Platform: 360 / XBOne / PS3 / PS4 / PC (reviewed on 360)
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Release date: EU: February 28 2014 | US: February 25 2014
TL;DR: Stealth franchise reboot that sadly fails to impress.
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The original Thief: The Dark Project was one of the first games I was introduced to as a small, odd, child, and as such the series holds a special place in my heart. When the new Thief was announced way back in 2009, then stylised as Thi4f, I was mega excited, my hopes swelling like a cutpurse’s coffers. My hopes, dear reader, now lie dashed.
It’s not that I hate the new Thief. It’s not a monstrously bad game, and there are some shining moments of brilliance. It’s just that, for the most part, it’s boring, and given that entertainment is the minimum I demand from a video game it’s possibly one of the worst things a game can be.
Our titular protagonist Garrett (who isn’t the Garrett, master thief of the previous games) doesn’t help to spice things up. This is a different Garrett with a much less compelling voice actor, working the same city hundreds of years later. He does get a creepy new eye with magic powers as a result of a ritual, a tip of the hat to the original – which is a nice touch for fans of the franchise. After a year of unconsciousness following the aforesaid ritual he wakes up to find that his home has totally changed.
Thief’s unnamed city is ruled by a baron who is dead set on industrial progress coupled with crushing the poor under his well-heeled boot. It’s a vaguely steampunk-come-Victorian flavoured backdrop that’s atmospheric enough (and rendered almost entirely in shades of grey, as one would expect) but suffers heavily from having been released after Dishonored. The city is being ravaged by a mysterious plague called the Gloom, to the extent that disposing of the corpses of Weepers I mean ‘Gloomers’ is now an industry itself. You must flit through the shadows like darkness made flesh; disposing of guards silently and avoiding open combat to achieve your objectives and expose a sinister government… see what I mean? One of the missions is even set in a brothel. The cruellest part is that the stealth mechanics Dishonored used were mostly ones the first Thief games pioneered.
That said, Thief does at least still have the sneaking down pat, and there are a bunch of cool things that add a bit of genuine tension – such as birds in cages that cause a ruckus if you disturb their sleep. Avoiding the universally corrupt and brutal city watch is actually the easiest bit, because the A.I. is pretty shaky. They don’t deviate from patrol routes so it’s a synch getting around them, which you can usually do by walking six inches behind them when they look the other way. Plus, and this is a purely personal thing, they all hum the same tuneless thing over and over to telegraph their presence, and it’s really annoying.
The whole point of all the sneaking is, of course, to steal stuff – and there is a lot of stuff, so props there. On one mission I was reasonably sure I’d ransacked the entire house and it turned out I’d only hit 70%. Paintings and bookcases can all hide little secrets and collectibles, and it’s impressive. Aside from the main story missions, which are all to filch one particular crucial item, your fence Basso will give you optional side quests to, wait for it, steal even more things! These start off pretty fun, but in the end you’re basically doing the same task so it stops being worth even reading the quest description. I also started to feel guilty given that most of the shiny things you find lying around belong to the beleaguered poor. When you’ve just eavesdropped on a woman describing why she’s hidden her wedding ring from her drunken abusive husband, nicking it feels much less of a victimless crime.
It’s also tedious doing the side missions simply because of getting to them. The city map is frustrating, to say the least, and also pretty deceptive. When you look at it you assume you can run around willy-nilly on the rooftops to your heart’s content, but you’d be wrong. It’s confusingly separated by weird little crawlspaces that seem arbitrary in their placement, but all give you a load screen that you learn to hate the sight of. Even the more open plan mission set pieces, which give you a few different routes to choose, eventually funnel you into the same path. It’s a linear game masquerading as an open world – which is at least pretty sneaky, just not in a way that adds anything good to the game.
I do, however, like the levelling system, which tells you, after each stage, how your play style varied and gives you points based on that. I am apparently an Opportunist who likes to take advantage of the environment, but you could be a Ghost who is totally unseen, or a Predator who clubs everyone into unconsciousness. You also get the range of arrows familiar to Thief aficionados, including the moss arrow to mask the sound of your feet and, everyone’s favourite, the water arrow to put out torches. It’s nice to see them back. There are also little tools you can buy to increase your thievery – you can’t steal paintings without a razor to slice them right out of their frames, now can you?
Alas, despite some brilliant set pieces – there’s a great one early on set in a factory that’s been repurposed to dispose of corpses – and an antagonist who bears more than a passing resemblance to a balding Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood, which is amazing. Thief is ultimately a major disappointment to me. The plot is unoriginal, the protagonist uncharismatic and the mechanics mostly uninspiring, and it’s made all the worse because I so wanted to enjoy it. It seems that in trying to broaden the appeal Eidos have lost a lot of what I loved, and it’s a shame.
Looks shiny and valuable!
- Some really nice set-piece missions
- Plenty of hidden content to find
- Cool levelling/play assessment system
Turns out it ain’t worth much
- Upsettingly unoriginal
- Worst map ever
- A.I. is also pretty much the worst ever
Thief has a PEGI 16 rating, and it’s not for kiddlywinks. It’s not too terrible overall but there are definitely certain scenes to earn the rating, plus some fruity language here and there.