Eh? Musta been rats.
Barring the occasional role playing game that included rudimentary stealth mechanics, it wasn’t until Looking Glass Studios released Thief: The Dark Project in 1998 that the stealth genre was created. Metal Gear Solid was released for the Playstation earlier in the year, but it followed more conventional action game dynamics relative to Thief in its first iteration. When the game was first in development, it had not been conceived as a stealth game. After all, there was no such thing as a stealth game until they had put it together.
Thief was originally conceived as a gothic action game with horror elements thrown in – a sort of a dark take on the King Arthur mythos. Luckily for gamers, Looking Glass decided to take a risk, and the results changed gaming history. Rather than a first person slasher, as it was originally conceived, the developers decided to create a first person sneaker, with the central gameplay mechanic being the avoidance of conflict while accomplishing a variety of mission objectives.
Sure, Thief doesn’t look like much now – and frankly, didn’t even look the best for its time – the realistic level design and advanced lighting system help make it an immersive game even today, so long as you don’t mind the low polygon character models. You’ll travel through mansions of corrupt nobles and merchants, wizard sanctums, giant tombs, cathedrals and ancient cities to line your pockets with loot and end up over your head in a plot involving dangerous artifacts and an angry god.
You play as Garrett, a charming master thief with a mercenary attitude, going to wherever the loot is no matter the risk. You spend most of the game darting from shadow to shadow, taking care to not make too much noise. You can extinguish torches and fires with elemental water arrows, climb up magical rope arrows and deal with the guards using swordplay or more quiet methods, like the knockout-inducing blackjack. The amount of noise that your feet make changes depending on how fast you’re moving, whether you’re jumping and what material that you’re walking on. Tile and stone are loud, while dirt, grass and carpet allow your footsteps to be almost entirely muffled.
It’s entirely possible to play through Thief entirely as a commando, using the bow and arrow, explosive mines and fire arrows to treat the game more like a Doom clone than a sneaker, but it isn’t nearly as fun that way. The most enjoyable way to go through the game is slowly and deliberately, so that you can soak in the dense atmosphere, avoiding the guards rather than getting rid of them. It requires paying a great deal of attention to the sound of approaching footsteps as well as carefully timing their patrol routes, but the psychological payout of feeling like a ghost is well worth it.