Thief fans can puzzle over which of the original titles is better: Thief: The Dark Project or Thief II: The Metal Age. One quandary is each game’s atmosphere: TDP‘s got a darker, more surreal and medieval vibe, and TMA‘s got a more industrial, Victorian, and art deco vibe. The games’ contrasting styles are represented well in the Thief universe’s major religious groups, the Hammerites and the Mechanists.
This is part of a continuous series. Read more about Dark Narrative here.
In the Thief II mission Eavesdropping, Garrett journeys to a Mechanist seminary to overhear a meeting between Karras, the Mechanists’ leader, and Gorman Truart, the corrupt sheriff of the City. This Eastport seminary is built onto an older Hammerite church. The level’s structure displays Thief II’s central theme: the new Mechanist era replacing the older Hammerite era. The outdated Hammerite imagery, relics, and catacombs hearken to the mood and atmosphere of The Dark Project, while the art deco and radiant Mechanist décor hail a new era, The Metal Age.
In the briefing, Garrett considers using the crypt as a method of entry into the seminary. “I’d rather not tread where the dead sleep,” he, nonetheless, mutters. This is so unlike Dark Project’s Garrett who romped with the dead in at least four missions in that game. Now Garrett has moved on; really, you don’t want to walk among the dead, Garrett? I remember a time when you thrived on it. Just like the City has abandoned the Hammerites and the game series has abandoned otherworldly and undead levels, Garrett has abandoned his grave-robbing days. The world of Thief has left the old days of the Bonehoard behind. Now, it’s all about the Mechanists.
The zealous, technophile Mechanists believe in constructions and inventions far beyond what the Hammerites envisioned. They build robotic creatures and other machinery that the Hammerites would consider blasphemous. Taking their techno-fanaticism further, the Mechanists also hold a special hatred of all things nature, much more extreme than the Hammerites. They refer to greenery with derision in their speech: “Hast thou been stuffing leaves in thine ears?”, “It’s a memory of leaves flapping, and nothing more,” and “T’was surely just moss in mine eye,” are some of the phrases you’ll hear them say. Their disdain for greenery extends to disdain for flesh: “Flesh putrifies, it is sinful, unclean, but I am a child of metal,” their security robots will recite. Mechanists believe that their man-made creations are pure and bring glory to the Master Builder, and that nature and flesh is corrupt.
The Mechanist security robots, or “Children of Karras,” serve the gameplay function of a security robot, but their meaning in the game goes far deeper. Each recites pre-recorded lines of Karras speaking, and they look frightening. Two Mechanists in the mission speak on this subject. “I wish the Children of Karras were not so…frightening in their appearance,” says one. “[T]heir visage is wrought to strike terror into the enemies of Karras,” the other responds. Garrett saw some peaks of these robots at the docks. As one stomps around the seminary, you now get a look at one in action. From this mission on, these robots will be a new AI that Garrett must sneak by. They are Thief II’s equivalent undead enemies, a frightening creation of metal and technology.
If you go straight into the seminary, the Mechanist style and vibe is communicated to you clearly and effectively. In the main sanctuary, metal planks make up most of the floor. Bright lights line the walls and the pulpit. A large angel statue looks over the room. Elongated metal guitar riffs play in the audio ambiance. This makes the Mechanist interior art style very different from the Hammerite’s, which was more traditional, with stone and wood, and chants and choir voices in the audio.
Vestiges of the Hammerite church remain. You see old Hammerite stained glass windows, pick up old Hammerite loot, and can even venture into the old Hammerite crypt that was referenced in the briefing. Hammer Haunts patrol that area, and their rattling chains and whispered voices offer a dichotomy laden with nostalgia. These Hammer Haunts take you back to the world of the first Thief, specifically to that game’s quest to retrieve the Eye from the haunted cathedral. This nostalgic journey is juxtaposed with the bright lights, art deco and guitar riffs of the Mechanist seminary above. In this way, Eavesdropping highlights the stark contrast in atmosphere between The Dark Project and The Metal Age. It is the epitome of fans differing views on the two games: if you never want to leave the crypt, you like the original more. If you remain up in the seminary, you prefer Thief II (or are scared of Haunts). Me? I like both, and love every inch of Eavesdropping.
Elsewhere the mission tells you more about the Mechanists. You see a glimpse of their dark designs for the City in a small chamber where some kind of experiments are being done on bodies; whether dead or unconscious bodies, you don’t know. You read a note detailing gifts from aristocratic patrons. One noble who sent them potted plants will receive nothing in return.
You most clearly understand that the Mechanists are up to evil while you fulfill the primary objective of the mission: listening to the conversation between Karras and Sheriff Truart. During this, Karras demonstrates a device that disintegrates people into a rust-like substance. He then makes a deal with the Sheriff to receive subjects for a “servant program.” Something evil’s going on, for sure, but what exactly Karras and the Mechanists could be up to is not given away so early in the game.
The Mechanists overarching scheme isn’t the point of Eavesdropping, anyway. The crux of the level is the difference between the seminary and the crypt. It buries the past and establishes the future. For Thief II, the world of magic and undead is over. Leave the dusty crypts and undead AI back in the first Thief. Now the City is a world of mechanics, robots, and a lighter art deco flair. It belongs to the Mechanists, and it is among these and their cronies that Garrett will be sneaking in this game, not with the dead and otherworldly spirits.