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'Thief 2' Relies on Cunning, not Killing; 'Evil' Knockoff 'Carrier' Goes Nowhere

May 18, 2000|ARRON CURTISS

Imagine a video game in which the point is to kill as few people as possible, a game in which success depends on fooling--rather than dismembering--opponents. And no, it's not a counting game for toddlers featuring Elmo from "Sesame Street."

"Thief 2: The Metal Age" is a true game for grown-ups, a first-person PC adventure in which players assume the role of an ancient thief named Garrett who prowls the shadows in search of loot. Notice that Garrett is a thief, not a buffed-out space Marine with homicidal tendencies. Although hardly a Boy Scout, Garrett's goal throughout "Thief 2" is to sneak away with as much stuff--and as few casualties--as possible.

It requires brains, patience and a devious streak.

The first "Thief" knocked the first-person shooter genre for a loop with a game that required players to keep their swords sheathed and their eyes open. Since then, numerous other games have incorporated the ability to sneak, but often only until players get the big guns and can blast apart the bad guys with felonious glee.

But "Thief 2" takes the emerging "first-person sneaker" genre to new levels. On more difficult settings, some levels of "Thief 2" make zero casualties a condition of mission success. In addition to providing a welcome respite from the exploding chest cavities of other first-person games, the push away from overt violence has another benefit: It makes the game infinitely more challenging.

For instance, in well-lit corridors, players must find a way to extinguish just enough torches so there is sufficient shadow to slip past guards who have no aversion to whipping out their weapons. Putting out the torch is one problem. Slinking is another. Because all the senses matter in "Thief 2," although sight and sound are the obvious biggies. Walk on stone pavers and footsteps are more likely to be heard than if players walk on carpet or grass.

In addition to being unkind, knocking out or killing a character in "Thief 2" leaves evidence. Players who introduce a palace guard to the business end of a blackjack had better move swiftly to drag the dozing soldier to an out-of-the-way place. Leave him in the middle of a corridor and other guards will find him and sound the alarm.

The missions get progressively harder and are introduced by a narration that leaves much to be desired. I suppose it's designed to help players bond with Garrett, but these little intermissions were so corny that I used them as bathroom breaks and picked up my mission objectives from the nicely designed in-game menu.

Visually, "Thief 2" delivers everything one would expect from a game that requires a Pentium II with graphics hardware. Other characters in the game move smoothly and the light sourcing is exceptional. It has to be because shadows and light play such a critical role. My only beef: The game is nearly impossible to play in a well-lit room. Because the game depends so heavily on shadow, the screens are universally dark. That works fine at night with the lights out, but for those of us who play during the daytime, it makes for some frustrating moments.

"Thief 2: The Metal Age" requires a Pentium II 266 with at least 48 mb of RAM, 250 mb of available hard drive space and a 3-D accelerator card.

'Galerians'

Knockoffs are not always bad things. Take, for instance, "Galerians," a shameless "Resident Evil" spinoff for Sony PlayStation that takes players deep into the very mixed-up mind of a 14-year-old with psychic powers.

Although not as much overall fun as recent "Resident Evil" games, the futuristic "Galerians" nonetheless delivers some pretty cool science fiction action. Besides, any game that allows players to use telekinesis to charbroil bad guys is all right by me.

Players begin the game as Rion, the aforementioned 14-year-old with barbecue eyes, as he wakes up in a hospital not sure who he is or why he's there. All he knows is that he can open locked doors by looking at them and that when he gets really mad those around him tend to have their heads explode--literally--for no reason.

Clearly, this is not a game for young tykes.

Rion's adventure takes him through a world that is beautiful and disturbing. Some of the pre-rendered images in the full-motion video sequences are downright dreamy as Rion learns his true destiny: to free humankind from the grip of the Galerians, an artificial species created to wipe out humankind.

Cool.

Doing this requires mastering Psychic Power Enhancement Chemicals, the synthetic secretions that give Rion his powers. But they also have side effects. That head-popping anger? Yup. That's one of the side effects.

Players familiar with "Resident Evil" will feel right at home with "Galerians." Many of the controls and user interfaces are similar. Think of it as "Resident Evil" in the 26th century.

'Carrier'

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