|The Black Parade
THE BLACK PARADE you play the character of Hume, a hardened
who was sent into exile as a punishment for his crimes.
year is 833. You are now back in The City, a sprawling metro-
of soot-caked brick, greasy fumes and noisy machinery, with
a sinister conspiracy whispered behind closed doors. Lost and
a penny to your name, you are back to your life of thievery
must find your old associate Dahlquist. Shadows and silence are
allies. Light is your enemy. Stealth and cunning are your tools.
... And the riches of others are yours for the taking.”
The Black Parade is a new, full, ten-mission campaign that has been released for the game’s 25th anniversary, built over seven years by some of the best level designers in the scene, and made freely available for download. Set slightly before the events of The Dark Project, TBP focuses on the adventures of Hume, a former convict, as he becomes entangled in a dark plot concocted by forces beyond his control, and must use stealth and guile to survive and come out alive from the ordeal. The dark depths of Thief’s nameless City, a corrupt industrial metropolis, serve as the story’s locations: dimly lit streets, crumbling mansions inhabited by the idle rich, haunted crypts and thieves’ dens populated by the dregs of society. I had the privilege of beta-testing the pack (there were several rounds of testing by both old hands and new players), and I can report it is very much worth the trip.
Skullduggery and Deceit
But the excellence of The Black Parade goes beyond level design (although that is the most important element). The campaign comes with well-animated cutscenes between missions; numerous new voice lines, textures and objects; new AI types (including some once considered impossible) and game mechanics. Many previous fan missions have done one or a few of these; but very rarely all, and never at this level of quality. In all cases, the updates to The Dark Project extend the original game while remaining entirely faithful to its mood and style: at no point does something stick out like a sore thumb. Thief has always been heavy on the mood, and this campaign pack returns to that level of quality, while taking advantage of the technical advances which allow a 1999 game to transcend the limits of its antediluvian engine and quirky level editor (as the quote from one of the original devs, goes, “Once upon a time, not only would DromEd crash, but it would go out and kill your family afterwards”). In its consciously low-poly architecture and grainy textures – no ill-advised attempt has been to make this look like a mid-2000s experience – The Black Parade builds scenes of labyrinthine complexity and deep SOVL.
|A Labyrinthine Plot
This is also one of those rare mods that takes writing seriously: the main story was meticulously plotted before the levels entered the building phase, and the levels were then filled with fragments of readable texts, environmental storytelling, AI conversations and the evolving objectives Hume will face during the course of the missions. Although the writing quality tends to be high in the Thief level design community, this is a standout even by those standards. While the cutscenes convey the main plot, much in gameplay is information you need to piece together on your own – from clues that will help you reach your objectives, avoid deadly hazards or find carefully hidden loot; to pieces which reveal more about the surrounding world in an unobtrusive way.
There is much
more that could be written about The Black Parade, and I suspect it will
be widely discussed in the following weeks and months. For now, though, this
introduction should suffice. You can download the campaign here. A
trailer, and a handful of screenshots by yours truly, follow.
|Lost in the Catacombs
|Back in a Smoke-Shrouded City
|Venturing to Locales Long Forgotten
|Pursued by Merciless Enemies