Thief backstory: From cult classic to modern reboot
A few candles, some flickering streetlights, and the intermittent bolts of lightning are the only sources of light in the first chapter of "Thief," a stealth-based video game out Feb. 25 for PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360 and One, and PC for $59.99.
Armed only with a bow and a baton called the Blackjack, players must sneak through the cobblestone streets of a medieval city on the brink of a steampunk industrial revolution. It's safest in the shadows, where the guards can't see you, but the riches locked away in the surrounding homes and stores make venturing into the light well worth the risk.
Feeling a bit of déjà vu? It's not just you — this "Thief" is the fourth game in a cult classic series and serves as a reboot of the franchise.
You don't really have to know anything about the other "Thief" games to play this one — that's the point of a reboot. But the first "Thief: The Dark Project" from 1998 not only inspired the 2014 reboot—its influence can be seen in just about every single stealth-focused video game since, from "Splinter Cell" to 2012's "Dishonored."
A shot in the dark: The history of 'Thief'
The 1998 PC game "Thief: The Dark Project" put players in the role of Garrett, an antihero who works as a thief in The City, a high-walled fantasy-slash-steampunk metropolis.
In the game, Garrett is commissioned to steal a relic called The Eye. But the stolen relic turns out to be a weapon that a dark god named Trickster plans to use to destroy The City and return the world to chaos. Trickster rips out one of Garrett's own eyes to power The Eye, but before he can complete the ritual Garrett replaces the Trickster's Eye with a booby-trapped copy of the weapon that kills the Trickster, thus saving the city.
Though Garrett can wield a bow and a sword, the game largely de-emphasized combat in favor of sneaking around more powerful enemies to avoid detection. In fact, "Thief: The Dark Project" was the very first stealth-focused game with a first-person perspective.
Co-designed and co-written by Ken Levine, who would go on to direct "BioShock" and "BioShock Infinite," "Thief: The Dark Project" was also the first game to use darkness and sound as gameplay mechanics: Garrett is more difficult to detect when he moves in shadow, and the types of surfaces he walks on and the speed at which he walks contribute to the amount of noise he makes. Fighting or running, even for a little bit, causes a huge ruckus that will almost surely bring other enemies running.
Sometimes called a "first-person sneaker" (instead of "first-person shooter") or a "sneak-em-up" (instead of "beat-em-up"), "Thief: The Dark Project" was an intriguing change of pace from the typically violence-focused games of the time.
Together with the games "Metal Gear Solid" and "Tenchu: Stealth Assassins," which also came out in the same year, "Thief: The Dark Project" became known as the foundation for the modern-day stealth gaming genre.
From the start, the studio intended for it to be a twist on the typical first-person shooter game, with branching gameplay possibilities instead of scripted sequences. However, early versions of Garrett, the Trickster and The City looked considerably different than in the final game.
A year after the first "Thief" Game, Looking Glass released "Thief: Gold," an expanded version of the game that's still downloadable for PC via Steam for $6.99.
After "The Dark Project" came two sequels that continued Garrett's adventures in the rapidly changing City.