+ Customization options are a godsend
+ Multiple approaches to every situation
- The City is a pain to move through
- AI is inconsistent
The Thief franchise has always had a sort of cult-like appeal. Typically, you’d need to use stealth to sneak past guards and make out with the loot scattered throughout the level. However, the way you approach the situation was always different. You could extinguish torches with your water arrows, or you could knock guards out with your blackjack when they weren’t looking. The choices were really all up to you. After three outings in previous years, the Thief franchise has received a reboot much to the like of Tomb Raider’s 2013 release.
While players new to the franchise might be turned off by the not-so-impressive opening segment, I’m going to press you all to continue playing; Thief is a mostly positive experience. The few problems that arise with the gameplay, which are certainly tangible, are largely overshadowed by the addicting stealth mechanics and replay value. I can proudly say that Thief, while it might not be the strongest entry in the series, is at least worth your attention if you’re a fan of the stealth genre.
In Thief, you’ll play as Garret, the so called master thief of a city known only as “The City”. Now I’m not exactly sure how he makes his living, but I’m going to assume he steals various items that may or may not be worth anything and then sells them to his fence. When you’re first introduced to Garret, he’s running along rooftops with another thief, Erin, who helps to introduce some of the basic mechanics used in Thief. Eventually you’ll come across some sort of ritual, and your lady friend just so happens to fall right into the center of it. Garret loses consciousness, and he wakes up a year later, only to be smuggled back into The City. Confused as to what happened, where his lady friend disappeared to, and concerned about the sudden plague that has struck the city, Garret tries to discern just what exactly happened in the previous year.
Unfortunately, my quick synopsis of the overarching goals and story have probably did Thief more justice than it deserves. The story, in my opinion, is a thinly veiled, rushed, and clichéd attempt that didn’t really capture my attention. There’s not really any reason to care about Garret, Erin, or any of the other people you meet because they are just so generic. The voice acting isn’t terrible, but the script is bland and there’s never really any quips or remarks that make anyone seem personable. The overarching goal throughout the game changes, but there’s never any jaw dropping moments or events that gave me any kind of incentive to keep playing just for the story. Not to mention the ending is one of the most shoddily pieced together group of objectives and cinematics I’ve ever seen in a video game.
Fortunately for Thief, the stealth mechanics are solid to warrant entertainment. Your goal, as you’d expect from a game titled Thief, is to be as silent as possible and escape with the loot scattered throughout each level. You do this by hiding in the shadows and waiting for patrols to turn their back, and then darting past them with your new “Swoop” ability. I’ve heard some people are on the fence about Garrets swooping, but I personally enjoy it as it’s useful and the movement is satisfying. Most of what you’ll be taking consists of dinnerwares and candlesticks; Garret isn’t exactly the most regal of theives, and he takes what he can get. There are some more valuable treasures hidden throughout each level, but you’ll have to really search for them.
New to Garret in this entry is Focus, a limited resource and state of mind where Garret can perform action quickly and efficiently. While in focus, Garret will be able to slow down time and open locked doors with ease, or even take down guards in combat. I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of the whole focus thing so I hardly even bothered to use items to refill my focus meter. I spent most of the game trying to be a ghost, and when I was spotted, I simply ran away to hide. I suppose that the focus mode is simply a way to appeal to a different kind of gamer, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I don’t think there are any situations in the entire campaign that actually force you into combat. There’s no need to kill a single soul if you don’t want to, and that’s the way I chose to play. While I wasn’t exactly successful, I found the situations where I was in combat to be mediocre because, well, Garret is a vulnerable rogue. The goal, as far as I’m concerned, is to stay out of combat as much as possible. Sometimes it is tough (read: frustrating) though because of the artificial intelligence of the guards. While playing through on the Master difficulty setting, I found that the guards were competent, yet at other times they were completely oblivious. There were many times when a guard clearly should have spotted me sulking past him, and there are other times where they spot me in darkness from 50 feet away. I had one guard watch me go into a closet to hide, and he literally ran up to the door as if he was about to open it, and then turn and walk away.
The level design is thoughtful enough that you’ll have two or three approaches to every situation. After a very linear and unsatisfying introductory level, the game does open up a bit and allows you to play however you want. You’ll have several tools at your disposable, which mostly consist of different types of arrows for your bow. You have the standard arrows which can be used to distract guards, water arrows to put out torches, rope arrows to climb onto predetermined points, and several others. These arrows let you have enough creativity to really approach any situation in whatever fashion you desire. For example, you might be able to douse a torch with a water arrow, or alternatively you can deal with the pesky guard that’s on duty by shooting him in the face.
After every mission, you’re thrown into The City, a hub map that you can wander around in and visit several NPCs for side quests or items. Typically I wouldn’t have a problem with this, but the way this hub is designed is simply frustrating. In order to go between different areas of the city, you’ll have to find very specific points where Garret squeezes through a inconspicuous pile of crates or opens a window. Not only that, but upper levels of this map are a maze. Simply following your quest marker does not work, you’ll need to find some round-about way to get to your destination. Not to mention that the climbing mechanics are very inconsistent. You’ll be allowed to climb on certain crates, but others are off limits. There could be a ledge that Garret can easily grab, but the game simply won’t allow it. There’s all too many of these in The City, and it really kills any sense of immersion.
One thing that Thief does right, though, is the difficulty and options. You have the ability to toggle different settings such as disabling saves, removing focus, removing takedowns, and there is even an Ironman setting which deletes your save if you are killed. I played through once on the Master setting, and now I’m currently going through again with a customized difficulty simply because it makes things much more challenging and precise. You can also customize all manner of the HUD. The default overlay isn’t bad by any means, but hey, options are good, am I right?
While I played through Thief on the Playstation 4, it certainly didn’t feel like it at times. Thief has a really bad (and strange) habit of stuttering and becoming out of sync, but only during the cutscenes. The frame rate must’ve dipped to under 20 during certain cutscenes, but for the most part actual gameplay was a solid 30 frames per second. While textures are decent on most objects, other aspects of the visuals, such as shadows, are exceedingly average. In fact, I wasn’t impressed in the slightest by any aspect of the visual design. It certainly looks better than it’s Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 counterparts, but the Playstation 4 and Xbox One versions of Thief are prosaic at best.
Buy, Try, or Avoid?
Thief is certainly rough around the edges, and it’s certainly not as polished as other games in the genre. It’s AI can be quite dumb, The City is painful to navigate, and the climbing mechanics can be inconsistent, but these problems are overshadowed by the better aspects of the game. The stealth mechanics, the difficulty customization, and the ability to choose your approach save this game from absolute mediocrity. Thief certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a fan of stealth action games like Dishonored or if you liked Deus Ex: Human Revolution, you’ll get some enjoyment out of Thief. However, if you’re on the fence about it or not a huge fan of stealthy games, I’d recommend renting it, borrowing it from a friend, or waiting until it’s on sale.