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Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part 7 – Institutional Lies


Don’t mention the Cradle, don’t mention the Cradle, don’t mention the… dammit.


Shrouded in a thick fog, the horrific events inside the Moira Asylum are concealed from view. The isolated island containing the institution is accessible only by water, and is therefore one of the few locations that benefits from the hard transition between it and the City. By its very nature, it stands disconnected and apart.

Rowed ashore by Basso, you take a path inland which quickly takes you out of sight of the docks where he left you and up to the front gate. With the gate locked, you will need to climb the wall and drop over it in a one-way manoeuvre. The doors to the asylum are locked and boarded over when you approach, though exploring the small area of grounds between the gate and the building will cause the doors to open with a sudden bang.

Though your perspective remains in first-person for the entirety of this level, the camera is granted a rare freedom to rotate along its axis as you move, giving the exploration of the Moira Asylum a Dutch tilt that enhances its uneasy dreamlike quality.

Comparisons to the Shalebridge Cradle are rife throughout, though the basement door that you used there is sealed shut exploring this side of the building will cause the main doors to open behind you.

Comparisons to the Shalebridge Cradle are rife throughout. Though the basement door that you used there is sealed shut, exploring this side of the building will cause the main doors to open behind you.

Built to a symmetrical layout, the asylum’s two wings have been converted into wards for the male and female patients, while the central span houses administrative facilities. The women’s ward is where you will find the information you are after regarding the fate of Erin. Sealed by one of the Baron’s locks with a key to be found in the men’s ward, the entrance to the women’s ward is only the second door in the entire game that actually requires a key.

Obtaining the key from the men’s ward will initiate the arrival of an invisible creature known as the Night Warden

Though this first section is initially empty of anything that can cause you direct harm, obtaining the key from the men’s ward will initiate the arrival of an invisible creature known as the Night Warden. Patrolling around the cells of the men’s ward, the Warden will attack if you get too close. If caught, you will sustain damage and blackout briefly. The creature will then dissipate for a short period, allowing you to escape.

A vent between the wards opens into the women’s shower room which connects to the dining hall, and through that to the women’s ward itself. By going this way, you can bypass the men’s ward entirely.

Writ large across the environment in blood stains and other signs of turmoil the first section doesn’t play up the conceit that this was until very recently a functioning asylum; the destructive events that occurred could easily have been years ago.

With turmoil writ large across the environment in blood stains and overturned furniture, the first section doesn’t play up the idea that this was, until very recently, a functioning asylum; the destructive events that occurred could easily have been years ago.

A soft transition takes you into the Treatment Centre, where some of the patients are “still alive”. Reaching the room in which Erin was experimented upon will require restoring power so you can unlock the doors on this floor. It’s another moment that recalls the journey into the Shalebridge Cradle from Thief: Deadly Shadows. In what is clearly a design conceit rather than a logical procedure for such a facility, the doors cannot be unlocked individually; you will need to unlock all of them at once, allowing the inhabitants to escape.

Reaching the chair within Experimental Treatment where Erin was confined triggers a cutscene and the need to explore deeper into the complex. You can either use the lift to descend to the prison level or climb through the vents, accessible from the Hydrotherapy Chamber. Whichever route you choose, you’ll find yourself in the same room at the entrance to the Old Prison. The Treatment Centre and the Old Prison are the only sections of Chapter 5 to feature an active force of antagonism. They are also smaller spatially and feature fewer scripted interactions than the previous sections.

The Old Prison below the Moria Asylum is much more claustrophobic, with walls of old brickwork and metal. There are few working lights but many growths of bioluminescent poppies clinging to the walls.

The Old Prison below the Moira Asylum is much more claustrophobic, with walls of metal and crumbling brick. There are few working lights, but many growths of bioluminescent poppies clinging to the walls.

The Old Prison is a single large room build across two levels, with Freaks (Thief’s vernacular for the asylum’s inmates) patrolling throughout. The cells lining the walls exist as doors, only with no actual rooms behind them. Blind and sensitive to light (though this information is conveyed in an easily-missable voiceover from Garrett), the Freaks stumble back and forth along patrol routes that are just as rigid as those of the guards you will have encountered in other levels. Movement presents the greatest risk of exposure; if you stay still, you can avoid detection even in situations where human NPCs would detect you.

Noise is the other means by which the Freaks can locate you. This is reinforced by the broken glass strewn across the floor and jars arranged against the walls. If you can avoid breaking them accidentally, you can instead use the noise caused by smashing the jars to distract the Freaks. Fire is your only method of hurting the Freaks, and if you don’t have enough Fire or Blast Arrows to deal with them directly, the pools of oil can be used tactically to kill several at once, provided you can lure them into the right position.

The Shadow of Shalebridge

The Moira Asylum is not the Shalebridge Cradle, though it evokes it so often as to invite comparison; much as the Cradle recalled Thief: The Dark Project’s Return to the Haunted Cathedral. Where the scares in the Moria Asylum come from scripted moments of creepiness, mannequins moving on their own, or a creature appearing momentarily in your peripheral vision, those found within the Cradle were frequently of a less-direct nature.

The Cradle was distressing and tense not simply because of its aesthetics, but also the way it turned your own agency against you. Rooms were foreshadowed as terrifying only for the level to then create situations where your only course of action was to visit those very rooms. Our minds will always create fears greater than any scripted scare can offer, and it’s this anticipation that lies at the heart of the Cradle’s terrifying power. By hinting at something unpleasant before you ever had to experience it, your mind was given the time needed to magnify that fear to the point where it become the most terrifying thing imaginable. The Cradle gave you the rope and let you hang yourself.

In contrast your visit to the Moira Asylum progresses from one section to another in a sequence that limits backtracking and means your first encounter with a space is when you are already engaging with it. There’s no time for it to gain a reputation within your own imagination. Because of this, Thief has to rely on more directed scares to create its sense of tension.

A soft transition at the far end of the Old Prison leads into a narrow corridor lined with solid metal doors. You will need to pull the switches on the wall to open the gates ahead of you. Doing so causes them to grind slowly open, rousing the inhabitants of the cells, provoking them to lunge toward you, clawing and grasping. Before you can reach the end of the corridor, the Freaks drag you backward in a scripted encounter and you lapse into the world of the Primal.

Following Erin’s trail inside the altered reality of the Primal, it is revealed that your next source of information is Baron Northcrest himself. With that information conveyed, you are abruptly deposited outside.

Your journey is rife with unsettling set pieces and jump scares pulled from the first-person horror playbook

The Moira Asylum is not a pleasant place. Even before the arrival of Erin and the corrupting influence of the Primal, it’s clear the welfare of its inhabitants wasn’t the primary concern of those responsible for its day-to-day operations. Your journey through its wards into the the Old Prison is rife with unsettling set pieces and jump scares pulled from the first-person horror playbook; mannequins that move when you’re not looking, and ghostly apparitions are half-glimpsed out of corner of your eye. It’s all a little cliché.

Foreshadowed several times in the hours that precede your arrival, the exploration of the Moira Asylum is a format breaker. Featuring the largest location in terms of floor space, with the most documents to find, the focus of this chapter is on exploration of a hostile and foreboding environment. Its nature as a palate cleanser before the finale is undercut by having to spend large portions of the last two chapters exploring similarly empty and unwelcoming locations.


This post is part of Deep in the Shadows: A Thief Design Analysis series. Click below for the next instalment.

thief design analysis part 8

Or, you can click below to return to the Deep in the Shadows contents hub to find links to every part of our analysis.

thief design analysis contents

Justin Keverne

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Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part 8 – The Fall of Northcrest
Garrett returns to Northcrest Manor in a Thief mission that shows glimmers of good spatial design.
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Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part 6 – Architect of His Own Demise
Garrett finds his way into the Baron's stronghold in the most confusing and illogical Thief chapter yet.
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Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part 5 – The House of Secrets
Our level design analysis continues as Garrett's thieving sensibilities find him in The City's red light district.
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Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part 4 – You Can’t Take it With You
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Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part 3 – A Tale of Two Masks
Our level design-specific analysis of the Thief reboot begins with a look at the Jewellers and road to the clocktower in Chapter 1: Lockdown.
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Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Conclusion
Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part
Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part
Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part
Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part
Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part
Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part
Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part
Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part
Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part

2 Responses to Deep in the Shadows: Thief Design Analysis Part 7 – Institutional Lies

  1. By Still, July 30, 2014 at 11:11 am

    FYI The link to the next part is broken.

    • By Daniel Hindes, July 30, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      Both fixed – thank you!

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