Back in 1998, Eidos released Thief: The Dark Project as a massive “up your ziggy with a wahwah brush” to the entire first person shooter genre. As you probably already know (but which, for the sake of narrative flow in a review, I’m going to tell you again), the game eschewed the “3 guns a-blazing, 2 foes a-dying, and a partridge in a pear tree” style of FPS that was made popular by Doom, Hexen, Quake, and Unreal. Instead, it opted for a “tread softly and carry a big bag for loot” approach. First person stealth! How novel! And of course, the game was an instant success. So now in 2014, we have the highly-anticipated reboot of the game, simply titled “Thief”. Let’s open the bag of loot and see what we’ve absconded with.Thief has you playing the part of a light-fingered master thief named Garrett. Set in a dark, steampunk area called “The City”, Thief has you slinking through the shadows, avoiding conflict, and in general being a general nuisance to the well off. The general story is that, after a crazy mishap that takes place in the game’s tutorial level, the entire City is under lockdown by its nefarious Baron, in an effort to contain an affliction called “The Gloom”. Naturally, it’s up to Garrett to save The City, but what matters if a little profit is made on the side? Right? Honestly, this description of the plot is incredibly vague to prevent spoilers, so if you want to know more, you’re going to have to play the game.
In truth, this review can go two ways, and it all depends on whether you’ve played the older game or whether you’re experiencing this with new eyes.
For those who have played the original game:
Sorry. It’s not the same old Garrett. Heck, it’s not even the same studio and developers, really. You’re probably going to be severely disappointed in the game due to the Rosy Spectacles of Nostalgia. That’s it. Review over. Move on.
For those who have not played the original game:
In short, Thief is a first person stealth game that ideally has you playing in the shadows and avoiding conflict while stealing as much stuff as you can get your grubby hands on, and also progressing through the story. The City itself is the game’s large hub from which you can upgrade Garrett, take on the main mission or side missions, or just explore for laughs.
Graphically, the City is wonderfully dark, moody, and claustrophobic in a gaslight-and-steamworks way. What is a huge pity is that it doesn’t play the same way it feels. While Garrett can theoretically pop into any household and steal things, the reality is that there are very few places to actually do any slinking. Furthermore, while at times Garrett is as agile as Ezio, and while certain points of the game feels incredibly Assassin’s Creed-ish, it becomes painfully obvious early on that you are incredibly restricted in the kinds of walls you can climb, roofs you can trundle across, and doors you can open. For example, from the City square, you have to go north to chat to the person who allows you to level up. In the way is a massive door. Can you overcome this door in any way to just get there? Of course not—you have to pass through two side areas and therefore two loading screens just to get there. And that’s as long as you have been managing to avoid the guards on the way. In fact, just getting from mission to mission is an arduous exercise. If you’ve not figured it out by now, this is a game that you HAVE to play with patience.
The missions themselves are a lot more fun than the hub, since there’s actually a goal in mind here. The game rewards how you play, whether as a shadow who avoided all conflict, or someone who shambled through the level, knocking out guards willy-nilly. Furthermore, the side missions that open up are dependent on how you play the main missions. Are you stealthy like a panther on the hunt? You’ll get a lot of stealth-based side missions. Did you bludgeon your way through the level? Awesome. Here’s some more bludgeoning that needs doing. You can always replay a mission to unlock the other modes or pick up any loot that you missed, and trust me, you likely won’t find everything on the first go-around.
I found myself quite disappointed with the voicework. The City has a delightfully dark “London steampunk” feel to it, so to hear American accents threw me off, especially from Garrett himself. On the other hand, you’ll often hear guards and citizens chatting among themselves, and some of the conversations are so incredibly odd that you just have to stop and eavesdrop for a while. You’ll leave the area thinking “what did I just overhear?” Don’t believe me? Here…watch this short clip from early in the game. No spoilers, I promise. But incredibly NSFW if you’re not wearing headphones.
On the other hand, regarding conversations, you’ll soon have heard just about every random snippet after a short while, because there simply isn’t enough recorded conversation around to keep things unique.
Aside from the main story, there are also a series of challenge modes, which I personally found far more appealing than the story mode. Most of them involve some variation of sneaking around a given area and picking up as much loot as you can before the timer expires. There are leaderboards for the challenge modes too, so you can see how well your friends have done comparatively. It’s brilliant: no mess, just sneak around in the shadows and steal things while avoiding guards. They could have released the challenge modes as a standalone game and I’d have been incredibly happy.
Thief is currently getting a lot of bad press, mainly from the group of people who played the original series. I admit, the original game was vastly superior in terms of gameplay, story, and character development. Put all that aside, though, and you’ve got a fairly fun game to play that doesn’t require you to go all BFG-9000 on everyone. The story and setting don’t always make sense (for example, if the entire City is as poor as we’re led to believe, why on earth is all this random LOOT just lying around?), but the gameplay is still reasonably solid. True, you don’t HAVE to rely on skill and stealth to make it through the game, but it’s far simpler than stampeding through. And one of the best moves in the game is something you get from the start: it’s call the Swoop, and simply put, it’s Garrett doing a Batman and…well…swooping from shadow to shadow.
The problem with Thief is that nowadays, it simply isn’t the best that stealth games can offer anymore. For example, Assassin’s Creed has a far superior jumping-climbing-swinging mechanic, and the Assassins feel more natural and lithe than Garrett. Batman’s enemy AI has enemies panicking when their allies start disappearing, and Thief’s AI just doesn’t take this sort of thing into account. If a random guard goes missing, his fellows don’t bat an eyelid. Step on a single shard of glass, however, and they’re over you faster than prison inmates over someone who just dropped the soap. It’s not a bad game by any stretch, and the environments are certainly gorgeous. But it’s a game whose pitfalls and shortcomings will definitely be felt.
Final Score: 7 sticky-fingered prawns out of 10
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), PS4, Xbox360, PC
Age Rating: 18