If dashing from shadow to shadow, utilizing over-dignified water balloons to blow out torches and outsmarting Taffers to appease your virtual kleptomania is not how you’d like to spend your day, do save yourself some time and move on from this review and ignore the Thief reboot.
As the title might suggest to those familiar with the English language and not suffering any brain injuries, Thief is a game all about stealing things. While most of the stuff that Garret pockets is cutlery and writing equipment, the reason he is called the “Master Thief” is due to the fact that he can singlehandedly infiltrate a bank vault and leave no trace behind other than the evident absence of ‘shinies.’
Thief (PC [Reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)
Developer: Eidos Montreal, Nixxes Software
Publisher: Square Enix
Release: February 25, 2014
Thief’s main focus is on stealth, and by main, I mean only. The game cleverly pushes players to do their best to avoid detection by supplying them with very few combat-centered abilities, as Garret prides himself on (almost) never killing or hurting anyone, which is a good thing considering that combat is not very fleshed out. Garrett only has a blackjack and a relatively slow-loading bow to assist him in taking down hostiles, which makes it very hard to take on multiple assailants. While there are upgrades available to improve one’s combat effectiveness, they take away from the core-concept of the game, as quickly being able to take down all guards makes for a very boring stealth game.
By trying to cater to the casual audience, Thief can be easily played through by killing and knocking everyone out. The fact that it can be played by a 5-year-old does not mean it can’t be a challenge for a stealth fan. Not only does the game’s difficulty see a significant bump from normal to hard, but there are almost two dozen restrictions that one can activate, from increased grocery prices to instant mission failure upon detection, taking damage or killing someone. You can even go the insane route and have your entire game save wiped upon mission failure.
The original Thief trilogy was genre-defining due to the massive level sizes and dozens of possible routes of approach, with its. While its open level design certainly made for very unique and interesting experiences, it lacked the polish of other stealth games, such as Splinter Cell or Metal Gear, due to the inherent nature of its levels. If one cannot stomach the idea of a Thief game having some sort of predetermined progression route, then perhaps they should ignore this installment, but fans of both schools of stealth games will can still find a lot of enjoyment out of this reboot.
While on the topic of change, it’s impossible not to mention the utilization of rope arrows. Specialty arrows, such as water, flame or moss, have been a trademark of Thief throughout the life of the series. With the addition of new arrows, the versatility of rope arrows has been diminished. Unfortunately, they can no longer be used to make paths wherever the player pleases and can now only be shot into very specific spots. While one could complain about the further reduction of freedom, another could see that this was done because the levels now include more variation in terms of terrain and are structured very differently, making the previous rope arrows harder to design for, which would ultimately result in the delivering of unstructured levels.
Most of the time looking for collectibles is the most boring part, but that could never be said for any of the Thief titles. Not only are there many special collectible paintings and jewelry to be found each level, there is also a large number of candlesticks and forks. As all the collectibles are tracked, one can wander the whole level for countless minutes in search of an elusive piece of cutlery while avoiding sword and crossbow wielding goons.
While Thief is primarily a stealth game, it is also among the most pants-crappingly terrifying ones, too. There is one level in particular that is guaranteed to give you a cold sweat and a need to turn on the lights and take off the headphones. This was a very unexpected development, even when the game sent me to an iconic location that was previously explored in the Thief series and famous for being among the most atmospheric and creepy locales in video games history. This time they decided to go about ten notches above creepy and they really did succeed.
Aside from scary places, Thief is very atmospheric and immersive throughout due to its use of beautiful lighting, smoke, shadow, and water effects. Not only does the PC port have a bonerific graphical options menu but the game is also extremely well optimized, which is surprising for such a detail-heavy game released on several platforms. There are also numerous in-game elements that push immersion to a further level, such as realistically foul language, incredibly real conversations like those of one man asking another what a cock-ring is or a woman telling her drunk husband to cease his urinating in the streets. The game also has some barely-graphic and slightly-weird sexual scenes, which is to be expected when one of the levels is set in an elite brothel.
The voice acting is serviceable throughout and as far as the new voice of Garrett is concerned, it’s even good! Although every fan was surely disappointed by the replacement of Garrett’s original voice, the new talent filled the shoes admirably, sounding almost as uninterested in the intrigues of The City and providing as much snark in his witty comments as the original VA did. On the note of voice actors, there is one particular NPC whose annoyance made me turn off the volume completely when entering one of the hub areas just because there was a good chance that he would be there. Picture this constantly blaring in the background as you are trying to pick up secondary missions and purchasing equipment in one of the only non-hostile zones of the hub world. To approximate how easy it is to concentrate, turn the video on and try to read on.
There are very few things that are objectively bad about the game, and most of them can easily be patched. At the time of writing, there are a few sound issues where the audible radius of conversations is way too high and unimpeded by any solid structures, ambient NPC conversations sometime loop indefinitely (for some reason this only happens to the annoying ones) and arrow impact only alerts guards if it happens to hit the floor and not the walls. There are some things that I have personal issues with, which are not specific to this game, but any stealth game. There is no dedicated flip-off button. We need it. How satisfying would it be to be able to flip off a patrolling guard after successfully fooling and sneaking past him? I’ll answer that for you, it would be incredibly satisfying to see that leather-clad and calloused arm of a master thief flipping some dumb sentry the bird.
(How much do you hate that goddamn propaganda machine now? Okay, turn the video off, you have suffered enough.)
Thief unfortunately cannot be viewed in a vacuum, and while taking a departure from its roots it does not cease to be an excellent stealth game even if it has lost some of the freedom that earlier installments had. Recent, very similar games that this will inevitably be compared to also cannot be ignored, Dishonored certainly being amongst them. While Dishonored certainly was a much more open-ended game, it provided a poorer pacifistic stealth experience and shone most brightly when the player murdered their way through it.
If one has no concern for an uninteresting story and poor combat mechanics, but wants a deeply customizable and truly hardcore stealth experience where they can also steal a bunch of gold inkwells, this is definitely a recommended purchase, but it’s completely unsuitable to those uninterested in pure stealth or fans that are blindly against any departure from the original series.
[Written by Contributor Valentin Kulemin]