Night-time city missions are not in short supply and atmospherically While the City Sleeps is one of the strongest. It is the third mission of T2X and the first time players take Zaya on a thieving run in the streets. She must infiltrate the Market District, under curfew, and snoop around her cousin Kedar’s shop for some info on the smugglers who killed him. Like The Trials that Shape Us, this nighttime escapade establishes T2X’s mood and style. The City’s guards do this more than anything else. The doofuses in the museum are outdone by the City Watch here – some of my favorite Thief NPC lines ever are in this mission. City Sleeps is small relative to other city missions but with tight design, excellent ambiance and funny guard lines, the small size is easily overlooked.
The first NPC dialogue you may hear is between a couple guards at the gate to the Market District. One of them wants some “coffees”. (This references a guard’s line from the original Thief II about having had too many coffees.) They deliberate over the matter and then stroll to the nearest coffee shop. While the guards are away you have an opportunity to enter the Market District via the front gate. There is plenty of time – the guards dither unusually long in front of the coffee shop as they realize, painfully, that it’s closed. I think the guards’ absence from the gate, being a ridiculously obvious opportunity to enter by it, was intended as humor by the designer, as if the guards were saying: “Sure hope no taffer tries to shoot that lever, enter in the code we just showed, and go in the front gate! Yep, sure hope that doesn’t happen as we walk away and spend longer than usual noticing a place is closed, nudge nudge.”
But there’s another way to enter the district besides this gate. You may go around to the area left of the gate and onto some roofs. Getting up onto a ledge above a body of water requires using an Ice Arrow, one of T2X’s unique weapons that’s activated by using an elemental catalyst. I have trouble getting on the icebergs created by these. Jumping onto the ice causes a loud noise but I can’t mantle onto it from in the water. This creates a dilemma each time I play – should I use ice arrows and, if so, should I burn a moss arrow on its surface to land quietly? Whether you struggle with the ice platforms or not, if you pay attention atop the roofs you may find a readable with some chat between the developers. It’s interesting stuff.
Once in the Market District you have wooden beams, ledges, open windows, locked doors, loot, and even a sewer system. It’s everything you could want in a city mission! You also have some great guards. As I noted above, their lines are some of my favorite. I’m glad the T2X developers made unique guards rather than just reuse the standard Thief II NPCs. There’s the redneck guy, the Scotch guy, the nerdy lady, and more. Some of my favorite lines are, “If I don’t get something to eat soon, I’m gonna lay down and die”, “I hope no one hears me talkin’ to meself” , “…I want a gold sword…a gold sword that smells like coffees”, and the glorious “I was standing here” monologue. Even the batty old Hammerite is humorous talking about his “failing eyes” (more on that when I cover A Question of Knowledge). The voice acting is marvelous. I love T2X for it.
There are scripted conversations in the Market District. One is between two thieves in a weapon-and-armor store. I like it but it leads to a pet peeve of mine with Thief: rogue AIs alerting guards and causing the guards to then pursue you. It’s a shortcoming of the game’s AI. Guards, I want to say, if you’ve just killed the two thieves who alerted you, don’t keep saying “I know you’re around here somewhere!” and so on. I didn’t do anything – stop looking for me!**
The Market District’s shops have some interesting names – you’ll want to read them – but you can’t enter every building no matter how tantalizing the sign. A locksmith’s shop is possible to enter, though, and inside you may find a key to the Market Square – where Kedar’s shop is – and one to the Hammerite Crafts Center. If you go to the Hammer place, from mold you may create a lever to open the gate to the Market Square. The central objective is Kedar’s shop, in a cozy attic room, where you learn more about the smugglers that Zaya is after, setting up the rest of the game.
City Sleeps is short for a city mission – I typically finish in an hour – but the strong content makes up for that. Once you have completed the other objectives, you exit the city via the rooftop area you may have come in at or by the sewers (I’ve never tried the front gate as an exit). The ambiance and hilarious NPC lines make this mission a great one.
* I recognize some voices here that were also in some of the great early FMs like Seventh Crystal or the recently discussed Gathering at the Inn.
On my most recent playthrough of City Sleeps I heard lines I had never heard before. This is because I kept playing some even after guards noticed me (whereas before I’d typically hit “quickload” as soon as I got noticed). One of my favorites: “The hourglass of your life just ran out of sand, lady!” I love these guys.
** There is a counter to my complaint. If you are a guard and see a thief and then kill this thief, you may stay on alert in case there is another one. But I don’t think this is why the AI in Thief act how they do in these situations. I think it’s an unfair bug. “These two taffers alerted the guards, now the guards are walking around looking for me – when I’ve been a perfect ghost?” And when other guards walk by they say “ah! Murder!” as if they don’t know it was one of their own who did the killing. These moments are one of the technical downsides to Thief along with guards ignoring doors and ropes. However, some fan missions enhance the AI and, otherwise, I’m happy to suspend my disbelief. This is a game and every game has bugs.