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The first two Thief titles are two of my favorite games in the stealth genre. I am more partial to Thief II just because it centers more on thieving and features less focus on combat and the undead. But both are great games and any fan of the genre should definitely check them out. The series has developed a dedicated following over the years and fans keep the games alive with mods and custom missions and the series popularity and influence even spilled over into other games. Motivated by their love of the first two Thief titles, a group of talented individuals created The Dark Mod which was originally released as a mod for Doom 3 in 2009, and in October, 2013 it became a standalone game. Believe it or not, The Dark Mod is what introduced me to the Thief series. Years ago, I was looking to see what kind of Doom 3 mods were out there and that’s how I came across The Dark Mod which led me to discover Thief and the rest is history.
The Dark Mod is a standalone game but I see it as more of a foundation. It comes with three missions but the real enjoyment comes from the community created content. That’s essentially what this game is for. A foundation or platform for players to create, share and enjoy missions. So what you get out of The Dark Mod will boil down to what missions you download and play. It does come with a mission archive in-game. As long as your online, you can view a list of available missions and download them and there’s enough out there to keep you occupied for a very long time. Of course, you can also check various sites and download missions from them, including Thief Guild which also offers custom missions for the classic Thief games. Not only does the amazing community offer plenty of missions, but also entire campaigns with their own storylines.
You know what’s really great about The Dark Mod? It’s Thief but not Thief. In the missions that come with the game, the player assumes the role of Corbin (not Garrett). The game is set in a gothic steampunk world (not The City) and includes elements of fantasy. Any kind of plot or objectives will be determined by the mission authors. One of the three missions the game comes with is purely designed to train the player on how things work and despite the many gameplay similarities to the Thief games, there are some differences like how lockpicking works for example. Missions can come with multiple difficulty levels which may also determine how many objectives you must complete but you can also adjust the difficulties of AI vision, AI hearing, lockpicking, and combat.
You will get to use much of the same equipment offered in the Thief games including the Blackjack, Bow, and shortsword. The different arrow types, flashbombs, and lockpicks among some other familiar items are present in The Dark Mod. And you can spend gold to purchase equipment before starting a mission. The stealth mechanics are also very similar to those of the Thief games. Light, shadow and sound are the core aspects of the gameplay. To remain undetected, you’ll need to stay quiet and out of sight. You can knock people out, kill them, drag and pick up bodies, pickpocket people, and pick up and manipulate objects in the environments and even pinch out candle flames. Movement does feel a bit more fluid than that of the classic Thief games and I would highly recommend new players start with the Training mission to get themselves acquainted with the mechanics.
Since this review is solely focused on The Dark Mod, itself, I’ll only be talking about what it comes with. Keep in mind, mission authors may include all kinds of new stuff not found in the base game. To be clear, the base game doesn’t offer very much. It comes with enough to show you the ropes and get you started. It’s all about the missions you download. As I said before, I see The Dark Mod as more of a foundation or platform. I did encounter standard human foes and spiders during my time with the three missions on offer. In addition to the training, one mission requires you to sneak into a tavern and steal a bunch of loot. The other mission puts you in a larger environment and your objective is to sneak into a church to steal a relic. If I have any complaints with these two missions it’s that some aspects seem a bit cryptic, at least for missions that are supposedly designed to introduce newcomers to the experience.
I remember when I first played mission one because one of the objectives is to get into a safe but where to find the combination is not clear and I ended up searching the tavern for a while. Granted, if you actually explore and read whatever you can including the messages and journals lying around in these missions, they do provide some hints on where to look for what you need but it’s still not always clear. The example in mission two being where to find the key to enter one of the entrances to the sewer. I’m not saying these are examples of poor design but these are introductory missions and I can see examples like these leading to frustration for new players. Other than those things, these missions are well designed, fun, and not only do a good job at introducing the player to the mechanics of The Dark Mod but also capture the spirit of the classic Thief games.
The Dark Mod does run on id Tech 4 which is the engine that powers Doom 3 among some other games. It’s an engine that was known for its light and shadowing capabilities. I feel it works really well for The Dark Mod considering light and shadow are a big part of the gameplay. Despite the age of the technology behind The Dark Mod, it’s certainly not a bad looking game and it does receive updates with new audiovisual features. The audio the game comes with is pretty great but it should be because sound is a core part of the gameplay, just like in the Thief games, and you will hear a lot of atmospheric sounds and ambient music accompanying the gameplay, helping elevate tension. On the technical side, other than some noticeable pop-in here and there and what looked like texture flickering at times, I did not encounter any major issues and the game ran smooth across all three missions.
The Dark Mod is great for several reasons. One; it’s a love letter to the classic Thief games. Two; it essentially is a fan-made Thief game and a damn good one at that. Three; it doesn’t feel shoddily put together. This is a well made stealth game. But in the end, it is the missions you download that will truly determine how enjoyable the experience is for you. And four; it’s free. This is a free game with a shit-ton of free missions to download and play. It is a game that does rely on the community to keep it active and as far as I can tell, the community is strong and new missions are released regularly. The strength of the Thief community actually makes me think a lot of the Doom modding community, and that means there’s no end in sight for these classic titles including The Dark Mod.
I would absolutely recommend The Dark Mod. In my opinion, it’s one of the greatest free games out there. It was born out of love for the classic Thief games and is an excellent reflection of those titles. In fact, if you’ve never played the Thief games before I would recommend checking this out first just to get a taste of what they’re like. The Dark Mod is a Thief game without actually being a Thief game. Definitely check it out.