Unlike my previous retro gaming posts on Doom and Re-Volt, Thief II: The Metal Age is not one I have played when it first came out, we can be sure therefore, that my opinions on it are not tinted with rose coloured spectacles.
Thief II the Metal Age has just been re-released on Good Old Games.com, along with the first in the series “The Dark Project” I thought now was as good a time as any to give it a go. GOG do ensure that any games they sell will work on a modern computer and operating system before they sell them, even if it means shipping them with DOSBox, we can however do better as both games have received fan patches that mean they don’t just run, but run in resolutions suitable for a modern monitor without letterboxing and upscaling. The GOG forums have all the information you need, for the first game you need to go here and for the second have a look at this. Note that for the first one there is an additional step to get the briefing videos to work which can be found in the second post of the thread.
Stealth is something that is rarely done right in video games, first there are the stealth levels shoehorned into other games Take Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, at one point there is a level which is an instant fail if a Stormtrooper sees you and reaches the alarm, you just see yourself in a cell and it fades to black and screams after an interrogation droid comes in. This is all despite the fact that there are less Stormtroopers in that base than you single-handedly killed in the first level of the game, near the end now you have your lightsabre and force powers there is no way they could capture you.
The second thing stealth games get wrong is having them in a third person perspective, if the game is about sneaking round it seems a bit unfair to be able to see round corners using the magic of third person, it ruins the tension and turns it into a game of Pacman. In first person you have to use your ears, you have to use timing to to judge how far away the guard is. You can be wrong, leading to a frantic escape as you desperately try to escape the guard. And believe me you will have a lot of frantic escapes in Thief. I decided to play Thief II first, as I have read that it fixes some of the things that people disliked about the first game.
The Metal Age is not a game for the impatient, it took me half an hour to do the first mission, not including the times I restarted, you have to wait in doorways and learn the guard’s patrol paths, which are not entirely predictable. You will be holding your breath and they walk by as you wait in the shadows, hoping they won’t see you.
Of the three missions I have played they have been quite varied so far. The first was to break a servant out of a mansion for her lover, a friend of yours (and pick up a bit of gold while you were in there why not?). The second was a more straightforward job of your own devising, breaking in to a warehouse and stealing enough loot to pay your rent and the third, well lets just say it was a job that required a thief rather than a job of theft. The missions are introduced by brilliantly narrated briefings, rather than cutscenes or FMV artwork is shown to accompany this in a style that fits the steampunk setting perfectly. Of course most of the story (which I will not spoil for you) comes from reading notes and overhearing conversations while you go about your “business”.
Difficulty levels are handled very well, and can be changed on a per mission basis, rather than increasing the heath of the enemies or the damage you take, it sets you different objectives or changes them to be slightly different. It might challenge you to get more loot, it might insist that you don’t kill anyone where on the normal skill level you are allowed to. Any instant fail scenarios are given in story explanations so they are not ridiculous like the Jedi Knight who is unable to escape capture by a handful of stormtoopers, it can be assumed that you escaped but you were detected and therefore not paid for the job as being discreet was one of the conditions of payment.
When you finish the game (if? Games were not made to be easy back then, getting to the end was not just a mater of time) there is a fan made expansion available which from what I have read is very highly thought of (with brand new voice acting and new animated mission briefings) and I will almost certainly give it a go.
Thief II: The Metal Age is arguably the best stealth game in existence and despite the fact that a fourth game has been anounced I am not sure we will see it’s like again, publishers don’t like risks, and another game like this would be a risk, just look at the 1999 mode that Bioshock Infinite is going to have, why isn’t that the normal mode? Because, making a game challenging, having a possibility of failure seems to almost be taboo these days… Thankfully GOG and fans of the series have made it possible to play these classics.
Now if you will excuse me, my fence has set me up and though I escaped their ambush I now have to cross the city with the watch on my tail…
 Until now the only game I have played that got it right is Deus Ex (the first, not the third, which for some reason thinks it needs to switch to third person for stealth and that is even worse than just being third person the whole time), which considering that it is not considered a pure stealth game is quite an achievement.
which as a thief you should not be doing anyway. Hit a man too hard and you can only rob him once…