Chambers of mind.

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Almost got it (or old article on Thief-II).

Second series of Thief was released quickly enough after the first. Only one year and five months passed from moment of appearance of the first game on store shelves. It seems that publishers feared for stealth genre to loss it’s novelty. Really, after release of Thief: the dark project a lot of 3d-action developers tried to include in gameplay of their products elements of stealth. Stealth has become commonness, not exotic.

Beyond debate, plot was stout. If in first game balance of Thief world was shifted from chaos to order, then in second episode adepts of order has become a threat. Yes-yes, not only chaos can be excessive, there can be too lot of order. Especially because order is very relative thing, thing of many kinds. When belonging to bona fide citizens determined not by laws, but by loyalty to local medieval authorities (by one half consisting of ex-cons and ex-killers), you have reason to blame this order to be crazy thing.

Sheriff Gorman Truart became an odious figure, embodying authority "in itself", which does not obey to laws and does not protect them, but individually and “in propria persona” dictates "rules of life" to people. He was not servant of the law, he was the law itself. As expected, such a way of life had embodiment in the special form of community, fans of "absolute order". No, our old friends Hammerits nothing to do with it. Throughout the game you will meet only one or two Hammerites, and then in cameo role.

Sheriff strived to control people’s actions and freedom of speech, but those guys gone much further, they wanted to control even people’s thoughts. Their church was a spinoff of Hammerite confession. In many ways similar to their progenitors, they differ in fundamental things. Having replaced symbol of a hammer (embodying the spiritual strength and order) with symbol of the clock gears, the mechanists have identified a new form of service to Master Builder, based not on spirit, not on faith, but on the authority, combat strength, perfectness of Machine and loyalty to their leader. No matter how fanatical Hammerits were, but they did not have an odious leader in flesh. The basis of their order were sacred manuscripts containing the commandments of the Builder. The mechanists were very different - they saw no point in its existence without a father Karras. It was he who once led them on a new path, leaving the Hammerites without 75% of followers. Doctrine of a new church was more simple and understandable, closer to material needs. For mechanists, Karras has become the living embodiment of Master Builder himself. It is Karras, whom mechanist treated in their prayers. That his name had been signed all the holy books. Followed his holy leader, they become even more dependent on ideology than Hammerites.

But the medal was a downside. In exchange for the loss of freedom of thought, mechanists have acquired unprecedented opportunities. Their technology is at its power exceeded the magic of Trickster and the holy energy of Hammerites together. Mechanists inculcated by their engineering in all things, which were used by them. New weapons systems, security systems, new transport and much more, what one can’t imagine even in our day – all this has become a major tool and a personal privilege of mechanists. Father Karras was the most talented engineer from all existing. He put himself on par with the Builder himself, breathing life not only in the ordinary things of everyday use, but also in... mechanical artificial bodies of metal people!

That was the greatest danger for our thief. Supporters of the new order not only tried to push their ideology, but also cruelly destroyed anybody who did not conform to their principles. By joining forces with sheriff Truart and prevailing authorities, the mechanics decided to rebuild the world from scratch. Of course, they needed to destroy old world to gain their goal...

Mechanists thrown all their forces on the creation of new machines, including war machines. These machines were presented as gifts to allies, while ... mechanists succeed in spreading their influence further and further. What can a thief’s weapons against mechanical man? Even the mighty fiery darts may only slightly damage the steel body. But as always, a rat of stainless steel will find a loophole. The mechanists were great, but all their machines were made of primitive components, provided by medieval technology. No advanced electronics, only simple electrical circuits and clockwork mechanisms. Robots were powered by... steam (!), which allowed Garrett to deal with them in a special way - extinguish the fire in the boiler with water arrows. In general, it is better to play than read, so let’s discuss achievements and mistakes of game developers.

Back in 1998 the original Thief: the dark project just struck the imagination of players with its broad capabilities in gameplay, but, frankly, scared with outdated picture. Models of the guards were like a disproportionate wooden dolls, made of 30-40 polygons. In second series of game   polygon count was increased only 1.5-fold, but polygons were distributed much more accurate, which made the model much more realistic. Graphics of Thief II is particularly successful on textures - even for 2000 year textures were very detailed, exceeding in size even textures of the later Hitman. Compressed 8-bit textures of Thief I gave way to better-looking 16-bit. Nevertheless, the overall picture of Thief II was hardly pleasing eye. What’s a point? The reason - a hasty development process. Along with the new high-quality textures and models, developers used a number of old, preserved since the first part. Frankly, some doors and other elements of environment even in 1998 looked lousy, especially in 2000. The second failure - a strange way of rendering, tiring eyes by not switchable effects of visual interference. The third drawback - unbalanced color palette, which always swerved from the dark-gray claustrophobic streets to the orange-and-aquamarine kindergarten idiocy of the mechanists. (Added later - in time I finally understood the aesthetics of mechanist’s clothing. Those color combination is not so bad.)

As part of the sound effects, Thief II has much more ambition than the first game. In other words, number of sound effects and musical fragments in the second series was much more. Nevertheless, the sound in Thief II seemed a little weaker. Apparently, the reason for this rather weak expression of these effects. They simply can’t create such unique atmosphere, as in Thief I. In the original game, each ambient theme had a surprisingly, mysterious, penetrating the subconscious coloring. In the second part, with rare exceptions, player is satisfied with the rustle of gear and roar of steam boilers. "Everyday" atmosphere of mechanists turned too commonplace, even a little boring.

The only thing that clearly has won the second part - is that gameplay rules. Many of the shortcomings of the first part had been faithfully corrected. Now, if our thief climb onto the roof of the building, where a heavy, armor-clad guards can’t get, they will not meekly stand under a hail of arrows, but will flee for help with a loud scream. Servants, vagabonds and other defenseless living creatures have become wiser - now they do not walk around our thief and not poking him in the belly by their muzzles. As soon as they saw the danger, they rush around the building and continue to do it until thief is still behind. I recall that in the first part, while reached a certain point, they suddenly become stupid and started boldly and persistently circling around the enemy.

In addition to the set of completely new instruments, the thief got more opportunities to use old ones. For example, in extreme cases, rope arrows can be used instead of the usual, if ammunition ran out. Light grenades at the unfortunate use can blind Garrett himself, and among the mines is a new variety - mines, crossed with light grenades. Fire arrows, speed potion, moss arrows and other items of special luxury of the first part, have become a little more accessible, having fallen in price. In general, the gameplay has become much more varied and interesting.

The only thing that spoils the mood - the consequences of hasty development of the game. Twice during the game events are held at the same locality. That is to say, “Ambush”-“Trace the courier”, and “Casing the Joint”-“Masks” – two pairs of perfectly identical levels, differing only by jobs. By the way, the last two also followed consecutively. This is not the only hackwork. How would you like, for example, a map, entirely built on old map "The lost city" from Thief I? The second map of Thief II, known as "Shipping... and receiving", is nothing but simply a pile of boxes and storage facilities. Completely disappeared great maps with undead. In the first part, they are diluted endless process of blackjacking. However, the last mission have originality, because of enemies there - only mechanical creatures. But it is only one among a fifteen missions, populated with human guards, dressed in clothes of different color and style.

Yes, I admit, the mission on the roofs of city buildings has not yet happened before,   but ... in the original game was nothing such a boring as the first mission of Thief II. Apparently, developers were too afraid of great complexity of Thief I and made a starting level to be very affecting, but having lack of events. What else? Ten-minute episode of eavesdropping in the fifth level so tiring that scares not only quake-lovers, but even fans of Thief I.

In general, the second part in terms of plot and the game mechanics did not disappoint, but bad visual and audio design is simply killed it. Fans of Thief I (including me) accepted Thief II, but the rest … In general, all this could push the studio to the closure. It is not clear who is to blame… Eidos, or maybe project leader Steve Pearsall. (Added later : When I wrote the article, I did not know many details. Forgive me, mr. Pearsall.) In any case, this wonderful game could be released a year or two later, but then it would be deprived of many deficiencies.

4 June 2004