Retrospective Review – Thief: Deadly Shadows

by Joe Juba on Feb 28, 2014 at 12:16 PM

I’ve been with Game Informer for over 10 years, which means that I’ve had the chance to review a wide variety of games from everywhere on the quality spectrum. In Retrospective Reviews, I pick up an old game I reviewed a long time ago and give it another look. I’m not changing the original score – I just want to see what a little hindsight can contribute to my perception of these once-relevant titles. In this installment, I take a look at the last game in the Thief series prior to the reboot that launched this week.

What is Thief: Deadly Shadows?

The third game in the Thief series, Deadly Shadows was made by Ion Storm. The studio (of Deus Ex and Daikatana fame) picked up the development reins on the series following the closure of Looking Glass Studios, the company behind Thief and Thief II. Garrett is the titular thief in the lead role, and he sneaks through a variety of missions and steals valuables as he goes. Cutting-edge visuals and gorgeous lighting make it fun to slink in the shadows. That’s a good thing, since the series is a pioneer of the stealth genre, and Deadly Shadows continues the focus on avoiding detection. The game originally released for PC and Xbox on May 25, 2004.

What I Thought Then

I wrote the second opinion review for this game; Reiner wrote the “official” review, but we both gave it the same score of 7.25. That average score is considerably lower than the Metacritic average on both versions – 85 on PC and 82 on Xbox. I can understand that: It's a beloved series, and I remember this game provided a different breed of stealth from what Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid offered. Beyond that, my recollection of the time I spent playing Deadly Shadows is fuzzy, so I had to turn to my original review text. I criticized the story and mission set-up, saying I "never truly felt that I needed to sneak as though my life depended on it." I was also disappointed by the "tragically stupid" enemy A.I., which allowed me to carry a dead guard directly through the line of sight of another guard. On the plus side, I gave the game credit for "anticipating the things a player will want to do, and then allowing him/her to do them."

What I Think Now

I spent a few hours replaying the Xbox version of Deadly Shadows, and was surprised by how well it holds up in some areas. The visuals are pretty amazing for an Xbox title, with some cool light/shadow effects. Garrett’s model looks alright, but the more generic characters are tough to stomach 10 years later. I was happy with how Deadly Shadows throws you into the action – after a quick tutorial mission, you’re off on a bunch of self-directed heists. I don’t know why I was so harsh on the story back in 2004; the main attraction is really the atmosphere and the stealth mechanics. I didn’t care about Garrett that much at all, but that wasn’t really a problem for me this time. However, there is one thing that me and the 2004 version of me agree on: The A.I. is utterly awful. Maybe enemy behavior isn’t that important in games where bad guys just need to pop out from behind cover and get shot, but the sense of being hunted and in danger is the core of a good stealth experience. Deadly Shadows lacks any tension thanks to the moronic guards, who are laughably unaware and forgetful, even when catching you red-handed and carrying a body over your shoulder. When I first started replaying Deadly Shadows, I thought I might have been too harsh on it back in the day, but seeing my pursuers repeatedly foiled by their own incompetence as the missions wore on leaves me thinking that I was probably in the right ballpark the first time.

For more Thief-related info, read our retrospective on the whole series and check out our coverage hub from when we unveiled the most recent entry on our cover.