Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mission #2: Break from Cragscleft Prison

            Cutty, Garrett’s fence, has been locked up by the Hammerites. He’s incarcerated in the religious group’s compound at Cragscleft. The place contains the prison in which Cutty is being held as well as a factory and a mines. As Garrett notes, the Hammerites don’t venture much into the mines as they’re supposedly haunted, but that’s exactly the way Garrett’s going to take to get into the compound to get Cutty out.

*Note: The voice actor who voices Garrett, and many of the other characters and monsters in the Thief games, is Stephen Russell. He's a great voice actor and still acts in games today. His voice work is an integral part of the original Thief experience.*

            Things don’t go as planned. “Break From Cragscleft Prison” has a couple twists, which is a trend in the official Thief games and many of its fan-made missions. “Cragscleft” also contains a contrast between the two main themes of Thief: The Dark Project’s fiction: the well-lit, industrious, civilized world of the Hammerites, as experienced in the Factory and prison sections (though, perhaps, a prison isn’t truly civilized), and the dark, mysterious, decayed world of the undead, as experienced in the haunted mines. Thief: The Dark Project has throughout an underlying darkness, rising explicitly in the game’s haunted segments. The story, in general, is one of technology versus magic. And, again, in Cragscleft, with its industrious factory and haunted mines, one can see this contrast in demonstration.

            On to the mission.

            “Cragscleft” begins with the player plopped outdoors in a crevice of the mountain that the mines, factory, and prison complex are carved in to. The blue sky and chirping birds are an ironic prelude to the dark mines the player must enter at the start of their journey through Cragscleft. Garrett leaves the cheery outside by diving into the water and swimming through a passage and up into the cold embrace of the mines.

            Zombies are a big staple of the original Thief game, and here the player meets their first one. It’s lying dead, for now, but will rise if alerted. The undead’s groans and moans horrified me when I first played through Thief as a kid. And these zombies are one of the elements that make Thief: The Dark Project such a unique stealth game. You don’t just sneak past guards, but also the undead. And giant spiders—one of which lurks in the depths of these mines. (There are also dinosaur-like “Burricks”, whom we’ll meet in the next mission.) Though sneaking past guards has its thrills, there’s something about creeping past zombies that’s all the more spine-tingling.

            The literal darkness of the mines coupled with the zombies make walking through them a daunting trek. A great deal of the atmosphere comes from the audio. The distant moans, the scurrying and squeaks of rats, and the creak of wooden beams fill the player with dread and give them a sense of the decay in these mines. The player empathizes with Garrett. The players’ palms sweated as Garrett broke in to Bafford’s manor, but now poor Garrett has to deal with the supernatural. Relaying such dread through atmosphere is done really well in Thief, which allows the player to identify all the more with Garrett.

            Little narrative pieces heighten the dread. A flickering light above a broken keypad for an elevator conveys the ruined nature of these mines. This elevator once would have served as a quick link to the light world of the factory above, but now it can’t be called, not to this level. The player will have to find another way up. A glance down the elevator shaft reveals the dim outline of a very large spider—the player certainly doesn't want to go down.

            Using Thief’s sometime awkward mantling maneuver, the player can make their way upwards to a higher level of the mines. The factory should be nearby—but for now, Garrett is still stuck in the mines. One of my favorite moments from Thief: The Dark Project lies on this level of the mines. The player may find a tucked-away Hammerite sanctuary, long in ruin, with benches, an altar, and some religious décor. In here, there are also a couple holy water fountains. Using these will give the player Holy Water Arrows for a brief time, which for now is the only sure way to destroy the undead. (Of course, this option is not always the best to take. For Garrett, sneaking is always better.)

The soft hum of the Holy Water fountains and the secluded nature of this sanctuary give the player a feeling of safety. This sanctuary is a respite from the creepy mines all around. As a kid first playing this game, and even today, I'll sometimes crouch in a corner of this sanctuary. I like feeling safe from the haunted horrors of the mines. But eventually, the objectives—or, specifically, the need to find my imprisoned fence—come calling, and it’s back into the fray.

Finally, the player sights a signpost that reads “Factory.” The way out of these creepy mines! But around a corner—a genuine jump moment—lies one last fright: a floating skeleton, that shoots its skull forward and falls apart as Garrett approaches.

Okay. Enough of these mines.

A few scattered zombie parts and faint noises of humans—living ones—humming and whistling give the player indications that civilization is nearby. Take a peak around a corner, and you'll see a stairway up. There are also some nice torches, lit ones. And at the base of the stairs are a couple of guys in some funny red, chainmail armor getup—and they’re carrying big sledge-hammers. Oh—these must be Hammerites! Their conversation gives the player a peek into their story and place in Thief’s world.

Up into the Factory, the player discovers a different world. Here the hum of machines, the clank of gears and levers, and the mumbling of Hammerites replace the haunted noises of below.

Something else the player, myself included, find out real fast is that it was much easier sneaking past zombies in the darkness of the mines than sneaking past Hammerites in this brightly-lit factory. These guys are alert, move fast, and have big hammers. Holy Water doesn’t work too well on them, either.

But persistence, good use of quick saves and quick loads, and a few Moss and Water arrows should have the player successfully transport Garrett through the factory and to the prison. In the prison, the player gets a mix of the other two sections: the prisons are still civilization, with lights and Hammerites, but throughout them echo the moans of starving prisoners. Hmm…I could go back to the zombie moans now, maybe.

But, I can’t—not yet, because I need to rescue Cutty. And, if I’m playing on Hard, I need to recover Freddie’s “hand of glory.” If I’m playing on Expert, I need to do both those things and rescue Basso the Boxman. I always play on Expert now, so, time to get to work!

The prison is divided into four cell blocks: cell blocks 1 and 2 on one side, and 3 and 4 on the other. On each side, a security hub with a Hammerite guard lies before the entrance to the cell blocks. Cells 3 and 4 must be 'higher maintenance’ because the security hub is more well lit. This drives me, and would likely drive any player, towards cell blocks 1 and 2, putting off cell blocks 3 and 4 for later. However, a conversation between two Hammerites indicates that Cutty is in cell block 4. Thankfully, a central room, that can only be accessed from within the cell blocks, gives the player an easier route to cell blocks 3 and 4. Given how many hundreds of playthroughs I creeped through the well-lit hub before finally discovering this easier route is one of many testaments to the fact that Thief always has new secrets to discover, even for a veteran player such as myself.

After some sneaking, some reading of who’s who in the cells, some knocking out of guards, and some flipping of levers, Garrett can nab Freddie’s hand of glory, pick up the unconscious body of Basso to carry back to the surface, and meet with Cutty. Unfortunately for Garrett, who is owed by Cutty, Cutty is dying. In his last, choked-out words, Cutty gives Garrett the only payment he can now—a tip. Turns out another prisoner here, named Felix, broke out of his cell. He had a map of some place called “the Bonehoard”, and in this Bonehoard lies a valuable treasure, the “Horn of Quintus.”

Okay—interesting. But the player now has another task. Cutty’s fallen down dead, so scratch him—it’s time to find Felix and his map.

From cell block 1, the player can access the Barracks. From here, the player can then access the higher offices. This is where, according to Cutty, the Hammerites had locked up Felix’s map in an ‘evidence vault’. But a perusal of the area and the reading of a journal lets players know that Felix was able to steal the map back out of the evidence vault. Oh well. The walk through the barracks and offices did give the players a chance to see some pretty décor and nab some more loot, though.

Felix was able to nab the contents of the Hammerites’ evidence locker, but he wasn’t able to make it out of the complex. The player finds his body, with the map of the Bonehoard beside it, in a secret area off from one of the security hubs. Discovering secrets like this is one of the great parts of Thief—in this case, the sound of running water alerts the player to there being an underground river. This sound is coming from the entrance to the secret area.

Once Garrett has the map, he must go back through the mines to leave. There are several transition areas between the Factory level and the haunted mines. This is another example of how Thief can scratch the exploring itch. Even on recent playthroughs, I discover a way to approach this mission that I hadn’t before. In this case, a running stream with a waterfall downwards, an elevator shaft, the stairs noted above, or a secret passage through a cavern will each connect the player back to the mines. These paths don’t all present themselves, and the player may only ever be aware of one. It’s always satisfying and fun to discover new passages.

“Cragscleft” is a great example of how to put two different worlds together, in this case the haunted mines and the Hammerite factory and prison complex. Both are blended together, and can be jumped to and from throughout the mission. Both have different atmospheres, and the ascent from the haunted mines into the factory, and then back, gives the player a sense of adventure.

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