Thief is a 2004 first-person stealth video game developed by Looking Glass Studios and published by Eidos Interactive. Set in a medieval gaslamp fantasy metropolis called the City, players take on the role of Garrett, a master thief trained by a secret society who, while carrying out a series of robberies, becomes embroiled in a complex plot that ultimately sees him attempting to prevent a great power from unleashing chaos on the world.
Thief was the first PC stealth game to use light and sound as game mechanics, and combined complex artificial intelligence with simulation systems to allow for emergent gameplay. The game is notable for its use of first-person perspective for non-confrontational gameplay, which challenged the first-person shooter market and led the developers to call it a “first-person sneaker”, while it also had influences in later stealth games such as Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and Hitman.
The game received critical acclaim and has been placed on numerous hall-of-fame lists, achieving sales of half a million units by 2000, making it Looking Glass’ most commercially successful game. It is regarded as one of the greatest video games of all time and helped popularize the stealth genre. Thief was followed by an expanded edition entitled Thief Gold (1999) which modified certain missions and included a few brand new levels, two sequels: Thief II: The Metal Age (2000), and Thief: Deadly Shadows (2004), as well as a reboot of the series, Thief (2014). Thief was one of two games in the series that Looking Glass worked on before it was forced to close.
Thief takes place from a first-person perspective in a 3D environment, with the game’s story taking place over a series of missions, in which the player character is able to perform various actions such as leaning, crouching, swimming, climbing, running and fighting, amongst other abilities. Levels are largely unscripted and maze-like, and allow for emergent gameplay; while non-player characters (NPCs) may either remain stationary or walk about on a patrol route, players have the freedom to choose how to get around them and the obstacles in a level’s environments in order to complete specific tasks, such as getting through a locked door. In each level, the player is given a set of objectives to complete, such as stealing a specific object, which they must complete in order to progress to the next level; the player can choose to play on one of three difficulty settings before starting a level, which they can change between missions, with higher difficulties adding additional objectives such as not killing human NPCs or stealing a certain amount of loot from the amount available in a level, changing the amount of health the player character has, and changing how sensitive an NPC is to their environment. In some missions, players may find objectives being changed or new ones being added, due to certain circumstances they encounter, while failing a key objective or dying, will fail a level, forcing a player to either replay it or load up a previous save.
As the game’s emphasis is on stealth, players are encouraged to focus on concealment, evasion, distraction, misdirection, and subtle takedowns, rather than on outright confrontation; the player’s character can engage in sword-based combat when the need arises, and can perform three different attacks as well as parrying, but has limited proficiency and damage resistance in such circumstances. To do so, players must remain aware of their surroundings. To assist them in remaining hidden, a special meter on the heads-up display (HUD), in the form of a gem, helps to indicates the player’s visibility to NPCs; the brighter it is, the more easily they can be visually detected, thus sticking to dark, shady spots where the gem dims, ensures the player is hidden, though NPCs can still find them if they get too close in front of them. To remain quiet, players must be careful of how much noise they produce, as well as what surfaces they are moving over; walking on soft surfaces like carpets and grass, is preferable as footsteps remain quiet, compared to walking over metal floors and ceramic tiles, which produce a lot of noise. NPCs also produce noise, either from whistling, or walking about for example, which can help players determine how far they are to their own position. Noise can be used by the player to mislead/distract NPCs, such as throwing an object to lure them elsewhere.
The game’s NPCs feature artificial intelligence (AI) systems that detect unscripted visual and aural cues. If an NPC sees or hears something out of place, they will react to it, depending on the level of its suspicions; if for a brief second, they will simply ignore it, but if for long enough, they will become alert to their surroundings and begin searching the area. NPCs will react to things such as clashing swords or the reaction in other NPCs’ voices, as well as to visual changes to their environment, such as blood stains, opened doors and fallen bodies; players can avoid leaving visual clues by cleaning them up, such as hiding bodies. NPCs are divided between three categories – “guards”, “servants”, and “non-human” – whose reactions vary; guards will call out an alert if they spot the player and attack them; servants will run for help if they spot the player or a body; non-human NPCs will merely pursue and attack the player. If a guard is significantly injured, he will try to escape and find help; some non-human NPCs will merely flee. Non-human characters range from giant spiders, feral creatures, to zombies and ghosts, with certain levels containing survival horror elements.
To assist them on each level, the player character carries with them a few pieces of equipment – a blackjack, which can incapacitate humanoid NPCs; a sword, which can kill NPCs; and a bow, which can be used for ranged combat as well as a tool. Players can use a variety of arrows with their bow, each varying in properties; for example, “water arrows” can be used to douse torches and any other source of fire as well as clean up blood stains, “rope arrows” can attach a climbable rope to wooden surfaces, “moss arrows” can cover an area with moss that muffles footsteps and “fire arrows” can relight torches and do considerable damage to NPCs. Other tools are also available, including lockpicks, “flashbombs” (which can stun NPCs for a brief few moments), and potions. The player can cycle through the inventories for weapons/arrows and tools through the HUD. In addition, players can purchase additional arrows and tools between levels with the loot they have acquired (both loot and remaining items do not roll over between missions), and find additional items during a level. Players can also find books and scrolls that can contain information on in-game lore or useful clues to get around an obstacle in a level, as well as food that can be eaten, and keys that can unlock doors and chests/crates.