Depression, Breaking Bad and Thief games
Warning: contains profanity and spoilers for 20+ year old games.
Hello, Hiiii, welcome to the first entry of my blog!!! I don't know how to write these so I'll try to write my thoughts in a chronological order relative to source media. I feel like before I start writing about Thief I should give some context to why this entry exists. December of 2021 through March of 2022 were absolutely a dogshit time for me so after semester finals I started coping by consuming a bunch of media. My first victim was Breaking Bad.
Breaking Bad review sidetrack.
I'm gonna be honest here, I'm not picky when it comes to movies and tv shows and I'm absolutely not the smart type of audience. I won't soygape and point at capeshit but I’m totally a sucker for aesthetics and visuals (not the explosions type). While I didn't find it all that visually captivating the plot kept me entertained through all 6 seasons (and a spin-off movie). I didn't like any of the characters though and I didn't feel any strong emotion towards them except for the absolutely gut-wrenching dynamic of Walter and his family. There aren't many movies where the actions of the characters make me feel genuinely uneasy (in a... good way? immersion or whatever) and Breaking Bad is certainly one of them. Bravo.
Having finished the series and a bunch of movies I had in the backlog i started looking for video games that would be familiar to play but provide an experience different from 24/7 2fort servers. Immersive sims.
gameplay: really good
visuals: good enough in case you got stuck in 1998
sound: hit and miss
story: its there
Mechanically, Thief could be the most complex stealth game series out there that manages to also be fairly straightforward. Walking on some floors being more audible than others, being harder to be spotted in the shadows and basic vaulting parkour mechanics not only proved to be an adaptive gameplay tool but also helped to spawn numerous fan levels that accommodate for different playstyles. My journey through Thief gold started way back in 2019. While I did enjoy the first couple of levels at the time I didn't "get it" so I sort of abandoned in on the third level. Probably for the best.
The level that made me want to kill myself.
Enter 2020. Having played unhealthy amounts of Minecraft (Legal copy this time! WOW!!!) and ran out of commissions to do I decided to revisit my video game backlog and that when my cursor glided over Thief: Gold in my steam library.
I really don't like Down in the Bonehoard. It's not a stealth game level by any chance and as far as I know was made because Tomb Raider was a thing people liked at the time and Looking Glass weren't confident enough in Thief's sneak sim identity. What followed was the most boring hour of my life followed by the most miserable hour of my life. I have little to no recollection of this level other than the lingering scarring impression it left on me. It's a vast confusing and complex collection of caves and crypts interconnected with almost no rhyme or reason to it. While the caves with largely unthreatening fauna that burps toxic gas is something I can endure i was not prepared for the assault that is the zombie sections of this level. I'm not a good gamer. I might be able to click on things quite fast but things that I'm forced to avoid instead of confronting put me under a lot of stress. The zombies can be killed only with holy water and water arrows and there aren’t enough of these to go around. Oh and the map is borderline useless. You can still make peace with your (im)mortal enemies though. Return to the Cathedral was what the Bonehoard should've been. Adding non-linear level design and a quirky character in the mix negates most of the misery of having to deal with things that you can't permanently dispose of. Having retrieved the whatever mcguffin I was supposed to get in the Bonehoard I finished the level and abandoned the game for good.
The level that peaked my interest.
Assassins. I revisited the game this march and that's when it clicked for me. Unlike the levels before it's centerpiece - some rich assholes mansion - has multiple entry points. The availability of wiggle room that allowed me to truly immerse in the game's mechanics was a gamechanger. It's not the best level in the game by far but it's definitely the one that kept me going and made me ignore Thief's numerous flaws.
At this stage of the game I was deeply invested in the game and couldn’t ignore a bunch of flaws it had. While some negligible like chaining together 5 bunnyhops and smashing into a wall at lightspeed, turning Garrett into red mist or making yourself walk at a 45 degree angle because its faster or not knowing whether the sentry is above or below you because of a sound engine that wasn’t designed for a game like this the open that took me out of the experience was allowing me to save anytime I want. Let's talk about checkpoints. In Manhunt, an infamous stealth horror game, the levels are endurance tests with par time of 20 to 30 minutes. The levels are zoned into a few sections or arenas which are preceded by a checkpoint pickup lest you get spotted and get your shit kicked in by a bunch of scumbags. Adding these conveyed a clear sense of progression to the player and encouraged you to do riskier moves because those would only set you back by a minute or two. While Thief doesn't split its' levels into zones as clearly most of the time I think it should've used checkpoints instead of manual saves. Being spotted in a stealth game is a major setback. More so in Thief: it either makes the run unsalvageable to a casual player or wastes way too much of your time. The game forced me to save way too often for my liking and it felt like cheating but if I were to stop I would accidentally lean into a wall a little too hard and instantly die (this happened more than once).
The level that made me fall in love with Thief.
"I spy you little fish, oh no it’s a big fish rather." -Raoul
It's at this point I should mention that the Thief's narrative felt like filler made to justify places to sneak in to me as it was happening without much players involvement until the latter half of the game and it's fine I guess. The opera house level (Song Of The Caverns) not only features an enjoyable challenge boasting smart use of tile floors and guard patrols but is also where the worldbuilding and aesthetics peaked for me. I felt like most of the written text and conversations in the game weren't that interesting until that point so actually wanting to eavesdrop on conversations and reading correspondence fors something other than loot hints was a nice change of pace.
Looking Glass Studios had a tradition of “meh” final sections of the game. Escape!, Strange Bedfellows and Into the Maw of Chaos were... not enjoyable. Just like the final couple chapters of System Shock 2 I breezed through them because at that point nothing could make me endure smacking spiders with a two and a half polygons sword for more than two hours in caves and corridors that are about as visually interesting as MTG card art (assuming you hate medieval fantasy art). The most memorable part of it all was the puzzle where you had to shoot out 4 targets with their respective arrow types (I don't think this was ever explained so it took a while to figure out) which made me backtrack about half a level because I skipped the part where you would restock on moss arrows.
I might sound like I hated the game but overall it was a good experience that made me want to play it's sequel really bad and holy crap did the sequel deliver.
gameplay: REALLY good
visuals: pretty crap for a 2000 game but an improvement on the previous title
story: a lot more engaging than thief 1
There isn't much I can say about T2. It's 100% balls to the wall true non-stop stealth action. None of that pansy ass dick tugging smile for the camera bullshit. The game introduces two ghosting levels where you're prohibited from performing KOs on guards and as a consequence these are the most challenging and fun levels in the series so far. The sequel doesn’t introduce many new mechanics other than ability to zoom, new guard types and some other QOL improvements like the ability to holster items and disable auto-select. A feature that got underutilized is the KO-immune guards that I expected to be more common in later levels but ultimately got used like 3 times unfortunately. While being more of the same Life of the Party is probably the best setpiece in the game and demonstrates the lenghts a good visual design can take a dated game engine. Starting off on the rooftops you parkour your way towards the Anglewatch - a dark obelisk of mechanist architecture - which dwarfs every other building in the city. Having a lot of verticality and fun platforming gimmick it's no wonder the level became the original demo preview of the game. I believe the story is a major improvement on the previous title and it feels more like a puzzle to piece as much of the plot beats and points are foreshadowed as early as the second level.
Like any other LGS imsim title T2's final level is a letdown. Sabotage at Soulforge didn't feel like a great challenge and was instead simply annoying to navigate. To it's defence it gets the mood right though. There is a sense of urgency and you don't feel in control of the situation until the last signal tower is adjusted.
As for Thief: Deadly Shadows my first impression was pure distilled misery but I might have to revisit it in a future blog once I've beaten it.