Ross   Bath and North East Somerset, United Kingdom (Great Britain)
I write words that go in balloons and ruin perfectly good art. I also write video games. And about video games. You can check out my work at Half-Life: A Place in the West, Loco-Motive, and the upcoming point and click adventure Blood Nova.
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Alyx, it’s me – Russell! In case you couldn't tell.

Now, if we want to get this resistance thing off the ground, we're gonna need supplies. Lots of ‘em. We’ve got a lead on a cache somewhere in this trainyard – should be in a yellow wagon. There’s a tr
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Created by - hooter, marnamai, Ross, and france
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Minor spoilers

A devastating plague ravages the world, disproportionately affecting the lower classes, where plague victims are dying in droves.

Rage at the injustices of a corrupt system bubble to the surface and violence spills out onto the streets. It doesn’t last long. Each flare of resistance is brutally suppressed by law enforcement agencies that increasingly seem to serve the interests of a corporate class, and not the citizens to whom they swore an oath.

The political world is paralysed; too inept and mired in bureaucracy to successfully restore order to the states they were elected to govern and faith to the institutions they pledged to serve.

Inequality, poverty, and social injustice are endemic the world over, but especially pronounced in North America. The republic decays daily, disgraced by an amoral and shameless administration bound to avaricious corporate powers.

It is 2052.

A technological revolution has blurred the lines between the human and transhuman. Nanotechnology is changing, adapting, and modifying the chemistry of the human body. It will herald a new dawn, but apparently its light is reserved only for a select few.

“I don’t care what she’s been doing. Tell her she can come home. No questions, no speeches.”

Hell’s Kitchen, New York. The ‘Ton Hotel. Formerly a Hilton, in days gone by. Not better, exactly, just less worse. Now half the neon sign is bust. Lights of a bygone era that are never coming back. The interior is a step down from the step down. Inside, the faulty electrics stand a good chance of killing you. The elevator is perennially broken and spitting out arcs of electricity. Rats hold court in the lobby.

There’s more rodents than guests. Admittedly it's hard to tell the difference sometimes.

The owner, Gilbert Renton, is a decent man. Proud. He speaks with a guttural croak, as if his throat were a car exhaust sputtering out the last gasps of a busted engine. He knows the ‘Ton’s rep, but what can he do? No, really – what can he do?

There’s a framed picture on the wall. It’s a young woman set against a backdrop of impossible green. Was the world ever so green? It is becoming harder by the day to recall.

“Sandra,” he wheezes. His daughter. She was meant to help with the hotel’s upkeep, but the filth is too ingrained now. Scrub away the dirt and there won’t even be a ‘Ton. He just wants to know she’s safe, as safe as she can be in this rotten old world.

Where is she now? Far from the green. In the cold grey of New York’s desperate urban jungle. Hating the ‘Ton, which symbolises the squalor of her life, she turned to prostitution, fell in with a bad crowd. Johnny. JoJo. Punks, but dangerous punks. Now she wants to leave. Where?

Anywhere. Anywhere but here. Like a lot of young people, the only chance of a roof over her head is with a parent. Only now the ‘Ton’s roof, its walls – they’re closer to a prison than a home. The alternative is homelessness. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, but not here. She’s seen enough of this city, inhaled too much of its noxious air, to let herself join its under-dwellers in the sad march to an inevitable early death mourned by no one at all.

Across the street there’s a free clinic. The so-called front-line. It’s starved of cash and is frequently raided for supplies. Half the staff are too afraid to come to work. Appalling governmental failures on a federal and state level have left them without support. They’ve even had to throw open their doors to shelter vagrants who have attracted the arbitrary ire of the police force, or whoever the heavies with guns are. No one knows for sure. All they know is that it can’t go on like this much longer. The entire system is buckling.

Sandra Renton is looking away from New York, to beyond the horizon. Who will tell her there’s nothing there?

“Only in novels do buildings collapse when their spirit is lost.”

A deserted château, Paris. Château DuClare by name. Grand and stately, it is a far cry from Hell's Kitchen, but imbued with its own pervasive melancholy.

The château was once the home of a woman called Elizabeth DuClare. That DuClare possessed great wealth was no secret, but what she did with it was. Although ostensibly a centrist with socially liberal views, at heart she stood for a conservative regime that exercised its power from the shadows. She believed in a world with ancient centralised power systems; class and hierarchy were essential and tacitly maintained, all in the name of a balanced civilization.

The world as it has been defined for centuries.

It was a world taken out from under her by scheming acolytes of that same power system – men who wished to seize the shadows, and ultimately step out of them. But not as men. As something, in their eyes at least, more than men. More, even, than human.

Their paramilitary troops now enforce a strict martial law in Paris, which was enacted after a series of terrorist incidents by a group called ‘Silhouette’.

Terrorists, or freedom fighters? That depends on who you ask; but if you do, do so in the dark, and in hushed voices. Even the ATM’s have ears.

The French president appears on screens across the country, apparently to calm a frightened nation. He’s sweating. A bartender at a nightclub says it’s because there’s a gun to his head. You’d ask him to elaborate, but he’s already turned away, afraid to say more. Afraid of what he’s already said.

When did this coup d'etat take place? How did a nation surrender its sovereignty to...what, exactly? What form do these usurpers take?

There’s a young woman in the club. Her name is Nicolette. She spends her nights here, drinking, dancing, prolonging the present moment to avoid the future. She is the daughter of Elizabeth DuClare. She can afford such luxuries.

The relationship between mother and daughter was strained; Nicolette resented her mother’s secrets, and her mother scorned Nicolette’s radical politics. But there was a certain respect between the two women, which kept the chance of reconciliation alive.

But now Elizabeth is dead. Nicolette is the heir to the DuClare fortune and the sole owner of the lonely château. Standing before it again, after so long, she shivers. She is not sure what she will find inside. A legacy of a lost world, probably. A world that callously resisted equality, and so inevitably led to this one. Wealth, power, influence – all handed to Nicolette by virtue of birth.

All things Sandra Renton could never and will never know. Nicolette doesn’t know Sandra Renton personally, but she knows the Sandra Rentons of the world, and her heart bleeds for them. It’s why she’s drawn to the revolutionary politics of Silhouette and the political philosophers who give it shape and voice. The ancien régime her mother helped curate must not be allowed to rise again when – if – the present tyranny is overthrown.

She knows this – at least as well as someone born and raised in a rural château can know it. Which is just another way of saying she doesn’t know it at all.

Today’s revolutionaries are tomorrow’s tyrants.

A dark and sinister conspiracy unites all of these divergent aspects, but that’s just a framing device to tell of institutions, government and otherwise, that have failed to fulfil their basic pledges to the people they were meant to serve – and the devastating consequences that ensued.

These depths exist in the margins. In the snippets of conversation at bars and health clinics; in the locked apartments and gloomy offices; in the frantic emails of beleaguered doctors and frustrated officials; in the Sandras and Nicolettes, who don’t exactly carry the weight of what’s being told, but who nonetheless provide it with essential context and meaning.

As a hypothetical future it was, and remains, remarkably prescient. And in its depiction of widespread and crippling inequality, its echoes of our present moment are more than a little chilling.
Review Showcase
Spoilers for Thief I & II

First came the cloven-hoofed Trickster. The mad Pagan god looked upon the City and, seeing the cold, uncompromising march of industry, was repelled. He devised a scheme – a “dark project” – to silence the thrum of electricity and blacken the lights of civilization. Its souls would be consumed by the opening of the Maw of Chaos, the Trickster’s primordial realm. But the Trickster’s plan failed, thwarted by the wily thief he had used to set the scheme in motion and then fatally underestimated.

The Mechanists came next. The Trickster’s fall hastened the advance of technology, and soon the City was patrolled by metal beasts and surveilled by watchers. The voice of these beasts and the face of these watchers was that of the Mechanists’ leader, Karras. This deranged, self-styled prophet believed organic life to be flawed and an affront to the steady rhythm of the piston and the smooth, regular motion of the cog. Consequently, he decreed the City was to be cleansed of life. But again the thief intervened, turning Karras’ own devices against him and preventing a terrible fate befalling the City.

Both nature and industry were thus kept in check, and a kind of balance was restored. It was a balance spoken of by a faction called the Keepers. A secret society operating in the shadows, the Keepers had trained the thief in the art of subterfuge, only to have him desert and set out on his own path. They had foreseen the Trickster’s re-emergence and the rise of Karras in a set of magical symbols, and knew that when the time came, the thief would be on hand to prevent both from fulfilling their bloody ambitions.

Which brings us to Deadly Shadows, the third and final Thief game in this incarnation of the series. A quick assessment of the City suggests it has indeed settled into something you might call “balance”. The Trickster has retreated into the written word, evoked only in fairy tale and myth. The Pagans live on the edges of society, their aspirations, if not dead, at least dormant. The Mechanists exist now as a stain on the historical records of their predecessors, the Hammerites, whose authority and presence has largely been restored to what it was: punitive conservatives preying on the weak. Karras’ once mighty Soulforge Cathedral is now his tomb, serving as a stark warning against the deification of the machine.

Neither group has learned from their mistakes or reconciled their differences; they’ve just reverted to type. Balance apparently necessitates their institutional failings in order for the City to survive.

It is a lie.

Balance is usually the rhetoric of the side that wishes to maintain a status quo in which they hold the most power. Enter the Keepers. At their helm and in the name of balance, poverty and inequality still run rampant in the City. A mythical serial killer is said to stalk the streets, but no one other than a lone inspector seems to credit her existence. After all, who in this city really cares if a few destitute children are butchered? Just quickly cart off the remains and swab the blood lest a noble trod in it and dirty their fine boots. It is the nature of the Keepers to do nothing until a threat either becomes too great to ignore or their position is threatened.

It’s in this climate that the thief – Garrett – is finally brought back into the fold to witness the prophecy of a new dark age, one which has the Keepers pretty upset. Because this time the threat does not come from without, but from within. Instead of waiting around for fate to catch up with him, Garrett intends to unravel the secrets of a mystery the Keepers are too afraid to confront directly.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I really like Thief. It’s a series that excites my imagination and whose world is a bit like a warm blanket. The City may be a crime infested, poverty-stricken hell, but it’s my hell, and one I love spending time in. Deadly Shadows is no exception, but it’s a game that carries the unfortunate weight of being perceived as less than its forebears.

There’s some truth to that. The first two are widely influential masterpieces, and Deadly Shadows ain’t that. But it doesn’t have to be, and we should dispel some of the lazy and simplistic arguments that have succeeded in degrading its reputation. It’s a taint that has infected Deadly Shadows' twin, Deus Ex: Invisible War, too. Both were released at the same time, both followed on from highly acclaimed games, and both were produced simultaneously on the same engine. They were also the last games Ion Storm made before closing its doors. Did either of them reach the heights of the original games? No, but that is too often conflated with a value judgement, spuriously passed off as a metric in and of itself.

There are those who will argue Deadly Shadows was “dumbed down” for consoles, which is a statement not worth crediting. Yes, console requirements were taken into consideration, which meant that levels were designed to be more compact. But you wouldn’t know it looking at some of the missions on display here. It's an admirably large, sprawling game, illumined by gorgeous real-time lighting. You’ll explore underwater caverns and their arcane cities, a storm-battered manor house on a local island crag, a vertigo-inducing clock tower and the haunting, unforgettable Shalebridge Cradle, with its bloody history given malevolent life.

The game is structured around different neighbourhoods in the City, which function as an interlocking hub system. You have to move between streets to access missions, all the while avoiding guards, picking pockets, and visiting your fences to stock up on supplies. There’s a few new additions in that department, including oil you can lather on the floor to trip up guards – leading to some pretty amusing slipping and sliding – and later the ability to climb walls like you’re Spider-Man. The City’s pretty fun, with different shops and taverns for you to rob, often with their own little side stories. It’s not as fully realised as the developers might have liked, but it works well enough on its own merits. It’s a glimpse of a future that never was, at least not with these developers.

Did I mention the lighting was gorgeous? Guards now carry torches, meaning they can carve through the precious darkness on their beats. The amber glow of the flame in the game's perpetual twilight blue is a seductive visual. But then I think the Thief games have always looked great. The artistry of the first two is sometimes dismissed for being blocky and dark, but both feature striking, vivid colour choices and often truly inspired architecture. Deadly Shadows ably follows in their footsteps. Whilst you won’t see the bizarre outgrowths of the Maw or the Mechanists’ art-deco flourishes here, you’ll find an eerie medieval world alive with bursts of magic and the occult.

True to the spirit of the series, Deadly Shadows is a defiantly weird game. It is also a frightening game, hewing closer to horror than ever before. As Garrett embarks on this final quest, he finds himself cast in the role of detective, unravelling a tangled web of grisly murders stretching back across the years. It leads him to a hideous evil festering within the heart of that venerable agency of balance.

If Thief was nature exulted and Thief II nature crushed, then Thief III is nature transgressed. What is destiny when divined by corrupt intent? It might be that destiny was always meaningless – a mask worn by those fastidious keepers of balance to shield themselves from their own deficiencies, and the charade of prophecy their only means of tolerating the thief’s fiercely independent arc through a City they have so thoroughly failed.

The thief, then—the one true Keeper?

More often than not, Deadly Shadows is sublime.
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3.5 hrs on record
last played on Jan 23
14.1 hrs on record
last played on Jan 23
17.2 hrs on record
last played on Jan 22
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Mohireza May 27, 2021 @ 11:54pm 
Your reviews are interesting. I like them. :pgms_2_bell:
Coach May 12, 2021 @ 1:29pm 
You should make a YouTube channel where you talk about games
I'd watch you. Your reviews are fantastically written.
luckz Mar 24, 2021 @ 11:10am 
Not just the reviews :3:
Charged Dreamer Mar 24, 2021 @ 10:36am 
your reviews are great! Keep up with the good work :winter2019happyyul:
Ross Mar 1, 2021 @ 6:49am