Pinch out the flame of a candle to plunge a room into darkness. Pluck a key from the belt of a patrolling guard without him noticing. Thump someone with a blackjack, hoist their body over your shoulder, and lug it out of sight. Pick locks, open chests, and stuff your pants full of loot. It's the new and improved first-person stealth-em-up
The Dark Mod
, now a free standalone game with a wealth of missions.
The Dark Mod was originally a total conversion mod for Doom 3, made to recreate the the Thief series precisely, down to infiltration, sneaking, looting, escaping. While we're waiting for the release of Thief 4 (and perhaps
worrying that the series may have strayed from the path
a bit too far), there's the new version of The Dark Mod to tide us over. What's changed? Most notably, the assets from Doom III have now been entirely replaced with custom content, so there's no longer a requirement to own anything besides TDM to play TDM. And TDM is free.
The A.I. has been improved, at least in some respects. Guards now react more reliably to dead or unconscious bodies in their path. They also become curious when doors are opened while they're nearby, and, as I discovered in my first game, will even investigate if doors are simply left open along their patrol routes. Their hearing and vision also seems to have improved somewhat from the last time I played the mod a few years ago: they'll spot you from further away and respond to noises you create, including the sound of unconscious bodies hitting the floor.
That said, enemies can still act a pretty wonky from time to time. One guard detected me - perhaps because I opened a door and walked right into his face - but he couldn't get through the doorway to kill me, and just lurched around until I put an arrow into his unarmored head. Another spotted me climbing into a shaft in the side of a building, but couldn't reach me, so he ran in circles shouting threats for a while, then trotted off in the other direction, never to return (though, in another game, a guard who couldn't reach me just started throwing rocks at me).
Lockpicking is great fun, and probably my favorite activity. It relies on a combination of visual and audio cues, and the toughest locks must be picked based solely on how the tumblers sound while you're futzing with them. Picking locks in The Dark Mod never feels like a chore or a repetitive minigame: it feels like a challenge, and it's always rewarding when you've defeated the final tumbler and the lock pops open. Time doesn't stand still while picking locks (or looking at maps, or doing anything, really), which means attempting to defeat a lock before a guard strolls by can be a nervy experience.
You'll also find an arsenal of useful tools, from common-sense items like a hand-drawn map and compass (so you know where the hell you're supposed to go), the spyglass (for peering), and the hooded lantern (for when you've doused all the torches and realize you're just as blind as the guards you're trying to avoid). There's also a ridiculous selection of arrows, or perhaps
a selection of ridiculous arrows
is the more sensible way to order those words.
You've got the unlikely water arrow, used for dousing torches and lanterns, and the goofy though useful moss arrow, for slathering noisy hard surfaces with globs of spongy vegetation (why not just buy moss-soled boots?). You've also got a rope arrow for climbing to hard-to-reach spots or discovering rooftop routes, and the fire or gas arrows, for when stealth isn't working out and you just need to kill or incapacitate your foes.
The mod download comes with a tutorial, which you'll really need if you've never played before, and one mission - The Tears of St. Lucia. It's a medium-sized castle-crawl where you need to steal a particular religious icon and complete a few other objectives, one of which is STEAL TONS OF THINGS, which let's face it, you were going to do anyway. You can download and install more missions, pleasantly, from right inside the game menu itself.
Newcomers will no doubt find the graphics a bit dated and the controls scheme a bit arcane (using bracket keys to scroll through inventory items, one by one, for example). But there's still lots of Thief-inspired goodness, no requirement to own Doom 3, and scads of missions to created by members of a healthy and dedicated community, as well as the tools to create your own.
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