|Retail & Digital|
|Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, PS3, Xbox 360|
Thief is the fourth game in the stealth series from Eidos. The Thief series has been around since 1998 and has prided itself on true first person stealth gameplay. The Thief games take place in an alternate Victorian era history with steampunk, gothic, and fantasy elements. You play as Garrett, a master thief in what is simply known as, “The City”. Garrett uses stealth, tactics, and his wit to steal, solve mysteries, and get out alive. The Thief series is a beloved cult classic that has been in hiding for quite some time. After brilliantly revitalizing the Dues Ex franchise, Edios Montreal is tasked with stealing Theif out of the clutches of video game irrelevance after a ten year hiatus. Do they get the job done? Or should this game have stayed in the shadows where it belongs?
In Garrett’s first contract in Thief he is paired up with his old apprentice Erin. She is a talented thief that tends to get herself into trouble with her aggressive and stubborn nature. During this introductory level you learn the basics of the gameplay in Thief. Garrett and Erin share many memories together but don’t get along too well, they argue and fight the whole way along, Erin even kills for fun which very much offends Garret, who says he kills only when he has to. At the end of this contract together something goes terribly erroneous and Erin is seemingly killed or lost. Garrett falls and loses consciousness and wakes up a year later. The city is in terrible shape, things have gone awfully wrong, a tyrant named The Baron has taken over, and Garrett is the city’s only hope. Garrett plays the hero who doesn’t want to be a hero role, and doesn’t do a great job. Thief has some strange supernatural elements that feel forced. There’s nothing wrong with having fantasy elements, Dishonered is a comparable game that does it well, but in Thief there’s little to no explanation as to what these elements are and why they exist. So instead of having interesting mystical thought provoking components, it’s just confusing and cheap. The story is for the most part predictable. It tries to throw in some twists and turns, and admittedly there were moments when I was intrigued. But as soon as I thought the story was about to surprise me, the “twists” would instead end up being exactly what I expected.
The stealth gameplay is where Thief excels. In many stealth games the best and most recommended action is to quietly take down one enemy at a time. In Thief you want to get in, steal, and get out without anyone even knowing you exist. And this can be extremely fun. Garrett uses the shadows as his biggest weapon. Successfully navigating each room, alleyway, city street is all about the timing in which you move from shadow to shadow. Garrett uses a blackjack to knock out guards when he needs to. He also uses a compact bow that can be used to destroy select pieces of the environment or a standard arrow to kill the guards in complete silence. The bow can also be upgraded with water arrows to burn out torches or fire arrows to light them back up. He can also pick up empty bottles to throw across the room to misdirect the confused guards. Each of these allows you to feel quite equipped to sneakily plot your course and execute your plan through each level. It’s entirely possible to play the entire game without killing a single enemy, which is actually an achievement in the game. The minute to minute stealth of the game is satisfying. You can climb up to higher places and pass by unseen. You can throw a bottle across the room to distract a guard, take down the second guard as he is distracted, and jump back behind the shadows before the guard even knows what’s happened. When you do get detected, the combat is awful. The only thing you can do is try to run away, but you will probably get hit with arrows from afar. You can try to use your blackjack in a clunky dodge and hit combat system but good luck taking on any more than one or two enemies. The combat could have been better, but really the game is designed to avoid confrontation. Most stealth games have guns and weapons, so you can just pull out and shoot some poor guard in the head. Thief seems more real and tactical, and it makes sense because Garrett technically isn’t some secret agent, he’s a thief. Expertly sneaking into a building, stealing the loot, and escaping in the shadows feels pretty awesome to accomplish. The AI in Thief is pretty stupid, but this is the case in the stealth genre, if you have smart AI than you can’t really be that stealthy successfully.
The missions are fun and offer some verity. Each level is thought out quite well, sometimes taking place in a mansion or sometimes in whole small sections of the city. There are a few areas of some levels that really seem unfair, as it feels almost impossible to move by unseen, but there’s always at least one way to sneak by. The game is at its best when it allows you to be creative and take any approach from any angle you want, and usually it does this very well. There’s a level that takes place in an insane asylum that is very eerie. There are also some surprising levels that I won’t spoil, but let’s just say the stealth involved is quite different than the typical missions. The story tries to motivate you through the campaign, but it does a lousy job. Luckily the gameplay itself does the task just fine.
The graphics in Thief are at some points very impressive, at other points not so much. The world of Thief is dark, gritty, gross, and ugly; there’s very little color and very little life. This is intentional; to help develop the miserable world. And remember the dark shadows are your best friend. But more color would have helped the games visuals. The lighting and shadows of the game aren’t the best I’ve ever seen, but they do look nice. One of the prettier levels the game is the House of the Blossoms. This is essentially an upscale whore house; with roses, curtains, candles, and gold plated walls. It is a shame more levels couldn’t have utilized a wider color scheme like this one did. The facial animations seem subpar. Thief is actually a good looking game. It’s sad because the game does a great job of creating an ugly, beat-down, sad, dark city. So it does its job quite well, it’s just that the city is too unattractive for its own good. The music in Thief is good, nothing to memorable but nothing bad either. It ramps up at important fast paced moments and gets quiet and slow when you are hiding in the shadows. It matches the tone of the dark stealth based tone of the game.
Speaking of which, let’s move onto the absolute worst part of Thief, The City. Along with looking ugly and sad, The City’s design is amounts the worst overworld I’ve ever seen in any game. It’s almost too bad to even explain. There are painful amounts of backtracking in Thief. And what seems like it would only take two or three minutes can sometimes take ten or fifteen to traverse. Instead of having a straight path or multiple paths to get from point A to point B, there are usually one or two very twisted and confusing paths. One path may ask you to sneak around a few guards, climb up a ladder, go through a window, wait thirty seconds for loading time, climb out the window, run on the rooftops, jump down a rope, and finally land back on the floor at your location. The biggest gripe with this is that it’s probably only ten feet away from where you started; it’s just that the game didn’t want you to be able to walk through that gate so instead it sent you on a ten minute relay race. There are literally a dozen examples of this and you can’t really get to any part of the city without going through one or two of these tortuous mazes. Another aspect of the city that is dreadful is the enemies. The guards are in very specific locations on the map, they never move. They also respawn within minutes if you do happen to kill them or knock them out. The problem is that Garrett’s resources are low, so you may take down a group of guards one moment, and then come back towards the same area a few moments later and be all out of bottles to throw, arrows to shoot, etc. And sometimes you are almost forced to attack them if you want to escape alive because of the layout of where the guards are posted. The map is also awful; the blueprint of the city doesn’t even make sense on paper. It doesn’t show you where to go to replay old missions and the icons for each location are confusing. The map layout is so poor that there were multiple times that I painfully trudged through the city for ten minutes only to find out that the location was on the OTHER side of the wall and I had taken the wrong path! So I was forced to backtrack through the horrifying streets, sobbing more with every furious disheartening step, until I finally took the correct path to where I needed to go. It’s hard enough to navigate the world when going from mission to mission. But even after you beat the game you may want to accomplish all the side objectives and investigate what the game has to offer. The city itself has small shops, extra side missions and contracts to accomplish, hidden items and loot, and so on. So there’s incentive to want to explore, but the design of the city is such a turn off that you will never want to come back. I myself wanted to 100% the achievements in the game, but I couldn’t stand the horrifying backtracking and tediousness of the city so I stopped before I really even got started. As soon as the main game is completed, you’ll never want to come back.
Thief in some ways is an agonizing game to play because there’s something really good here but it gets swallowed up by its shortcomings. The stealth aspects and the creativity it allows are truly rewarding. And the designs of the campaign’s levels, for the most part, truly bring out those strengths. But the story is uninspired and sloppy. The plot itself is at its best moments almost captivating, but at its worst moments predictable and boring. The baron is a poor villain who I don’t have any emotions towards. For a good villain you want to either truly hate him or sympathize with him, instead I just didn’t care. Garrett is one dimensional and dull. He is really only motivated by understanding the mystery around Erin. But for me as the player, I didn’t care about Erin at all because she is extremely obnoxious, self centered, and rude. And the remaining side characters in the game are worthless, even Garrett himself doesn’t seem to want to be bothered by their existence. Eidos Montreal created characters that are just so hard to care about. I would have liked the campaign better if they just gave me fun levels to sneak through to find the treasures and loot. And of course the aforementioned overworld is appalling, atrocious, and monotonous. If I scored the game on the overworld alone Thief would get the lowest score possible. Luckily that’s not the case, and even with the worst overworld ever and a lackluster story, the gameplay itself is designed well and it enjoyable. If Eidos Montreal wants to develop another game in this sneaky series of pickpocketing, blundering, and burglary, than that’s fine; because there’s a good game here. And I want it to be good. But a lot of work needs to be done for Thief, so until then please get back into the shadows and leave me alone.
1) Good level design and campaign structure
2) Creative sneaky stealth gameplay
3) Game feel and art design create strong tone
1) Uninteresting and predictable story
2) It’s hard to care about any of the characters
3) Perhaps the worst overworld in recent gaming history