By Sidney West
“Thief: The Dark Project” is a PC game from 1998 that I have a major love/hate relationship with. I can’t pinpoint how I feel about it most of the time because it does a lot of things I love but it also causes me so much agony when I play it.
The premise is that you’re a thief named Garret who’s just trying to pay his rent the only way he knows how, by robbing people blind. You sneak around stealing things but eventually, you get wrapped up in a nefarious plot unraveling before your eyes.
It’s a game where you really have to pay close attention to your surroundings. You need to watch for shadowy areas to hide in and observe the surfaces you’re walking on to make sure you’re not making too much noise. Because the moment you attract attention, you’re screwed. The tension will rise as suspicious guards begin searching through the shadows. Like old men trying to find their way to the bathroom in the dead of the night, they creep around ever so slowly, while you try desperately to stay out of their line of sight. It is a really thrilling experience, which unfortunately is bogged down by the game’s other aspects.
Thanks to the overly complex level design, most missions in the game are a pain to navigate, some of them taking me over two hours to beat due to how hard it is to remember where everything is. I haven’t felt so lost since I graduated. And to make things worse, you will have to meet the criteria of goods to steal on higher difficulties. You could always play in easy mode, but it locks you out of some objectives.
The funny thing is this issue is also my favorite aspect of the game. The weird, nonsensical layouts of these levels make me feel like I’m walking in a dream, and I can’t say any other game has given me a sensation like that, not even ones that purposely try to invoke that feeling. The game is filled with odd quirks that add to the strange atmosphere. Weird clashing textures for floors and walls, NPCs with unmoving faces who move so naturally, making them feel like people inside costumes. This is such an unintentionally surreal game and I don’t know if I’ll ever experience anything like it again.
My opinion feels like a constant tug of war, but ultimately I really love this game. “Thief” has many issues, but honestly, I wouldn’t fix any of them if given the chance. If you want to try this game for yourself, play it on easy during your first playthrough, don’t be a hero like me. If you do get it make sure you install the Taffer Patch from The Looking Glass forums. It will make the game playable on modern machines. It’s available on Steam and GOG for $6.99, and it often goes on sale for $1.99.