Stealth video games are one of many trade’s strangest genres, in that they actively encourage gamers to keep away from partaking with the sport’s personal programs. They ask you to not work together with enemies, to not be seen or heard. The last word achievement in a stealth sport is to “ghost” a stage, to finish it in a method that means you had been by no means there in any respect.
This counterintuitive method to play is maybe why most fashionable video games that function stealth achieve this as an choice. Titles like Dishonored, Murderer’s Creed Valhalla and Steel Gear Stable 5 allow you to select to be stealthy in order for you. However you possibly can play these video games as pure motion experiences and so they work equally effectively. “True” stealth video games that focus purely on evasion and distraction are few and much between.
Which makes my subsequent level, that Thief 2: The Steel Age stays the perfect stealth sport ever made, sound like a backhanded praise, as if the one cause that is true is that no one else has tried. However placing apart the truth that different true stealth video games have launched since, like Splinter Cell and Mark Of The Ninja, Thief 2 stays a singular stealth expertise, and it’s intriguing to ask why. Why is Thief 2‘s stealth is a lot extra compelling than the partial choices of video games like Dishonored and MGS? What does it try this these video games don’t, and the way does it make avoiding interplay so singularly compelling?
To reply that query, we have to return to 1998, and the launch of Thief: The Darkish Challenge. Trying Glass Studios’ pioneering stealth sport was not initially meant to be a stealth sport in any respect. As an alternative, the preliminary idea was for a grim fantasy RPG based mostly on Arthurian Legend. Named Darkish Camelot, Trying Glass’ early idea was a lot broader, supposed to supply a variety of various approaches to missions. However the group couldn’t determine what these approaches could be, and so the challenge finally switched to focus solely on stealth.
It’s this specificity that ensured Thief‘s legacy, as a result of the entire challenge switched from flailing about looking for a hook, to fixing the issue of constructing stealth partaking. Trying Glass set about creating an entire roster of programs in service of sneaking. Gamers could be weak within the gentle, however capable of conceal themselves fully in shadow. Guards, in the meantime, would have a number of states of consciousness, in a position not simply to be energetic or passive, however to look suspicious of the participant’s presence, and actively hunt them down.
A lot of this might sound unremarkable right this moment, as comparable programs are commonplace in different stealth video games. However Thief has different mechanics which were replicated far much less usually. Take for instance, it’s ground simulation. Thief options many alternative ground varieties akin to stone, wooden, grass, and metallic, every of which makes a distinct stage of noise when the protagonist Garrett steps on them. Most fashionable stealth video games don’t embrace this function, however its impact on Thief‘s sport design is profound, reworking each stage right into a maze of potential hazards and forcing you to assume exhausting about each step you’re taking. Though it could appear foolish that the footsteps of a grasp thief make a lot noise, should you’ve ever tried to sneak round your individual home at midnight, you’ll understand how loud each creak of a floorboard sounds within the lifeless silence of the witching hour.
Certainly, what really elevates Thief into masterpiece territory is how each side of its design feeds into the joys of making an attempt to not be seen or heard. Whereas visually Thief might look simplistic right this moment, its potential to render gloomy environments (regardless of an absence of dynamic lighting programs) stays spectacular. However it’s the sport’s eerie, surrealist ambient soundtrack that’s essential to staving off the ravages of time, lending Thief its distinctively leaden environment that makes crouching behind a stack of crates completely fraught with rigidity.
These components and a lot extra make Thief: The Darkish Challenge probably the most influential video games ever made. Nonetheless, The Darkish Challenge can be a flawed gem, visibly bearing the scars of its RPG heritage. The prevalence of undead enemies is one instance of this, though in some methods these enemies are key to the unique sport’s uniquely terrifying environment. A deeper situation is that lots of Thief‘s ranges don’t facilitate stealth significantly effectively. The slim corridors of Cragscleft jail, for instance, make sneaking round awkward, whereas the sport’s latter half is stuffed with gimmicky missions like ‘Undercover’ that don’t actually repay.
Thief 2, by comparability, was constructed as a stealth sport from the bottom up. Its fifteen huge ranges creatively discover all of the potential conditions a thief would possibly discover themselves in, from casing out lavish method homes, to kidnapping, to its iconic First Metropolis Financial institution & Belief, maybe the only best heist mission in videogame historical past. Certainly, its greatest missions are these with probably the most daring premises. In ‘Framed’ for instance, gamers are tasked with infiltrating the headquarters of the Metropolis Watch to plant proof incriminating a notable watch Lieutenant. In the meantime, ‘Lifetime of the Celebration’ Thief 2‘s most well-known mission, has you crashing an extravagant ball hosted by the sport’s antagonist Karras, by skipping throughout town’s rooftops to entry the looming, closely guarded tower of Angelwatch.
However Thief 2‘s higher understanding of its material runs deeper than particular person mission highlights. It’s basically embedded within the sport’s theme of industrialisation. Whereas the unique Thief‘s ranges had been usually summary to the purpose of being chaotic, the sequel’s banks, warehouses and police stations are extra logical and plausible areas, which makes their layouts simpler to navigate, and their challenges extra partaking to beat. It’s innately extra satisfying to rob a financial institution, which has clearly outlined obstacles and safety, than a tomb stuffed with looping tunnels and unpredictable traps.
The construction of the marketing campaign itself can be extra rewarding. The Steel Age supplies Garrett with a transparent antagonist from the start. The spiritual cult chief Karras is Garrett’s mirror picture, a confidence trickster who makes use of the programs of society to extort his followers. His mechanist faith additionally supplies the proper problem for a grasp thief, guarding town’s infrastructure with superior safety measures, from surveillance cameras to tank-like automatons.
Thief 2 perfects the concepts that the unique pioneered. Whereas the visuals might have aged and a few of its concepts could also be acquainted to us now, the unimaginable environment and ingenious stage design have misplaced none of their seductive energy. Thief 2 doesn’t merely accommodate stealth, it makes each click on of Garrett’s boots, each doused torch, and each rattled lock endlessly rewarding. That’s what makes it a peerless stealth expertise, and till somebody tries to innovate on its concepts, quite than merely recycling components of them for bigger video games, it can stay the head of sneaking by shadows.