Entry #5: Insurrection (Thief II, 2005), by HipBreaker

HipBreaker’s third FM offering was Insurrection, an undead-apocalypse mission with a cityscape and a manor. Immersive ambient noises and a few areas of appealing visual design are pluses, but the mission falls short of greatness because of a quasi-straight path design with unenjoyable backtracking.

Insurretion is a fair mission, somewhere in the good-not-great category. I first played it on a school-day evening when I needed a good FM fix. Insurrection fit the bill and it’s been one of my “cult classics” since, despite the half-and-half design.

You begin in a sequestered area of the City with a gloomy ambient noise playing. There’s a quarantine going on, and the undead are rising and spreading an infection. It isn’t clear whether people become zombies or not. All you know is that the buried dead are rising and a Lord Krauft has an antidote for when people are bitten by them. The objective is Lord Krauft’s manor and the antidote. Being a thief who needs healthy citizens to rob from, you want to steal this antidote and be able to sell it. Krauft only sells to the highest bidder.

Insurrection screenshot, Thief Diaries - drunk guard

Ghosting is difficult on Expert mode. Design is tight and guards patrol so that breaks to sneak by are small. One drunk guard near the start offers an easy blackjack, if you don’t mind doing that. From there you may veer to one of two other areas in the City. The one to the right offers a couple buildings with loot and readables. In one of these buildings you’ll discover a man gone inside from the Armageddon around him.

The other city area offers a couple more buildings without much in them, so you’ll want to head down the sewer drain which connects to Krauft’s manor. When in the sewers, you may walk up into a graveyard, though it is infested with undead. On the way to Krauft’s you’ll run into undead regardless, as the sewer has a group of zombies nigh-impossible to sneak by. Once up out of the sewers, you’ll be in the backyard to Krauft’s manor and may enter by way of a chapel window. The chapel has appropriate ambiance: it feels like a sacred place where one might seek hope amidst the growing darkness of the undead uprising.

Out of the chapel you enter the manor proper. A nice little tune plays, very fitting for a manor house, like some melody lifted straight out of another game set in a world of lords and castles. However, this little tune may sour as the rest of Krauft’s manor gets frustrating. Like the cityscape, the place is tight and well-lit. You have to pull off some Houdini stunts to ghost it, especially in a dining area where a servant NPC sits at a table and a guard strolls nearby. Either one of these NPCs always caught me – I gave up ghosting and pulled out the blackjack. Even still, I encountered a bug whereby two guards would spawn in this area out of nowhere, one of them on alert. I think it only happened after I picked up one of the golden candlesticks. Regardless, I’ll chalk it up to NewDark, as I don’t remember this occurring on previous playthroughs.

That wasn’t the only unfair bug I encountered. When I first entered the manor’s music room, the guards inside were on alert and searching. I think they had been alerted by the harp on stage that an NPC had been playing. Even the NPC playing the harp was on alert! After reloading an earlier save, though, they were all at ease, and the NPC was playing the harp like normal. I’ll blame NewDark again – I don’t remember this happening before either.

Insurrection screenshot, Thief Diaries - manor, Mech statue

The design of Krauft’s manor is like a straight path. You progress from one point to another, without many directions to choose from. It doesn’t feel like a large house the way the estates in Ominous Bequest or Rowena’s Curse do. There aren’t multiple, circuitous paths around the house. You’ve got a straight path from the chapel to Krauft’s bedroom, with only a few side areas to veer into on the way.

This straight-path design can work. Deceptive Perception 2 is designed such but the nature of that mission, an episodic tale that gets weirder as it goes, complements the design. Insurrection has a city-manor setup and no tall tale told at a bar. When you backtrack through the manor, the straight-path design is emphasized as you pass the same doorways and hallways all over again – the same manor, the same chapel, and the same sewers you just went through, with no alternate paths available, only facing a different direction. It’s frustrating, but does allow for one memorable jump scare – the scarecrow you see just outside the dining area has more than meets the eye.

Insurrection screenshot, Thief Diaries - scarecrow

The reason you backtrack is to get inside an observatory in the city area you started in. In the observatory is the demon overlord responsible for all the undead madness, whom Krauft knew about but kept quiet on so he could keep selling his antidote. Forget ghosting – pull out the Holy Water arrows and flashbombs and go to town on the demon overlord for any chance of completing the mission. Odds are you’ll need to blackjack the guard at the front of the observatory, too, because of a haunt inside the entryway, though with perfect timing you may slip by the guard and not be seen by the haunt.*

Insurrection isn’t a bad FM. I like its atmosphere and it has some nice secret areas. One of them has an NPC fall out, dead, from within once you open it – quite dramatic. In another darkened area of the manor a guard patrols with a lantern, a nice touch, and you may see a zombie walking by through a window, adding to the atmosphere of this manor being the last bastion amidst an undead uprising. But the level design is lacking. Going back and forth on a straight path isn’t effective Thief mission design.** If Insurrection was open-ended, the tight design, bright lights, and plentiful AI may have been enjoyable, but as is such difficulty is only frustrating because it’s married to weak design.

I’ve always had a soft spot for this mission, regardless. It gave me a much-needed FM fix back in the day and has remained in my rotation since. Check it out for a fair undead-apocalypse with city-and-manor fix. You’ll enjoy the ambient noises along the way.

*There’s another bug I experienced on my most recent playthrough that I don’t remember from before. Once you kill the overlord, his corpse starts appearing throughout each area of the mission as you go back through it.

**Again, I recognize there are some exceptions. I noted Deceptive Perception 2 and another is The Vigil. But neither of these required backtracking like Insurrection does.

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