Published on March 7th, 2014 | by Joseph Saulnier0
Garrett the master thief is back, but he’s suffering from the most fashionable of videogame hero
ailments: amnesia. Thief begins with Garret and his impatient going on a mission that leads them to
breaking in, literally, to a mysterious ceremony being performed by Baron Northcrest. Following this,
Garrett wakes up in a cart that is being wheeled back to the City, and finds out that he has been missing
for a whole year.
Little does Garrett know, but it’s actually been 10 years since his last outing. Eidos Montreal was
handed the considerable task of taking one of the most influential titles in the history of stealth gaming
and trying to create a laudable follow-up. Was it too much for them to handle? Possibly.
These days it feels like most stealth games seem to offer stealth as an option, rather than a
necessity, leaving players with plenty of room to charge in, shoot everyone in the head, and then
get a pat on the back with XP. Thief is no exception, but it has its own version of this classifying
players ‘Predator’, ‘Opportunist’ or ‘Ghost’ depending on what type of stealth approach is taken (very
similar to Splinter Cell: Blacklist). The difference here is that in Thief, stealth is really the only approach.
Try to face more than one guard at a time and you will probably be killed before they even break a
Even when performing silent, stealthy takedowns, there is a sense that the game is silently mocking the
player for not figuring out a way to sneak around the clueless enemy. While other areas of Thief might
be weak, the stealth is really where it shines: gently discouraging the player from taking the easy route
of causing blunt-force trauma to unsuspecting enemies by offering tempting underground paths or
routes through rafters. Even the darkness seems to be alive, with slices of shadow shifting and moving
as guards walk past with lit torches, allowing Garrett to move with them. The enemy lines of sight are
meticulously crafted, so that instead of waiting for a guard to turn his back completely, it is possible to
just wait for him to glance away before ‘swooping’ from one shadow to the next.
The mechanics of the gameplay feel extremely solid and polished. Though it was weird at first playing
with a keyboard and mouse, shifting to a controller quickly made me feel comfortable with it again, and
it really helps in parts where you need to creep slowly. Garrett moves with fluidity and grace, especially
when the controller is employed. It definitely feels like inhabiting the body of a thief, especially when
Garrett runs his slender fingers over a bookcase or painting in search of a hidden switch, or when he
silently slices a valuable painting out of its frame using a razor. Moving through environments though,
requires both patience and attention to detail. Try rushing past a dog or bird cage. You’ll see that this
can instantaneously break Garrett’s cover.
The City has its own unique style, and that style is dilapidated, seedy, grimy and gloomy. It’s more or
less what you’d expect from a city beleaguered by poverty and plague. Unfortunately, the similitude of
the streets can quickly get you lost. This problem is not helped by the in-game map, which is basically a
useless mess of rectangles without the ability to set custom way-points. Even this might not have been
too much of a problem if the City’s level design was a bit more friendly, but around every corner is a
dead end or a loading screen just waiting for you.
Speaking of loading screens, they are probably the biggest thing that makes exploration a headache.
Eidos Montreal’s first project was Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but the world that’s been created here
feels more like Deus Ex: Invisible War. The City is segmented into a throng of small districts and there is
a loading screen between each and every one of them. Sometimes the loading screen is hidden behind
small cut scenes, like looking through a window. So instead of breaking into a house, the player is
unknowingly transported to another part of the City entirely. The constancy of loading screens quickly
grew irritating on a high-spec PC where they lasted only a few seconds, so on a less powerful machine
they could be enough to drive someone mad.
Also, the developers apparently sunk the whole of their character design budget into Garrett, so the
rest of the City is padded out with cut-rate clones. At several points it’s possible to find the exact same
vagabond sitting next to himself, both men reaching out in the same manner, with interchangeable
expressions on their indistinguishable faces. *Shudder*
Story line is a very important factor in today’s gaming world, especially for single-player only games.
While there is some good writing in Thief, it’s not found anywhere in the main arc. The plot feels like
it was fudged together from whatever was table scraps were left at the bottom of a cliché bargain
bin. Reluctant protagonist? Check! Maguffin? Yep! Damsel in distress? Sure! Wealthy oppressor and
plumpish schtick-spewing friend? They’re there too!
At one point, a character actually says: “We’re not so different, you and I.” Of course many may not
here what comes next thanks to the sound of their over-zealous face-palm. The story is essentially
a garbage bag full of disposable fluff to keep Garrett – who has been encumbered with the standard
male video game hero personality (derisive and slightly annoyed) and a generic gruff voice to match it –
shuttling along from one location to the next.
Upon arriving at said locations, Thief does actually begin to pick up… moderately. The levels are (mostly)
well-designed with plenty of loot for the taking and various points of emergence to the buildings
that need to be infiltrated. There is the necessitated “scary” mission: the Moira Asylum, which is a
noticeable rip-off of a previous installment in the Thief series, but not executed quite as well. Despite
this, it is the most memorable mission in the game thanks to an efficiently crafted, and genuinely
creepy, dream sequence.
Another of Thief’s strengths is the amount of customization available to the player. Garrett’s running
commentary can be switched off if it gets to be too grating. “Hey! To solve this puzzle I need to press
both buttons within a certain time limit! Did you get that?” This can be quite draining to listen to.
Additionally, waypoints, the Focus ability, enemies’ alert cues and many other game mechanics that the
die-hard players might find add too much hand-holding to the experience. The reward for making the
game more difficult to play is extra points. Impressive?
Thief is definitely a game that’s worth playing, I just don’t think it’s worth it at the current price-point. I
would recommend it once the price drops to that $40 level because the stealth gameplay really is great,
and with pure stealth games becoming such a rarity, it’s pleasing to find a game that really tries to bring
the art of thieving to life; despite its many, many, many flaws.
Thief is available now for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
2.5 stars out of 5