You know it’s really hard to find an image of Thief (Gold) that truly encompasses what the game is about and portrays the game play. So I just threw this one up here to provide a reference.

With the announcement of a new game being made after all this time, I thought I would go back to its roots and re-immerse myself in my favorite first person based, stealing, sneak em up. Albeit with some expansion levels put back in, hence the “Gold” add-on in the title, below are my thoughts…

Thief (Gold) is about you, Garret, a master thief, in a medieval fantasy world of religion and magic. It’s not high fantasy mind, much darker and more Gothic. As Garret you get paid by contractors to steal special items, while on these missions you may as well help yourself to some additional loot anyway. It’s a game about stealing stuff and staying unseen by those employed to protect said stuff.

I’ll say this first, these games haven’t aged well, the game looks decidedly ugly and bare bones in detail. However, if you can see past that clunky exterior, there is a diamond of game play within its levels. Despite the angular, puppet like nature of the models, the sound effects and lighting go a long way to adding the atmosphere newer games simply do  not recreate.

This is a game about audio and lighting, without these two features Thief would be a rather ugly and generic first person game of the past. You find yourself being drawn into Garret’s world with increasingly dark and mysterious ease. Traversing the levels is down right tricky, they are often large and convoluted with labyrinth like qualities. The average level time will of course vary dependent on your play style and familiarity of the game, for me though, they were between two and three hours.

You don’t really have much of a choice in game play style, and that is actually a good thing. If you were good at melee and capable of dodging your enemies reliably the game would quickly lose it’s greatest quality. Due to Garrets frailty and relative ‘suckage’ at melee, you mostly have to rely on your bow, your cat like stealthiness and that roguish sarcasm you’ve finely honed over the years.

Creeping from shadow to shadow combined with listening for the footsteps of approaching guards, or their idle banter and grumbling, is a wonderful experience of tension and fear. While you do have tools to escape discovery and if you’re lucky you can take out an alerted enemy, for the most part you would rather avoid such discovery, it’s just safer and smarter.

This is where the audio experience is at its finest, along with the original Dead Space, this is perhaps one of the very best games for sound design. You constantly get feedback, from enemies, exploration, discovery and your own movement. There is no button to keep quiet, even when crouched and crawling, you have to pause every so often or you will clumsily make a footstep noise. Having your volume turned up and hearing that accidental echo of your boot on that hard stone surface or iron grating, can make you freeze in fear of discovery.

Garret, as a master thief and ex-keeper, has access to a wide array of tools . Water arrows for dousing torches and creating shadows, gas arrows for knocking enemies out and fire arrows for when high explosive death is your only option. There are also mines, grenades and your trusty blackjack, for when you want to knock an enemy out with a swift smack to the back of their head. The management of these tools is cleverly tied to your looting habits, the more you loot from your last mission, the more profit you have to fund your next expedition.

The world you inhabit is one of Gothic inspiration and witchcraft-like arcane influences. There are religious fanatics and Pagan worshipers, regular servants going about their business and town guards grumbling for their dinner. It’s a dark and unsettling world and with the creatures you encounter, can truly be a creepy experience.

It’s pretty hard too, by today’s standards many people would probably get frustrated at its slow pace and methodical approach to progression. The maps are a hand drawn approximation of what you have learned from verbal sources and paid informers. This can make figuring out where you are and your objective more complicated but also more engaging. It forces you to explore and investigate rather than simply navigate A to B.

I played the Steam version, although it is available on other digital retailers too. Unfortunately the Steam version had  a bug with Win 7 which auto skipped all the cut scenes, this really does damage the experience, although it is possible to play the cut scenes manually from within the game folder. However they are confusingly sequenced and I didn’t realize until the very end, some of the later numbered videos pertained to the earlier missions.

Thief (Gold) is a game you do have to work at to understand and appreciate, however once you have grasped its difficulty and intent, only its own sequels are worthy of besting it. Garret is an interesting cynic, his quips and thoughts during the levels serve not only to highlight locations but also to add flavor. I’m very skeptical if the new re-imaging of “Thief” will meet the qualities of the original, but thankfully, the original already exists. If you like stealthy game play, Thief (Gold) is worth every penny.