Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.
Thief: Deadly Shadows
Developer: Ion Storm
Horror's great when it's contrasted with not-horror. If it's all spooks all the time that can get tiring, but when you aren't constantly being frightened until your bones climb out your mouth and run away, you start to relax—and that makes the eventual explosion into real horror work even better. That's how it is with the Ocean House Hotel in Bloodlines, and that's how it is with the Shalebridge Cradle in Thief: Deadly Shadows.
By this third game in the series you feel like a proper master thief, able to slide into any building and immediately start taking it over, one unconscious guard at a time. When you break into the Cradle, a former orphanage turned asylum turned abandoned haunted house, that feeling gets turned on its head. The building itself has become a living malevolent being, a witness to so many nightmares that it's stuck repeating them forever. You're not breaking into a building, but entering the psychic landscape created by everyone who ever lived there.
Asylums are normally cheap creeps in videogames, but the Shalebridge Cradle avoids some of the cliches. "The doctors are just as scary as the patients" as one of the notes hidden there reads, and it's the discovery of how those patients were mistreated that provides a significant part of the horror. Lobotomized, branded, heads and hands encased in protective wire cages, subjected to something called "the wet-wraps treatment", they've now been transformed into puppets. The staff also persist as shadowy figures, nonchalantly going about their business as the memory of the fire that eventually led to the Cradle being closed down burns in perpetuity around them.
Thief: Deadly Shadows is a stealth game, but the greatest act of stealth in it is the way it sneaks this horror show in unexpectedly, even though the series is famous for its scary levels. Like a bottle episode of a TV show, the Cradle level focuses on a single location to get all the drama it can out of the situation, but it's a bottle that's slowly filling and you're liable to drown.