Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Remake the old games I like!

As much as I decry nostalgia regarding old games as a bit of a curse because of its tendency to let players sugar-coat their past experience without the context of modern games, I still have a soft spot for some of my old time favourite games.  So this post is dedicated to two game series for which I want to see a fourth installment.

The first is a game that has actually been announced: Thief 4.  Thief was a superb game and I still possess the CDs for all three games in the series, which follow the exploits of the master thief Garrett.  The thrill and tension of working out the perfect way to break into somewhere, steal the valuables inside and then get out again is something that Thief did amazingly well. The atmosphere instilled by various levels throughout the series is nothing short of spectacular, including highlights like a haunted cathedral, a highly secure bank and the scariest orphanage of all time. To top it off, no other game has really managed to pull off a working stealth mechanic as successfully as the series.

The deliciously scary Shalebridge Cradle

While the AI is relatively simplistic and quite visible to the player, this actually serves to make the stealth system work. Guards were either unaware of Garrett's presence, suspicious, alarmed or aware, and each state was associated with various audio cues and animations, allowing the player to discern their level of danger almost immediately. While this might not be the most believable mechanic in terms of character behaviour, it was a happily accepted mechanic in that it made the game enjoyable and gave the player immediate feedback in a fashion that still felt part of the game world rather than some arbitrary mechanism:

A flashing indicator is not immersive stealth

Since Thief: Deadly Shadows was released in 2004 there's really been nothing else significant in the "stealth-em-up" genre.  Splinter Cell let you play stealthily for the most part, but would then force you into action sequences despite that it really wasn't suited to that style of gameplay. It was also a little too linear compared to Thief's open level design. Alpha Protocol allowed stealth to some degree, but for the most part simply was unable to deliver stealth with the same appeal and style.  There were a few levels where you could complete the mission without killing a single person (the G22 hideout being the most enjoyable of these), but other times you were forced into fights even if you were a master of stealth. In one case, I broke out of a mansion without firing a bullet, yet the level-ending cutscene showed me leaving its grounds as I tossed out explosives and walked out without a modicum of subtlety.  For me, I'm hoping Thief 4 will be a breath of fresh air into this genre that I love so much.

The other thing that I'd love to see is a shooter that sets itself apart from Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, and the countless generic first/third person shooters that inundate the game industry. I don't have a wanton dislike of them, and I remember the excitement of playing titles like Wolfenstein 3D, Ken's Labyrinth, Doom, Half-life and Unreal Tournament when they all came out. However, as much as I loved all these games, there's one shooter that many didn't play or found too difficult. And it's the one that I would love to see brought back. That series is Descent.

Descent turned up the heat for shooters

Descent was a First Person Shooter with a difference - you were piloting in a ship in space, or more accurately, in zero-gravity mines filled with psychotic excavation drones. This meant that you had full 360 degree movement and you weren't stuck to the floor for the whole game. There would be loops in the level that would result in you re-entering a room you'd previously visited... only this time you would enter through the roof. Navigating could become a challenge, and many players gave up due to being disoriented or feeling plain nauseous from the curving tunnels combined with fast movement and the potential need to rotate the ship to get your bearings.

The sequel introduced a guidebot to help players navigate more easily, which solved the most significant problem for many players.  The level design was also far improved, which assisted player navigation further as well as making the levels more interesting and aesthetically pleasing. The new robots, including the highly aggravating "thief robot" that would use hit and run tactics to try and steal your weaponry helped to make the experience more varied as well. Descent 3 featured greatly improved graphics and the ability to go outside rather than being constrained by mines, which changed the feel and dynamic of the game somewhat. However, there were still plenty of enclosed sections to maintain the "original Descent feel", and the game definitely lived up to the bar set by its predecessors.

Did this set Descent free?

Now while I thought Descent was pretty much dead, apparently Interplay re-registered the Descent trademark in October 2008 (which that had let lapse in 2002), so maybe there is a faint hope that there will be a fourth installment. Though I do foresee one small problem... how do you map the controls of a true 3D game to a console controller? Would it have to be a PC only release?

I'm being selfish here, but these are the games that I want brought back. Isn't it time someone tried to breathe life into these games given the advancement in technology since the last outings in these two series were released? I'd love to see what can be done for Thief and Descent with the current generation of hardware.


  1. Did you try Descent: Freespace 1 and 2? 2 had released source code and is still awesome, doubly so if you have an actual joystick. I actually bought a joystick specifically to play.

  2. I loved the Thief series and agree that the stealth gameplay is unmatched! There are no stealth games nowadays - it's all stealth action shooters. Though I did read that Amnesia offers something similar in the stealth department (in a horror setting)
    Thanks for that tidbit about Thief 4...didn't know about it!