Video games have come a really long way in recent years. For example, Thief: Deadly Shadows, the third game in the Thief series, came out in 2004. It was playable on the original Xbox console and has just seen its seventh birthday. By most standards it’s not old, but video game age is a lot like dog years in that a real year doesn’t accurately represent the advancements made in the industry. Still, the third title in the Thief series feels old, especially when you compare it to contemporary games that utilise the same stealth mechanics the series arguably pioneered back in 1998 with the original Thief. However, comparing today’s games with those of seven years ago is hardly fair.

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The original aim of this retro review was to cover all three of Thief games as they are presented in the Mastertronic published Complete Collection package. Sadly, despite numerous attempts, multiple patch downloads and endeavours to getting the games running on three different systems, the first two Thief games, Thief: The Dark Project and Thief II: The Metal Age, remained obstinate in their refusal to run. I blame Windows 7. The result is that I can only really apply the retro review to Thief: Deadly Shadows, which is the third game in the series. If you pick up this Mastertronic re-release then good luck getting the first two to run. Despite Deadly Shadows working and proving playable, I experienced multiple crashes to desktop and game minimising every time I hit a loading screen. At one stage the crash to desktop occurred while I was saving, which meant that I lost about an hour or so of sneaky gameplay. So be warned: save often.

Thief: Deadly Shadows is master thief (like Master Chief, only sneakier) Garrett’s third jaunt through the dark, twisty streets and castles of the series’ somewhat unique City. It’s still a bit of an odd setting to describe as it blends medieval with steampunk and a dollop of gothic horror. Bizarre to say the least, but it still has its charm.

Garrett, being the sticky-fingered bloke that he is, overhears about the existence of a large opal stone in the possession of a wealthy family. Unable to pass up the opportunity, Garrett slinks off to swipe the heirloom. Naturally there’s more to it than that and soon enough Garrett finds himself in for a lot more than he anticipated. The plot is, to be honest, convoluted as hell, which is either a sign of how streamlined contemporary narrative devices have become, or it highlights the gradual degradation of gamers’ attention spans. Be that as it may, Garrett’s activities in Deadly Shadows are unavoidably intertwined with the actions of various factions, all vying for control of The City. This leads to encounters with soldiers, assassins and ghosts as Garrett tries to figure out what the hell is going on. There’s some time travel thrown in for extra confusion as well.

It’s easy to see that developers Ion Storm wanted to make Deadly Shadows replayable as there are numerous ways to complete the missions. That’s one of the joys of the game: swiping what you were meant to, but then spying an alternate route as you escape the scene of the crime. The object is, of course, not to get caught so taking the route less likely to lead to an encounter with a guard is preferable. Fortunately Garrett has a bunch of tools at his disposal, like the series’ signature water-tipped arrows for extinguishing light sources, and moss arrows to muffle your footsteps across noisy materials like metal floors.

Between missions, you get access to the streets of The City, in which you’re free to roam around nicking anything of value or pickpocket the denizens. At this stage you’ll be able to sell your stolen goods to various fences, and then use the money to purchase more equipment to take into your next mission. You’re also able to pick up numerous little side quests between the main plot missions, and these in-between bits were new to the Thief franchise in this third instalment.

While many of the games we look at in this Retro Review section are able to stand up to today’s offerings, Thief: Deadly Shadows is definitely showing its age. It’s a more calculated and slow-paced game than I remember it being, and despite me having fond memories of being able to explore this “open world” cityscape in-between the missions, I’m left wondering what all the fuss was about.

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