly by the wayside, as that is the surest road to ruin in "Thief." This game taught me to rely much more on stealth than brute strength, cunning more than a heavy arsenal, and it made quite a difference. In fact, it made all the difference, and it made "Thief" a truly exceptional gaming experience.
Slip into the shadows. Walk carefully. Look. Listen. Observe everything. Choose your targets carefully, and only attack when absolutely necessary. Be crafty as the fox. Be silent as the breeze. Be invisible. Be a Thief.
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Your dark heroics earn you the attention of a mysterious patron who offers you a fortune if you can retrieve an enormous gemstone with a notorious reputation. But it soon becomes clear that more is at stake than a comfortable retirement. Your efforts trigger a conflict between veiled powers who compete to pull your strings. You'll need all your strength and wits to discover the truth and escape from the web of intrigue and deception spun around you. Garrett's adventures will take you through moonlit city streets, guarded mansions, secure prisons, blazing factories, haunted cathedrals, abandoned ruins, grim catacombs, subterranean lost cities, and even into strange, distant realms where the laws of this earth no longer apply.