Outside mansion


Conservatory


Inner courtyard


Ornate staircase


Moonlit corridor


Uh Oh!


Front entry hall


War museum


Crypt


Looks interesting....

Fan Mission Review by Peter Smith

FM Title: The Seventh Crystal
Version: 2, dated Nov. 2, 2001
Author/Builder: Saturnine
Team members: Apache, Silentsleep, MsLedd, Loanstar, Darkangel, Schwaa, Lazarus, Sledge, Wynne

Thief Version: Thief 2 - The Metal Age
Genre: Mansion, Cinematic Story, Sneak, Human AI
Size: Medium

Number of times played: 3
Difficulty levels played: Normal, Expert

REVIEW

The mission begins with a tour of a crypt on the CamVator, an innovative moving platform on which you are carried about in the scene.  You can look around, but you can't touch. The introduction is very effective, creepy, and has a nice narration by MsLedd.  The story begins to unfold as you sit back and watch.  It's like watching a movie.  A good movie.  The main objective of the mission is revealed slowly.  Your role will come later...

The Seventh Crystal is divided into four Acts, separate missions that follow one another.  Acts 1 and 4 are passive -- long cut scenes using the dark engine and the CamVator.  These introduce the story and portray its ending.  Most of the action is in Act 2, a mansion heist with story-driven objectives, the main objective being to get the crystal.  The story and the objectives go hand in hand, each evolving and revealing one another as you read letters and poems and listen to conversations. The story and the game are nicely orchestrated.  Act 3 is a short romp through the crypt with a great surprise ending.

The first impressions on starting Act 2 is "Wow!".   You are dropped into an area with a beautiful view of Lord Saturnine's mansion.  It is snowing.  It is dark and cold.  Then you find some really nasty guards.  Panic strikes.  Can I handle this!?  Eventually you do handle it, and by the time you find a safer place, your heart is pumping and you are expecting the worse.  What unfolds from there is a tour of a magnificent mansion and a fine story.

The story

I liked the story a lot.  It is a character-driven drama about how the relationship of a happy couple was destroyed by the loss of a child.  Each reacted differently, and they grew apart.  Along with this is a plot of infidelity and betrayal with several twists, including some treasure hunting and a Hitchcock ending .

The revelation of the story through letters placed in the mission is a work of art.  Initially, you see evidence of discontent.   Then you learn more about the characters and some recent unfortunate events.  When Act 2 is nearly complete, you finally learn about the private thoughts of Lord Saturnine and his wife before and after the loss of their child.  The story changes from interesting to sad.   Finally, the betrayals are revealed, and you know that it could have all been avoided.  Lord Saturnine is a tragic figure.  This quality of writing is a distinct departure from the usual Thief story of Evil Lord unleashing monsters and Garrett saving the day.

Of course, a dramatic story may not be everyone's cup of tea.   Some might think it is too mushy and would prefer more action.  OK, that's fine.  This is one reviewer's opinion.

Visuals

The Seventh Crystal is a visually stunning mission.  It has great architecture that is realistic, functional, and very pretty to look at.  Check the screen shots!  I note that the celings are made of wood, plaster, or fabric, all realistic treatments.  Too often, some designers tend to use impossible structures, like a flat stone ceiling.  The appearance is accentuated by ornate, custom textures and rich colors, heavy in reds and purples.  Lord Saturnine's wealth and ostentatious behavior stands out clearly, even without the books and letters to back it up.  The snow scenes at the entrance and interior courtyard are pretty, yet cold and forbidding.  That is, except for that nice fire outside in front of the mansion, warming those friendly guards. :)  The moonlit exteriors and the moonlight through the stained glass windows are very well done.

Atmosphere

The atmosphere goes along with the visuals - an opulent and realistic setting.  The lighting is very good, with dark areas mixed nicely with light areas. The dark hallways have an attractive blue moonlight shining through the windows, a pleasing contrast to the warm, well-lit areas.  You can catch your breath in the dark areas, relax, and enjoy the ambient light.  Not so the mostly well lit areas, where you must use good timing or a well planned route.  Some hallways have hiding places, but others do not.

In version 2 of the mission, the voice of a ghost child is heard in several places.  She chides Garrett for stealing, which is very funny.  The ghost child adds both a creepy aspect and humor -- a welcome addition.  A scene in the child's nursery was extremely well done, including a tear jerking letter from the mother and ghostly toys.

The crypt below the house, which you explore in Act 3, is suitably creepy.  The "secret" area down there is, well, let us just say, very interesting....

There is a problem with sound propagation that is mildly annoying.  In some places at least, sounds can be heard clearly between the first and second floors, so, if you are hiding and depending on sound to tell you when the coast is clear, you may stay frozen in your tracks for a while.  This adds to the fear factor, but it is a little frustrating not to know when the threat is real.  In some other places, the sound does not propagate where it should, like through a curtain.

Gameplay

The mission requires hunting for several keys in order to move the story along in the right sequence. Quite a few people have found the key hunting and the locked doors confusing, particularly in version 1, where some of the keys were on moving guards.  The gameplay has been made much smoother in version 2 by placing all of the keys in fixed locations.  This makes it more straightforward to find your way around.  Key hunting is still a challenge, however.  This may be good or bad, depending on your style.  I happen to like these hunts and finding my way, so I had no problems with it.

I believe that the mission is best played in sneaksie fashion, as there are just too many guards to win a fight, and their hearing is pretty good, so they usually come running from far away.  The mission is an excellent ghosting mission, that is, sneaking without causing any alerts.  The AI are well tuned.  Sensitive guards, frequent patrols, and well lit areas make it a challenge, but all of the challenges can be overcome.  It is possible to ghost the entire mission and obtain 100% loot, but there are a few tricky spots.  Of course, the blackjack is always available if sneaking is too difficult or tedious.  I have BJ'ed them all as well.

If you are a loot hound like I am, you should know that in versions 1 and 2 of the mission the maximum loot listed for Act 2 is too high by 200.  The correct total for Act 2 is 2103. This is a result of splitting Act 2 and 3 (required by a limitation of Dromed) and not adjusting the loot total in Act 2.  I spent hours hunting for nonexistent loot and finally confirmed my suspicion by e-mailing the author. In addition, three of the "possible" pickpockets are impossible to obtain because the items are located on unconscious bodies.

Replayability

The mission is well worth replaying, simply because it is so good.  Perhaps, like me, you will find the story more interesting the second time through after the routes are better known.  However, you should know that there is very little difference between skill levels.  Normal and Hard both allow killing of guards but not innocents, and Expert does not allow any killing.  Unlike some other recent missions, you will not find different objectives, areas, or play sequences in the different skills.  Other than killing limitations and initial health points, the three skills are exactly the same.

Originality

The use of the CamVator and the animated cut scenes is a breakthrough in mission development. This method of constructing cut scenes is much more interesting and appealing than the cartoonish AVI files we usually see.  I should mention that the CamVator can get stuck.  Do not save and reload in the middle of Act 1 or Act 4, or it is  likely to stop and/or sink to the wrong location.  Also, do not hit the Pause key. The sequence needs to run straight through.

Highly Recommended!

WHO WOULD LIKE THIS MISSION?

Someone who enjoys a good short story or drama should like this mission. Moviegoers should find it very enjoyable and might wish they could see its rendition in film.  If you prefer to avoid the reading material, you would miss a lot, and I am not sure it would make any sense.  If you like to explore, sneak about in the shadows, eavesdrop on conversations, and find the secrets to unlocking doors, this mission is for you.  On the other hand, you will not find really dangerous situations, climbing and jumping, undead, monsters, or difficult mathematical puzzles.

WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID

Nightwalker: "The movies are absolutely stunning.  The architecture is very pleasing to the eye and I personally really liked the storyline a lot.  The added little ghostly whispers were pure genius, as was the nursery scene."

Keeper of Metal and Gold: "You all MUST play this mission(s)! It is extraordinarily impressive, a very nice piece of work with some amazing scripting to pull off the 'cinematics' which are sooooooo cool!"

Clayman:  "gold"

Ricknmel (commenting on version 1):  The Seventh Crystal was prolly the hardest, most confusing, most "wandering around clueless", most "what should I even be looking for?", most "how am I supposed to get there?", most "that doesn't make any sense", type of mission I've ever played ... but ... it's also the absolute #1 Favorite of mine I've ever played.

RATING THE MISSION

The scoring is on the "digi" scale, averaging values of 1-10 in various categories.  Also included are bonus and penalty points based on my personal reaction.   This rating should not be strictly compared to older missions.  There has been a considerable amount of compression at the high end of mission scoring lately, and it is difficult to make accurate comparisons based on score alone.  The words of this review are more important than the score.

Visuals: 10 -- Great architecture and textures. Very ornate appearance.  Nicely furnished.  Could be the most impressive looking mansion that has been developed to date.  Outdoor scenes with snow look pretty and cold.

Atmosphere: 9 -- Realistic and very impressive.  Good use of lighting.  Cut scenes provide an excellent, cinematic experience.  The ghost of the child provides both a creepy and a humorous touch.  Some other missions may provide a greater feeling of dread.

Story: 10 -- The story is excellent.  It is a high quality, character-driven story with a lot of nuances, not your usual evil-lord-turns-monster type of thing.  Surprise ending and follow-up.  Story dominates the mission and draws the player in.  Very good writing and poetry.  Some might regard it as too mushy.  I did not.  On second playing I became immersed in the story and found it to be an emotional experience.   The story also related nicely to the game play and provided good clues.

Gameplay: 8 -- Realistic, fun, and satisfying, but the key hunting is a little confusing to some.  A sneaker.  Mission is excellent for ghosting, but it can also be played BJ style.  The AI are well tuned to be somewhat difficult but not extremely so.  Hunting for keys has been simplified in version 2 -- they are all in fixed locations, not on moving targets.  Finding routes to places is a challenge but not overly so.  Strategic use of keys forces one to play in the correct sequence.  Some players may notice a slight lack of excitement plus a somewhat linear gameplay forced by the story.

Raw Score (without Reviewer's Bonus / Penalties):
------------------------------------------------------------------------
9 Hammers

Reviewer's Bonus / Penalty:
----------------------------------------
All the following are added or subtracted before averaging scores.
Wow factor for architecture and textures +1.0
Wow factor for cinematic quality + 1.0
Bonus for excellent story + 1.0
Wow factor for surprise in Act 3 + 1.0
Creativity factor for CamVator and scripting +2.0
Negative for incorrect accounting of loot and pickpocket totals  -1.0

Negative for uneven sound propagation  -1.0

BOTTOM LINE

  • Pros: Gorgeous architecture.  Excellent story-telling.  Cinematic production, totally unique.
  • Realistic, sneaky style gameplay.
  • Cons: Very little other than some unrealistic sound propagation and a misleading loot total (see above).
  • Bottom Line: Fun, story-based mission.  A joy to look at, watch the cutscenes, and play.

    Overall Mission Score:
    --------------------------------
    10 Hammers.

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