Review by: Chris Harding
Published: April 3, 2000
Looking Glass Studios' introduction of the first person sneaker in late 1998 redefined many elements associated with the three dimensional action genre. A risky venture for the small Massachusetts based development house, Thief: The Dark Project was the first major market release that focussed its core gameplay on stealth. At the time of its release, how the general community would receive a title that shunned full confrontational action in favor of avoidance and stealthy inaction, was unknown. The result was an experience like no other, and one we described as "intelligent, engrossing action/adventure that pushes the gamer to use his brain as much as his broadsword, and offers the type of gameplay this industry hasn't seen in a long, long time." In a year with titles such as Half-Life and Rainbow Six, Thief stood out as my favorite. It wasn't until Looking Glass and Irrational Games released System Shock 2 that I found something better.
Therefore, it goes with saying that the release of Thief II: The Metal Age is by far the most anticipated event of the year for me. In production for a little less than eighteen months, Thief II: The Metal Age continues the story of master thief Garrett. In The Dark Project, Garrett got involved with a radical religious group known as the Hammerites, and ended up disposing of an evil being prophesied by them, known as the Trickster. If you've not played or finished the original, the ending eludes to a troubled time ahead for our esteemed pickpocket. At the conclusion of the first game, the Keepers, a brotherhood of thieves that Garrett was once a member, warns him of the forthcoming metal age. The setup of the sequel and cohesion of storylines between the first and the second product will be appreciated by veterans of the series. Looking Glass has taken a lot of care to ensure that those familiar with the setting will be rewarded, but are careful enough that nothing will seem out of place or be confusing for those playing Thief for the first time.
Looking Glass and publisher Eidos Interactive have made the decision to stand behind the Thief series, and both organizations have done a great deal of homework over the last year and half, asking players what they liked about Thief as well as what they didn't. A consistent theme from players abroad was that the inclusion of undead and missions that featured the undead prominently, were the game's weakest elements. And I must admit, after playing through the original product my first time I agreed. Missions such as Bonehoard, Escape and Into the Maw of Chaos were the weakest scenarios, and all of them did feature Woodsie monsters and the undead more than they did humans. So it was decided that for Thief II, the missions would focus primarily around humans and follow the gameplay style of missions such as Lord Badford's Manor and Assassins, two of the best scenarios in Thief. But that's not to say that the entire sequel is played against humans, it's not. As the secondary title implies, The Metal Age introduces Thief II players to robots, or as I prefer to call them mechanical monsters.
The development team, especially the story board writers, deserve special credit for how they've gone about introducing these mechanical monsters. The original title's most colorful group, the high and mighty Hammers, have seen their numbers dwindle in droves in the last year. The Hammerites have almost systematically been replaced by the Mechanists, a less radical but far more secretive and sinister sect of the cities most wealthy patrons. As the game progresses, Garrett learns more about the Mechanists as well as their plans for him and the city. The Mechanists, as their name implies, are a group of technologists that have invented robotics. Their culture and products are sweeping through the city. Businesses and organizations everywhere have begun to employ the mechanical beasts for all sorts of activities, including security and maintenance purposes.
The story itself is engrossing, and the transition from the Hammers and Woodsie to the Sheriff and Mechanists is seamless. Though I should point out that a couple of scenarios are scatter-brained deviations from the otherwise excellent flow, specifically the first and fourth missions. The third mission, which is one of the best, Framed, has Garrett sneaking into a security complex, and setting a trap for one of the city's most prominent law officers. The complexities in mission objectives coupled with the original premise is exhilarating. Sadly however the completed mission segueway is horrible and completely underwhelming. While you do eventually learn the fate of your victim, the immediate mission debriefing and cinematic fail to elaborate on the climactic events that just transpired, and instead lead the player into a very predicable and overused "escape the trap" scenario.
Thankfully, an overwhelming majority of the missions are very well done, and that's even despite a nasty memory leak that nearly ruins some of them. Overall Thief II is certainly a game worth playing to the end, and the latter scenarios are some of the best ever offered in a first person action offering. Along with the missions, I mostly enjoyed the cinematics, and feel that they've taken a lot more consideration into the content within them than what was offered in Thief. It is worth noting however, that the presentation, including animation style and graphical layout of the in-game cinematics and missions briefings remain unchanged over the original.