Huge statues, indoor bridges... Bradford's got everything
The dining room
The smallest library
Some Mechanists greet me politely
The mansion has a church, too
The luxurious North Wing
Review by Anarchic Fox|
Mission Name: The Art of Thievery
Author: Richard Cull
Mission Type: Mechanist Mansion
Map Size: Huge
Difficulty: Moderate to Very Hard
No. Times Played: 4
Difficulties Played: Normal, Hard, and Expert
Loot Found: 6535 out of 6985
Secrets Found: 17 out of 17
All optional objectives completed.
Pros:Excellent gameplay, very good (not to mention humongous) architecture, extremely high replayability
Cons:Insensitive guards, basic story
Bottom Line:This mission has some of the best, and definitely the most, gameplay to be found among individual fan missions. It's recommended to anyone who is skilled in Thief gameplay.
Robbing the mansion of a certain Lord Bradford had been a goal of yours for quite some time; everything you've heard has confirmed the immense wealth of this man, who has recently even acquired some precious paintings and a jeweled sword -- which should all fetch a good price with your fence. Perhaps you've waited too long, though -- Bradford, like so many other lords, has allied himself with the Mechanists for the sake of heightened security. But you've faced worse.
As far as traditional mansion levels go, The Art of Thievery may be the best; working with a template established at the very beginning with Bafford's, it adds the best of what Thief 2 has to offer (in particular, the challenges created by cameras), throws in heavy exploration (in order to fulfill a long list of objectives) and light puzzle-solving (on Expert) along with numerous optional objectives, and finally expands everything to a grandiose scale. The mission has around seven thousand loot, about one hundred AI, more than a dozen secrets, and several acres of floor space within the mansion... along with such excellent gameplay design and visuals that this space does not go to waste.
There are many good things to mention about The Art of Thievery's gameplay; the design of floor surfaces, which is the most considerate (and technically accomplished!) I've seen yet, is as good a place as any other to start. The technical accomplishment is the variation of floor surfaces according to difficulty level (some floors that are wooden on Normal will be marble on Expert) -- something I believe I have never seen before. The consideration I mentioned is seen in the kind, but not difficulty-defeating, placement of carpets. Filling an area with marble flooring will more than likely just make it annoying to cross; allowing much of it to be traversed on a carpet (on which AI inevitably patrol), while still requiring the player to be considerate of loud surfaces when entering/exiting an area, acquiring treasure, or evading guards, removes much of the annoyance while retaining most of the challenge of marble and tile. Patrol routes are wide, unique to each AI, and good at suddenly forcing the player into hiding; they do tend to be too predictable, though.
Of special importance are the cameras in this level; in the beginning, they constitute a formidable obstacle to looting and exploring. Figuring out, then sneaking into, their control rooms is a fun and satisfying task of its own, which will probably constitute the first segment of one's playthrough. Of similar importance in the level are the electric light switches, whose access consistently offers a small challenge of its own; one of the best things about The Art of Thievery is the way that your activities inside the mansion (mainly opening secret passages, turning off lights, and shutting down cameras) will make it steadily more amenable to sneaking and exploration, even if you leave every AI untouched.
The treasure in this mission is not found in large caches; it is, rather, distributed evenly, with some in nearly every room. Meeting the loot requirements will require you to keep your eyes open, but the level doesn't employ the aggravating treasure-hiding or sky-high requirements of some fan missions. Rather little of it is yielded by the secrets; these usually open a new route or give some valuable piece of equipment. Finding secrets isn't as enjoyable as the loot-hunting, as the secrets tend to be of the carefully-hidden-switch variety (and, on Expert, some of them are inappropriately found in the course of completing the normal objectives).
The most notable special features of The Art of Thievery are the optional objectives, some of which only appear on Expert. Some are isolated tests of skill (meeting a pickpocket goal, or finding all the secrets). Others reward stealthy gameplay, offering successive degrees of difficulty (from a limitation on the number of blackjacks to a requirement to stay unseen). On Expert, the mission even alerts you to ghosting failures. These optional objectives, in addition to the variations between difficulty levels (every major item of treasure has a different location at each difficulty), make this mission a fruitful one to replay. Unfortunately, the focus given to the ability to ghost may make the level too easy in regular gameplay; at the very least it will leave you trudging carelessly through the empty halls as you search for the various artifacts. As for the objectives themselves, they tend to be rewarding (the paintings in particular are hidden in pleasantly vertiginous places) to complete, but sometimes seem a mere excuse for exploring the mansion (why, for instance, would you want to steal some rosary beads?); and indeed, they will force you to backtrack all over the area. On Normal five distinct items need to be located and acquired, and on Expert the number is eight. Nevertheless, in this huge level the large number of objectives give a sense of progress that one objective probably wouldn't be able to sustain; when you complete your first objective in your fourth hour of game time (as often happens), it may be a very fulfilling moment.
The AI distribution, as well as other elements of gameplay, tends to divert your route through the mansion in odd ways; for instance, you may find yourself faced with a hallway swarming with guards, and go explore a different area, only to find yourself coming upon the same hallway from behind, much later. The strange routes you'll take through the mansion are also created by an odd sectioning of the place; certain areas, such as the north wing, the area near the sergeant's room, the greenhouse, and the western library, have a curious self-contained aspect. You may often go past them on a different level without noticing the fact, but you may as often find yourself returning again and again to the same place, despite thinking that you're on the far side of the mansion. In short, the building's immense size is complemented by a maze-like quality which makes the layout of the place appear very arbitrary. This is one element of a general neglect for realism, which also manifests in a lack of certain necessities (such as restrooms) and an enormous size for every room; this is forgivable, though, for it makes for interesting gameplay and grand sights. In addition to the fifteen-foot-high ceilings in most rooms, the mansion boasts a three-story library, an immense greenhouse (containing about four large plants and some grass), and a gallery big enough to have a weather system of its own. As I said, there is a complete neglect of realism; but it makes for some astounding vistas.
This mission has a tendency to present the player with beautiful, large spaces, without also generating the dullness or repetitiveness that often appear in such large-scale construction. However, the author does not achieve many feats of clever brushworking; most of the aesthetic value of this level comes from the employment of textures. These, especially those for the wood and plaster panelling, are so detailed that most of the hallways look as though they could be taken from an eighteenth-century palace; the textures, one for the wall and one for moulding, together large enough to span the height of a hallway without repetition, provide a huge amount of detail with one brush (and no doubt helped make the size of the mission possible). The object placement is also good, occasionally providing interesting sights (such as the angel tower in the front chamber); more often it is a variation on a customary theme, such as the desk-bed-wardrobe-fireplace combo in every room. As mentioned before, most of the high visual quality of this level comes from the choice of textures, supplemented a fair amount by the large scale of every location. An exception should be noted: the exterior of the mansion, while not ugly, is rather plain, and the surrounding cityscape is nothing worth bragging about.
The story gets most of the basics right: Garrett has reason enough to undertake his mission (though it's somewhat shallow, the readme's introduction makes up for that), he usually has a goal well in line with those objectives (treating the optional ones as external to the plot), and the mansion owner's possession of and care for his artifacts are, to a certain extent, explained. Said master even acquires a small amount of characterization on the Expert level. However, the story is without any greater complexity. Garrett's undertaking of this robbery is, as mentioned before, somewhat arbitrary; though the mansion owner is given a scheme (on Expert), it is an unimpressive one. The story has no twists, much less character development or a fleshed-out background. Every readable is utilitarian: it gives some hint on finding a vital object or solving a certain puzzle, and if in order to this it introduces a character spying on the lord or planning to steal from him, you can be sure that this one readable is all you'll hear of this person.
The Art of Thievery (on Expert) is, in some ways, reminiscent of such missions as Geller's Pride and The Order of The Vine (and in some ways The Sword, too); it takes place in a large mansion, full of secrets, whose lord has a hidden plot. The differences, unfortunately, are telling. Geller's Pride and TOOTV have complex plots, well-developed characters, and a compelling story-driven reason to finish their main objectives; The Art of Thievery has none of these. Geller's Pride and TOOTV also steadily increase in creepiness and tension, using the plot to develop some measure of emotional absorption in the play; again, The Art of Thievery does not do this. If it develops any tense or shocking moments, that is solely an effect of its gameplay. Finally, the two above-mentioned mentions flesh out the mansion and the schemes within via good use of readables, while every book and scroll in The Art of Thievery is an obvious vessel for some hint.
The gameplay, architecture, and visuals in this level, are excellent; but what keeps the mission as a whole from being one of the best out there is that it is incomplete. Bradford's mansion had room enough to develop a magnificent plot, and to create some of the most memorable scenes in Thief gaming, perhaps even turning the totally nonlinear nature of this level to some narrative advantage; but none of these things were to be found. Still, the gameplay (and size!) should be enough to make this level the favorite of many.
Story: 5 -- The basics of a story are all there -- some background to the location has been given, Garrett's motives have been explained (even if they're the exact thing you'd see in most other fan missions), and some of the more questionable features of the situation have been explained. However, the story lacks any strong characterization (what you find out about the Lord on Expert is superficial), twists, exploration of the backstory, or any other significant plot development during the course of the level.
Atmosphere: 6 -- Whatever tension and immersion this level will give are solely a result of its gameplay and looks (though I'll admit, those count for quite a lot). Ambients are under-used, the readables are utilitarian, and the mansion might as well be an ornate barracks for all the signs of normal life that can be seen there.
Gameplay: 9 -- Solid in all aspects, exceptional in many. Patrols and floor surfaces are very well chosen, exploration and loot-hunting are both very fun, the objectives are a good challenge (though something of a "laundry list"), and the optional objectives, along with differences among the difficulty levels, provide an unprecedented replayability. The guards do tend to be rather insensitive, however, and recrossing the mansion multiple times trying to figure out an objective can be very tedious.
Architecture: 8 -- Wonderful texturing, along with some magnificent rooms and galleries. Unrealistic mansion design, but I don't think this matters too much. Everything done in wood is marvelous, but some other areas aren't as good (the exterior, namely), and sometimes the grand scale doesn't have its usual positive effect (a few areas start to look too repetitive).
Preliminary Reviewer's Score: 2 silver
Bonus: +0.5 for its high level of replayability.
Final Reviewer's Score: 2.5 silver (7.5 on the ten-point scale)
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