And out of nowhere, he STRIKES, with a new review! I wrote this one amazingly fast considering that...y'know...I'm me. Normally it takes me a week to write a review and get to a point where I'm happy with it, but I wanted to write this one while my experience with the FM was still fresh in my mind. As a result, I'm letting this one out of the oven a little early. I think it turned out pretty good, but then, I think the movie "Transformers 2" turned out pretty good also.
"King's Story" review
Spoilers ahead, if you haven't played the mission yet, beware your virgin eyes.
Imagine if you would, a woman (stop with the weird looks, I'm going somewhere with this). She's insanely beautiful and incredibly fun to be around. Only, this woman has a problem. Every half hour or so, she has to punch you in the face. It's not her fault, it's nothing she can control, she is just compelled by some outside force to punch you in the face really f**king hard once every 30 minutes. Now, imagine being in a long term relationship with this woman: this is what it's like to play the FM "King's Story" by Zontik. You like what you see, you're having a good time, only every now and then it causes blood to come gushing out of your nose (in this case, because of all the time you will spend slamming your face against your keyboard). Opinions on whether or not it's worth the commitment will vary from person to person, but I personally think it's worth the face-abuse. Why? A cheesier reviewer would say something like "Read on!", but I consider myself above that, so instead I'll just say "Make me a sammich"....oh, and also "I'm about to explain, dear reader. Please proceed onward with the reading!".
First of all, let's talk about the story. I was actually surprised by the time I finished the second half of this mission pack by how much story there actually was here, and how coherent it turned out to be. I was surprised because the first half features random ghost sightings, a werewolf for seemingly no apparent reason, and Garrett suddenly gaining the ability to fly. Okay, I realize the whole "Garrett flying" moment was suppose to be a cutscene showing an overhead view of the level as we followed a certain character...but near the end of it, the floating camera just sorta drops to the ground and puts you in control again with no transition whatsoever. So, what exactly just happened? Did Garrett have an out of body experience? Anti-gravity boots? Is he a Kryptonian*?
*For those of you who don't speak nerd, that's the name of Superman's race. Normally I'd try to disguise my nerdiness, but I just spent $80 on a Lord of the Rings blu-ray because it came with a letter opener shaped like Isildur's sword (which I promptly swung around like a jedi)....at this point I might as well just let it all hang out.
In the second mission though, the pieces really start coming together, and all of the craziness from the first mission suddenly starts to make a surprising amount of sense. The story is mostly moved forward by overheard conversations, and for the most part this works well. For the most part. There's at least one area where it's clear that a bunch of characters who are gathered together and staring longingly into each other's eyes are suppose to be having a conversation, but are just waiting for you to find the proper place from which to "overhear" them. This is made especially irritating in one room where you have to first crawl inside of a well-hidden secret area in order to get things moving. Then there's one cutscene that won't start until you mantle up onto a balcony, unfortunately this ALWAYS results in Garrett losing his footing and slamming into marble flooring, alerting everyone and their deaf grandmother that you're a Thief. Hope you like the "loading" screen, because you're about to have a long and torrid relationship with it! Mostly though, I really did like how the storyline was presented. There were a few moments where I wandered seamlessly into a scene of storyline progression that really caught me off guard, in a good way.
But allow me to take off my reviewer cap for a minute and put on my raving lunatic jacket. This mission looks freaking PHENOMENAL. I mean HOLY MOTHER OF GOD. This is the best looking Thief 2 mission I have ever played! Not only does it take that crown from "Rose Cottage", it takes it, puts it on top of a flag pole, and sits in a lawn chair in front of that flag pole cradling a shotgun to ward off any intruders who might try to take it back. Every room doesn't just "look good", every room is jaw droppingly incredible! From what I gathered, this mission is a pain-stakingly detailed representation of a real life location. I can safely say I never have to visit there now. Not only have I already been there, I robbed the place, jumped on all the nice furniture, and knocked out the head chef and locked him in the freezer*.
*And that's not even mentioning what I did to the wedding cake. I wouldn't eat it.
Actual golden castles look like crap compared to this FM.
But I mentioned earlier that playing this is often a painful experience, and that wasn't all just reader-hooking razzmatazz. This mission is difficult. Not "throw your keyboard out your window" difficult either, it's "you might go crazy and burn your house down and be found living in a cave in the woods now more beast than man" difficult. There's a moment at the end of the first level where you have to pick a lock with about 6 different stages while two security cameras look directly at you...and using the wrong lockpick at any point resets it. This is just the beginning though; what follows is a walk through a castle full of tile floor and narrow passage-ways and spiral staircases where you will find yourself defenseless and face to face with a guard you couldn't possibly see coming once every three-quarters of a second. The stealth in this mission is BRUTAL. Very few lights can be put out, and the ones that can often don't do much in concealing you (at one point I turned off a gas lamp as a guard entered a room, only to learn this was the thief equivalent of closing your eyes and yelling "I'M INVISIBLE!!"). You will have to peak around corners regularly, use that oft-forgotten "creep" key, and yes...memorize patrol patterns (OH GOD IT BURNS!). As if all this wasn't difficult enough, you can't allow any bodies to be seen or it's instant fail. Oddly though, the mission doesn't fail if you alert guards. So in other words, it's fine if they know a thief is there, as long as they don't know he's knocking people out (because I guess they figure you could always be that other type of thief- the friendly kind that if they catch, has to lead them to your magical pot o' gold).
And then there's the puzzles. I might be in the minority here, but I really dug the puzzles for the most part. They made sense in that "adventure game logic" kinda way. There were a couple I found myself hopelessly stumped on, but for the most part as long as you pay attention and read everything you find very carefully, they're pretty fun to figure out on your own. There was the occasional reflective moment when I realized how preposterous some of the puzzle solutions were even as I was solving them (such as when I was rubbing shoe polish on a horse*), but HEY, that's half the fun of adventure games! What I did find frustrating though was finding my way TOO the next puzzle I had to solve. About half way through the second mission, the progression through the level loses a lot of forward momentum and instead relies heavily upon backtracking to areas you've been in before. At this point, figuring out which room you're suppose to stand in next to get things going again is a pain. It's not always presented clearly and you will frequently find yourself in "aimless wandering" mode. The storyline and gameplay both have some great moments when they really get going (frantically climbing a rope arrow as a huge explosion rises under you comes immediately to mind; I always like moments like these being as I'm desperately trying to catch up to Bruce Willis in my "explosions I've jumped away from while not looking at them" count), the unfortunate thing is that things keep petering out, leaving you to find the next room to give it another kick-start. Ultimately though, if you have to wander around a level in a lost daze, there are worse places to do that than in one that looks this socks-rockingly amazing.
*On the other hand, a moment where I had to put on ballerina shoes felt frighteningly natural.
So right now you're probably thinking "Mike, I'm torn. I like things that are insanely beautiful but I hate the feeling of being punched in the face. Should I download it or just eat a whole bowl of ice cream?". Well, that depends. Think of this mission as a giant, even more delicious bowl of ice cream, only it's surrounded by mouse traps and guarded by snipers in the tree-line. Does it sound worth it to you? Some will say yes, some will say no, but I say you should at least give it up until the end of the first mission. If it seems like it's all too much for you at that point, well...there's always that bowl of ice cream...
...you big quitter.
SCREENSHOTS, now in "actually good":
"Yes, thank you. That was 'Down With the Sickness'. We will now serenade you with 'Cryin' like a b**ch', by Godsmack."
Why do the Priests always get the best hats?
Just another reminder that this mission looks effin' amazing.
Ah what the hell, one more.
Last edited by The Mike; 10th Apr 2010 at 22:56.
It seems like, whenever I complain about something being far too difficult, someone lets me know that I was just going about things ass-backwards and making life difficult for myself. I'm incredibly awesome in that way (Oh, and thanks for reading dude ).
One other thing I didn't get around to mentioning about this FM:
I loved that there was this guard decked out in gold armor (who also happened to have entirely new voice files...curiously, in english) that you could never knock out or deal with in any way- he just was always there to make your life a living hell. You couldn't blackjack him and you had no other means of defending yourself, so you just basically had to outrun him if he saw you (and he was a persistant bastard). He keeps changing position throughout the mission, and I kept wandering right into his line of sight on accident, making for several great "OH SHI" moments. He really became my arch nemesis. And if the mission hadn't ended first, I would have definately hunted him down in werewolf form and given him a well-deserved mauling. No-KO helmet huh? Too bad it's not a No-get-eaten-by-werewolf helmet! OM NOM NOM
Anyway, my point is that more missions need one extra-badass enemy that just sort of hunts you the whole time. That would please me, and when I'm pleased, it's proven that the world becomes a happier place.
Your review made me laugh aloud several times. Gods, I would never think it could be so... SO difficult!
Well, you didn't need to pick lock in two security cameras view... you could solve one back door puzzle instead... but I doubt it would be any better choice. Maybe that puzzle was one of the most illogical puzzles in the campaign, but you was absolutely right: anyone who managed to finish mission 1, got his eyes open to make a choice - to quit or to continue.
And it was intentional.
As for that cursed noKO guard... he is Earl Durkheim, King's aide, and he just does his job well. VERY well.
(But I think if you manage to find the only gas arrow in the mission, it would be REVENGE.)
Another excellent review, The Mike! And spot on accurate. It was as if you were reading my thoughts about the mission.
I'll add my 2 cents worth...go for the giant bowl of ice cream, mouse traps and snipers be damned.
I was going to comment on that quote in the original thread, but decided not to as I didn't want to turn the whole thing into a giant debate. However, being as this is the loudmouth opinions thread I'll take the opportunity to rant about it here a little:
Let me get something important out of the way first and foremost, I believe that negative criticism is important. However, I also think that without positive reinforcement, it's all but useless. Yeah, it's true that Unkillable Cat does say in his opening "This may be the most beautiful FM released in many years" but what follows is just a mean-spirited rant that seems more like it's trying to get a reaction out of someone than actually provide helpful criticism. Phrases like "it looks bloody hideous" and "You screwed up, badly" and worst of all "Congratulations, you've made the FM equivalent of Daikatana!" should have no place in a review on this forum.
I mean, I understand being extremely pissed off because you spent 60, 50 or even 20 dollars on a game that turned out to be totally unplayable to you, BUT THIS S**T IS FREE. No one forced you to download it or put a gun to your head forcing you to play it. The author isn't some faceless corporate entity like "Electronic Arts" or some overpaid self proclaimed "Gaming God" who needs to be taken down a notch (in the case of the previously mentioned "Daikatana"), it's a guy who worked hard for years ALONE & UNPAID to make something he hoped you would enjoy. And yes, you are entitled to give your honest opinion on how much you enjoyed it or didn't enjoy it- and most authors consider it extremely helpful if you write down why you thought this way. What you aren't entitled to do is to be completely mindless of their feelings. Well...okay...maybe you're entitled to that also, what with free speech and all, but let's all be friggen human beings here.
I agree with The Mike, the comment for me sounded very dickish. It might be honest, but it's not very constructive - not an attitude I'd like to see continued on these boards.
As frustrated as I was with the mission in question I probably would have posted worse had I not took the time to cool off. I'm sure that post was made in frustration during a peak of it and perhaps Unkillable Cat will make a follow up post that is a bit more level headed. I'm not speaking in behalf of UC or for him/her - Just citing that as an example of the very rare and fabled unicorn that is a blunt and honest opinion in the thief community.
It wasn't the content of the post I was praising, (which admittedly is a bit harsh, but again, think of the mindset it was written in and its understandable) it was the brutal honesty. So many times we're expected to tiptoe around the worst parts about a fan mission and act like we've been blessed every time one is released - and while I agree that each fan mission really is a gift - we're kidding ourselves by saying every one is perfect and frowning on each and every negative opinion. The whole "its free!" thing doesn't help authors get better or replace the hours we wasted playing a poor mission that could have been much better with some good tips from players.
I wish I had a better example to cite and put in this thread than a frustrated rant, but the fact is people are so afraid to post what they really feel in fear of being jumped by half the community alot of times differing opinions get buried or are discouraged so much they aren't posted at all.
Fair point of course - but playing a fan mission like the one we're discussing (with the way its designed) is purposefully somewhat of a time-sink in the first place. You can't disagree that with a few different gameplay decisions the missions could have been just as fun and much less of a time wasting key hunt with little direction.
Sitting down to play a four hour mission is one thing - but sitting down to play a four hour mission that should have been a two hour mission but extended the play time through design tactics and frustrating gameplay is another.
There are those of us out there who have very limited fan mission play time and we want to devote it to getting through a long list of missions we still need to play - and while we're wasting six to eight hours running in circles on a confusing mission with poor direction we could be enjoying three to five other fan missions that are laid out much better.
Its not about being thankless, its about being practical with how we spend what few hours we have to enjoy the game. But sure, we could just quit as you said... but a mission that seems like it has so much to offer like King's Story is summed up like you mentioned in your review - you want to see what it has to offer but you are tired of being beaten like a dime store hooker.
It only hits you because it loves you.
I admit that FMs can be frustrating at times for many of the reasons you listed, and everyone is definitely entitled to share their aggravations on the forum. My original point though was if you chose to do this, you should be civil about it. This was made by a person after all, not a mindless level creating automaton.
And on a less debate-ish note, when are you finishing your review SneakyJack? I've been not so patiently waiting for it ever since I posted mine. I thought you would put it up immediately after like some crazy one-two punch of reviewiness, but it didn't go down that way. I AM DISPLEASED.
SneakyJack, what about interview with Zontik?
I can see how someone can arrive at UC's conclusions, but here is one thing: Zontik's missions have consistently been among the hardest, most tricky challenges designed for Thief (others include Fidcal's Night Watch, Reversing the Order in KotP and some others). Do we need missions that challenge the best players with the most devious puzzles? I think there is a use for them. The problem is -- everyone is playing every mission these days, and what is a cakewalk for some will be a problem for others, and what is a problem for the first group will be a nightmare for the second. I haven't played King's Story yet, though (I set it aside for a longer weekend when I am at my full thieving powers ), so take this for what it's worth.
Undoubtedly KS is the hardest mission of ever which I met I walked 3 hours around in a few rooms without finding any clues or keys, then finally gave up and watched the solution here in the spoilers. But the castle itself is amazing and somehow feels good to walk between the walls. I have not finished yet so far, probably this will be my longest gameplay in a FM .
I think Unkillable Cat was provoked by myself (and my FM) to express negative emotions, so no injuries.
BTW, there is an option to finish this FM fast without many additional puzzles. If everything you want is to have a quick guide tour over the castle, just take a crown.
And there is no surprize that some areas are closed from tourists. If you visit real Neuschwanstein, you'll see what I mean.
Honestly, only the missions comparable with King's Story level of sophistication, attention to details, and hardness really interest me now.
Uniform FMs with uniform straightforward puzzles and secrets, a sneaking for the sake of it, and virtually no challenges for a Thief player with 5+ years experience tired me long ago. So, I basically ignore an FM if I see it's not for me (majority of cases, it's understandable because only really experienced fan can create sophisticated and difficult mission with professional design).
Missions like CL, CC, Mission X, Sepulchre of the Sinistral and now KS breathe the new life in the FM scene, even though they happen so rarely. So, I'd say there definitely is a place for difficult, sophisticated FMs not for everyone (no elistism, just unbearable difficulty for many novices or not attentive/insistent enough taffers), they are in cruel deficiency.
Great review quakis! Honest and informative.
Also thanks for your review Mike - It was a great read and was very funny.
A wonderful read
I can't see cogs...
King's Story By Zontik
Released: April 2010
Going into this review I knew quite a few things. First and foremost - this mission more than likely split the Thief fan mission player base down the middle on opinion. Secondly, this mission has been reviewed a few times already in this very thread - and lastly I knew that my view was going to be a bit different than the majority that played and enjoyed this mission. The abusive girlfriend example I was going to use and had written before this was posted (and during my frustration cool down period) had already been used by Mike (and probably to much better effect) to my dismay, so I'll try to find a different but still potent example to toss into my review over the previous story that I scratched out in seething hatred while throwing darts at a board with Mike's face on it.
Just kidding, Mike. It was actually a picture of the Wolf King on the board and I was wearing a blindfold. Great minds think alike, and I was too lazy to get my review up before yours. A well deserved beating, I suppose.
As a bit of setup I need to throw in here - after Zontik had gifted the forum with preview shots of his four-years-in-the-making castle mission I was completely blown away. I knew that there would be somewhat of a long wait, but I knew that I had to play this mission. I was hoping against hope that with those nearly identical-to-the-photos screenshots would also bring with them equally fun gameplay - as all too often mission authors go for style over substance. All sizzle and no steak, as it were. Also please make note of my attempt to church-up and fancy my writing by the use of words-linked-by-hyphens. Classy and sophisticated, no?
So years went by (translated: weeks - I can't believe this mission came out as fast as it did after the screens were posted) and I had forgotten about this beast-in-waiting until the release thread was posted. Oh lucky day indeed! We were all in for a treat, and I couldn't wait to get my grubby little mitts on the mission to give it a spin.
What happened next I could not have imagined - and instead of give away the result before you even read the review, I'll instead invite you to witness my decent into madness as I direct quote the notes that I took in real time while playing the mission - notes written down seconds after the events mentioned took place. Think of it as a dive into the deep end of my mind seconds before all the water was drained out of the pool.
I will try to keep this as spoiler free as possible - but if you are wanting EVERYTHING in the mission to be a complete surprise I can't guarantee you'll particularly enjoy where we're about to venture, and you should probably play it at least a bit before you read on. Without further jaw wagging (keyboard typing) I present to you:
Diary Of Madness: Getting Lost In King's Story - Mission 1
Our story begins after an excellent briefing movie (complete with subtitles, so you know its artsy!) in a dusty fog filled canyon sprinkled with rainbows and kittens and seemingly painted by god in a single rock texture giving the feel that either it was an off day for the almighty or someone pissed off Bob Ross by hiding every happy little tree in his entire palette and leaving him only with huge grumpy rocks. The briefing screen already told us that we're in for a linear and limited experience and has slapped us on the hands and told us to get to school using the quick route and not to dilly dally around with 'exploration' and 'fun'.
"Screw it!" Bob exclaimed as he thrust his brush over the canyons, giving everything the same look and making navigating the area and passing the inane boundaries without fail much more difficult than nature had intended. "But Jack!" you say. "How difficult could it be to navigate an entire level where one area looks nearly identical to the next without any direction or real hint as to what the proper route is?"
My answer to you, first and foremost - is not to talk without first raising your hand and waiting for your name to be called. This is not a Roman forum - you do not speak out of turn whilst someone is trying to tell you a story. And to answer your question, absolutely harder than it ever should have been. Hop on the wrong rock and it's back to load screen land. One false step while using The Dark Engine's horrible mantling mechanics and it's a one way ticket to death via jagged rock junction.No clue where to go, and I've failed nearly half a dozen times now with no idea where the correct path is to proceed. I guess I'll just run around until I find the area that causes no game over screen. Oh, through they tiny crack in a random corner - of course!
The worst crime committed against the sanctity of fun in the first mission is not just the lack of clear direction that leads to hours of running around in circles with thumb firmly planted in ass - it is much moreso the lack of anything interesting to see and do while doing so. So much of the entire first mission feels like gameplay-hour padding and filler that the author could have dropped us right in front of castle Wallenstein and we would have been much better off for it. I also question the use of the "wolf eye" replacement for the light gem and EKG meter style health bar - they not only took some getting used to, but also foreshadowed a transformation hours (and a mission) before it occurred - making an already telegraphed twist even more transparent and obvious. Use of the standard light gem and health shields in the first mission and then the swap to the alternate ones during the second mission would have made more sense - even waiting until the events near the end of the second mission would have been a better use of the custom assets.Damn Dark Engine mantling! I'm going to load up The Dark Mod out of spite just to mantle the hell out of everything.
During my travels in the land-o-granite and pain I found myself lost or taking the wrong route far too many times - and it lead to many bouts with boredom and wanting to ctrl-alt-shift-delete my way into the castle and into the next mission. The aim of a mission is obviously never frustrating the player to the point of giving up, but I'll be damned if this mission didn't give it the ol' college try.
Once you finally tire of skipping rocks and staring and the blank blue sky - you'll finally bumble your way to an area that raises more questions than answers. An early mission sighting lets you know that you are in for more than meets the eye - yet even Optimus Prime would have trouble tackling the barrage of question marks that arise after seeing a fairly exciting (and majestically scored) cutscene that will instantly confuse and bewilder a fair ninety percent of all players that are experiencing it their first time through. You hope upon hopes that everything will be explained - and continue to trudge forward.Well I've jumped and taken damage near this damn tree for what seems like a half hour now - there has to be another way across. Logic would assume the broken sword means something, but my mind is so filled with rage at this point I feel like jumping to an untimely death instead of being able to work this puzzle out. (At this point I flipped out and started swinging my sword wildly as if being attacked by bees - and accidentally whacked the tree and triggered the bridge)
Once castle huff-and-puff-and-blow-your-patience-down is reached you are met with more 'interesting' gameplay decisions than you can shake a stick at. If steps are not taken in the correct order you'll find yourself cursing Zeus himself as he hurls lightning bolts toward your loot sack in the form of cameras pointed your way as you tackle a ridiculous self re-setting locking mechanism on your way into the castle. At this point your patience is most likely all but used up and I question the sanity of anyone daring to try to frustrate a legion of fans known for their skill at sneaking and killing without being noticed with such a terrible mechanism.What the hell just happened? You know what, nevermind. Just keep going.
Congratulations! You've made it into the castle and survived.. err.. completed the first mission. Here is your "atta boy/girl!" pat on the back, and lets continue to mission 2.
King's Story - Mission 1 Summary:
While at first visually striking and interesting given the use of fog and other effects to mask the very linear and plain gameplay design - the mask quickly slips off and leads to much frustration as we're only told "stay on a specific track, but I'm not going to tell you what it is!" and led to fail repeatedly before figuring out through trial and error which roads are alright to use to proceed. Half a dozen re-loads could have been saved by simple visual clues or texture changes allowing us to better find our way around.
The technical effects used were nice - and the camvator cutscene sequence (while exciting) was a bit confusing and set the tone for the style of mission to come. Only the last quarter of the mission seemed to contain any purpose at all - and the three quarters before felt like filler and fuel for frustration leading only to the reveal of the great looking castle. Why not drop us at the bottom of a small hill and then make it a short climb to the reveal? The same effect is achieved without all the thumb twiddling and time wasting.
Special mention should go to the loading screen, progress bar and cursor in the menu - a great touch that really added to the production value and mood of the mission. The exterior of the castle was beautifully done and creeping along ledges was fairly exciting and felt dangerous - it's just a shame that it could have been a much shorter and more pleasing set up mission than the drawn out filler-fest we were presented with.
A WARNING: Some of these screens could be considered spoilers. If You have not yet played the mission - don't scroll any further and do so before continuing on. Otherwise, don't gripe. Also - apologies if any similar shots are repeated that other folks used in their reviews, there are only so many good screenshot areas in missions like this.
The use of fog and weather are well done in the mission - they do a good job in masking the fact that very few rock textures were used.
A rainbow and a far off figure.
A kingly figure surveys the canyon. He is supposed to disappear - and he did when I had fog turned off my first time through.. but with fog turned on he remained. Oh well, it was nice to have some company in the valley o' despair.
What was that??
A much needed scenery change - unfortunately there was even less to see in the cave areas.
The castle exterior looks great - and being able to pull off buildings in this scale from far away with little to no slowdown in The Dark Engine must have taken quite a bit of technical trickery.
Nearly at the castle - here or right outside of here would have been a terrific starting point.
Diary Of Madness: Getting Lost In King's Story - Mission 2
Because mission 2 is far more complex and varied in objectives than mission one - sticking to the story format is much more difficult without giving away key plot points and spoilers - so I'll do the best that I can to relay the player experience that I had keeping these things in mind. Also know up front that I played through the mission on the lowest difficulty setting - so you may notice things I mention seemingly out of order or I may not mention some puzzles at all, as I may not have encountered them.
The mission begins directly inside the front gate - and a key thing most players will notice right away is the extreme slow down that most systems will experience in the first few seconds of play. A simple save, reboot and reload will most likely solve this problem for most systems - so don't let the slideshow-like frame rate scare you off or cause you to give up on the mission.
Give that honor to the frustration and vagueness of the gameplay to come.
Immediately upon starting forward toward the castle your eyes will be stuffed to the brim with a visual feast of which few missions have been able to reach - this very well may be the best looking mission created for Thief 2 at the time of this review. More than one mission in the past few years has raised or outright shattered the bar for mission complexity and visual bang - Broken Triad, Rose Cottage and Mission X to name a few - but Zontik once again raises that bar into the stratosphere with King's Story's architecture, objects and textures.The mission blew me away visually. I found myself impressed by the size and scope of it all, from the absolutely huge castle down to the small details - the mouse in a cage spinning away happily on his wheel in the engineer's room, for example.
Painstakingly crafted to mimic the real thing - this mission was meant to (and succeeds in) feeling as if it takes place inside a real location. Crisp textures line the floors, ceilings and walls. Flowers and other ornamental decorations add regal feel and splendor to the surroundings. Grandiose beds and expensive looking furniture fill the rooms. Light pours in through partially covered and curtained windows. No detail is left ignored - and as with the real castle, no 'expense' was spared. This mission truly is a stunning visual achievement.
I had mentioned in my review of the previous mission how the fog and weather effects had served as somewhat of a mask to hide the shallow gameplay of the mission itself - and here all of the extravagant visuals at first do a brilliant job of hiding the underlying difficulties and overly slow pacing of mission 2. Right from the start we're in full key-hunt mode - as there are very few locks that can be picked, and complicated explanations for obtaining new ways to get around and to unlock doors quickly become commonplace.One can only imagine what kind of experience it was to live somewhere like this back in ye' olden days.
You'll often wander into a room with three or four doors only to have all but one locked up tight with no idea how to free the other three routes for exploration.All the sudden this place is feeling less like a guided tour and more like a direct escort to the dungeon.
The unfortunate result of the mission devolving into a typical over-complicated keyhunt is the promise that it shows you in the beginning - nearly dangling a "free to explore a real life castle!" carrot in front of you while you run the keyhunt treadmill. Soon the player ends up feeling fairly deflated and questioning whether or not to continue forward, and if the experience is really worth the frustration and confusion.
Compounding the keyhunt problems are the overall pacing (which I briefly mentioned before) and vague directions for the player. Little to no clues are given for each and every puzzle - and many of the puzzles assume that the player is going to understand the very few oddly worded hints that are given.If I get noticed trying to jump onto this god damn balcony one more time I'm going to throw my monitor out a window. Alright, last try - MOTHER F
In one puzzle, for example - you're given a poem of sorts as a clue to a sequence where you're required to step on certain animal diagrams on a floor. Simple enough, right? Not so fast, tafferoonie - this floor has a mind of its own. Not only will it be very, very picky about where you stand actually registering, but it will activate at seemingly random intervals as well.Why in the world does only the guy with the yellow hat have an English voice actor?
Many of the puzzles in the castle seem to have their own "quirks" that cause them to act unexpectedly or in some cases not act at all - and it only adds to the frustration problems. Other quirks are just results of questionable gameplay design - in the first minute of my initial mission playthrough I had to reload because of a blackjack hit somehow registering a metal CLANG! noise from far above the stable-boy that I was attempting to knock out. How I managed to hit something on the ceiling that I was not even near is anyone's guess.Alright, that door closing so quickly after solving that long and drawn out floor puzzle is more of a dick move than the resetting lock.
You'll venture further and further into the castle collecting keys and receiving less and less hints on how to proceed - and along the way you'll witness scripted camvator cutscene sequences that further the story. During my playthrough I welcomed these scenes less because they were entertaining and moreso because it means I actually made something happen. For a misison that makes you work very hard for each and every little bone you are thrown - these cutscenes felt MONUMENTAL. You may find yourself spiking your keyboard into your office room carpet and doing an end zone dance as if you just scored a touchdown after every one. Or a goal if your football is played with a round ball instead of an oblong one.How in the hell? I didn't even know that metal light was there until I whacked the damn thing.
So you've done alot of this, you've done alot of that and you're finally making some progress through the castle. You've found an item that helps with the pitter patter of your little feet and are well on your way to gathering a huge pile of KABONGED victims in a dark corner when !POW! - mission failed. It is not to be so, fool - you've just blackjacked one of the King's many guests. Unfortunately, there is no real indication of who is who. Be it an man in a random guest room that you CAN knock out or a woman staring out a window in upper floor that you can't - you may slam your head into your desk or come close to an act equally as embarassing. There is never any real explanation on who you should watch out for and who is fair game. The best method as far as I could see is to save before each knockout and pray to whatever god you find amusing that this person is just a member of the staff.I must have quite a few superhuman abilities - I've just watched an event happen from completely across the castle without me anywhere near. Hmmm, maybe I should check out the brides bedroom with my super vision.. for.. you know.. erm - scientific purposes.
You've conquered the keyhunt, sent most of the living souls in the castle packing on a one way trip to sleepyland, solved a few mysteries and you're finally making some headway. There are one or two areas in the castle where you'll be tasked with making a few moral decisions that can quickly determine the outcome of the mission or prolong it - and these bits were actually pretty good. You can choose to help or hinder yourself in real time at one point and I found it particularly creative.At this point I wish the non-ko'able NPC's were wearing "Don't knock me out, asshole" sashes. At least then I'd feel a little less like my intelligence was insulted.
Eventually you'll find yourself in the lower level of the castle and you'll witness some extraordinary events that are particularly well done and very cinematic. The tail end of the mission is also the most interesting and exciting, and the ending (depending on which one you get out of the many) should satisfy those that have stuck with it until the end. Consider yourself warned, however - if you're more of a free spirited thief and less challenge oriented - you may not make it that far.After what I've been through for the last couple hours - watching guards tear me to shreds felt more like a mercy kill than a disappointment.
King's Story - Mission 2 Summary:
Beautifully built, decorated and visualized - this is probably as close as we'll ever get to being inside a real castle in a Thief 2 mission. Filled to the brim with detail on an epic scale, you aren't going to see many missions ever look better than this one.
The challenge level is extremely high even on the lowest difficulties, and with it comes many frustrations and overly complicated objectives. Add in vague, nearly unexplained puzzles and objectives and a backtracking keyhunt nightmare and you'll be hard pressed to play this mission more than one time through should you be more the free exploring and adventure type. The mission keeps you on a very linear feeling path throughout (most likely because of the complicated scripting and story) and by the end of the journey you may find yourself glad that its over without the desire to discover things you missed or watch the alternate endings. The oddest thing about the difficulty level in this mission is that all the difficulty comes through poor puzzle and gameplay design decisions. Not once did I ever feel in danger of being discovered (partially because the placement of hiding spots and shadows are excellently done) or was I noticed while knocking out the entire staff and guard - it was simply the feeling of being lost with having no idea what to do next that caused it to be tough. This made it feel as if I was fighting against the mission creator, and not against Anger and his shenanigans.
On the plus side there are many strong points to the mission other than just incredible visuals. Audibly the mission is very well done with good use of changing music for the different areas of the castle that are neither intrusive nor distracting. There was alot of voice acting - though that I can't review as I don't understand the language and have no way of knowing the quality. There are some rather funny sound effects (in the stable for example) as well.
There are many secrets to be found and the story is passable - many more clues and background on the story would have fleshed out the narrative of the mission and eased much of the frustration. The scripted conversations and cutscene sequences were entertaining and at some points also humorous - very welcome resting points after all of the running and hunting. Loot placement is sometimes very sneaky - check inside those suits of armor and other strange areas for the few bits you've missed.
A beautiful but ultimately very linear and supremely challenging mission - if you like a tough, unrelenting keyhunt style experience this one will be right up your alley. If you are more of a story driven free range adventure thief who likes fast and loose gameplay - this mission may pound you into submission.
Apologies for writing a beast of a book instead of a review - Its long, rambling, at most points vague and at some points nonsensical. Though visually the screenshots are appealing, the text probably has your mind running in circles and feeling as if you may have wasted your time reading it all. I'm sure you get where I'm going with this. I guess I can leave this as evidence as the last sane bit of text that I submitted to the web *puts noose around neck* before this mission caused me to huff and to puff and to *falls off chair*
A WARNING: Some of these screens could be considered spoilers. If You have not yet played the mission - don't scroll any further and do so before continuing on. Otherwise, don't gripe. Also - apologies if any similar shots are repeated that other folks used in their reviews, there are only so many good screenshot areas in missions like this.
Welcome to Operation Wolf. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to run around aimlessly for six hours whilst not going completely and utterly batshit insane. Good luck, soldier.
You may have seen this room in screenshots before - so, well - see it again.
A Kingly bedroom indeed!
I enjoyed the atmospheric nature of this rooms decor.
Waiting for a rousing performance of "Land Of Confusion" By Genesis.
Brilliant use of light effects throughout the mission.
Don't mind the guard that looks like he's waiting for a hug - he's just upset that I cheated to get this screenshot.
The entire castle staff gather around for directions as to what the hell even they are supposed to do next.
Last edited by SneakyJack; 13th Apr 2010 at 20:06.
That was easily my favorite review you've ever done SneakyJack! It was incredibly entertaining! Despite how long it was, I think I read it in just over a minute- I really devoured it, great read! You mentioned a few things I forgot to talk about as well. Not mentioning that rapidly closing door that there's no way to ever open again after the animal picture puzzle was a major oversight on my part- GAH, IT'S KILLIN' ME!
One side note/brief observation: I noticed a few of my own mannerisms creeping into your reviewing style (the words-strung-together-by-dashes thing and posing questions directly to the reader as if they asked only to scold them for no apparent reason shortly after). That combined with the fact that you were originally going to open with the exact same analogy I had come up with makes me think that my reviews might have had an effect on you- somehow, you've attached to the exact same wavelength I'm on, God help you. A word of advise: alcohol, it helps.
Oh, and quakis, really enjoyed your take on it too! There are so many different opinions on this mission, and they're all so vastly different, reading them all has been awesome. As far as I know, you're the only other person to mention that bizarre cut scene transition I referred too in my review. I thought everyone would be talking about that, but for a while it seemed like I was the only one who found it odd. It made me start wondering if I was missing something....did Garrett ALWAYS have the ability to fly? Was I not paying enough attention to the cut scenes in the original games? I never really got the "super hero" vibe from him.
And thanks SneakyJack, Tannar and especially Zontik (since as I said, I always like to hear from the mission authors themselves) for commenting on my review. I always really appreciate that.