Many years ago the Thief franchise really kickstarted the whole stealth action genre. Now we have the latest iteration – a reboot of the franchise that tries to combine what was so loved about the originals with modern gameplay mechanics. The result is a game that is filled with good ideas but who’s overall execution just feels lacking. The highlight of the game are its impressive visuals, but the inconsequential system of choice means that the gameplay is just simple puzzle solving in a pretty setting.
Set hundreds of years after the events of the original Thief series, players will take on the role of Garret; a master thief who has returned to his home town after a significant amount of time abroad. As soon as he is back he is dragged into a mission with an ally (but seemingly not a friend). After berating her for what seems like an eternity, the two stumble across a mystical cult performing a magical chant. After watching his ally fall to her death, and almost collapsing himself, Garret wakes up a year later to find his home in The City completely different to how he remembered it.
The once bustling city is now rife with a strange new plague which causes civil and social unrest. While the elite still live in luxury, the common-folk are all struggling to survive the poverty and disease ridden city. Garret’s plan is simple; use the unrest to his advantage and steal as much as he can from the wealthy and privileged.
Garret comes off as self-righteous, condemning those around him for not living up to his lofty ideals (this coming from someone who steals from everybody he sees for a living). From the moment he is introduced through to the end of the game, he never comes across as an endearing character. The story itself is cumbersome and it isn’t hard to imagine the game being more beneficial without it – In fact, the game’s challenges which are unlocked after you beat each level feel like the more fun alternative.
Like its predecessors, Thief’s gameplay is largely stealth based, but players are given a lot of choice in how they will handle each situation. They can either attempt to sneak by completely unseen – living up to Garret’s “master thief” moniker. Or they can go in arrows-a-blazing and take out every guard, soldier and target that they can get their hands on. Each level also gives you a variety of different pathways to take so that you really do feel like you have a lot of control over the situation. The problem is that there seems to never be any tangible reason to take one option over another aside from your own sense of difficulty. There are no benefits or bonuses bestowed for taking a more stealth-inspired route than to simply knock out everybody you see. It would have been good to have a bit more consequence to make the choices in each scenario feel more powerful.
Garret has a wealth of weapons at his disposal – from water-arrows that will put out fires, through to grappling arrows to help him climb to otherwise unreachable areas. It gives a lot of variability to gameplay when you can pick one of a dozen different ways to challenge a room. “Will I take out that enemy with my broadhead arrow, or just sneak past him in case I need it for the next room?” Is a very real question that players will ask themselves. Alongside his utility belt of weapons and gadgets, Garret also has a mystical “focus vision.” At the press of a button, All important things in the room will be highlighted in a vibrant blue, making them impossible to miss. It becomes way too easy to rely on this ability and it can considerably cheapen the experience, limiting the challenge.
As you increase your skills as a thief and unlock more weapons you will get more and more unrestricted access to the game’s hub map; The City. As you travel through The City you will get a sense of freedom and openness… Until you hit one of the many, many loading screens. You only get small sections of the map to play through at any time before you are hit with a loading screen that can take upwards of 10 seconds to load the next area. Not only that but you will often have to stop and break your way into the game’s many houses by holding X, then pressing it rapidly to open a window or a steel grate. This slows down the game and can break you from the rich environment around you.
A lot of the game revolves around Garret swiping anything that isn’t nailed down. I personally found this to be a real detraction from the game. It is hard to picture Garret as this master thief when he is just stealing every knife, fork and ashtray that he can find. It breaks the illusion and makes him seem like nothing more than a common cat burglar, or dare I say it – a magpie.
Visuals & Audio
Visually, Thief is a magnificent game to look at. The City is dark, decrepit and looks like a typical victorian-inspired city. Each single part of each structure looks real and tangible and like you could walk through it yourself. Although gameplay-wise it is an absolute clustered mess, it still looks fantastic. The characters that sparsely fill the streets all look unique and amazing and bring a lot to the overall presentation of the game.
If there is one thing that needs to be said about Thief it is that the way that have implemented hand and foot movements of the protagonist is incredible. Never before have I played a game where the hand movements were so lifelike and realistic. It actually feels like you are a person reaching out to grab an object when it is being swiped and it is very natural.
One problem with the visuals is that they can, and frequently do completely glitch out. The game’s cinematics and animated cut scenes are the worst for this. During my play through, Garret’s character model was on more than one occasion out of focus, and on top of objects and back drops that he should have been behind. This not only breaks the immersion, but absolutely ruins any flow that the game has built up until that point.
The audio is no where up to scratch with the visuals. The character performances especially are flat, lifeless and just hard to be interested in. They make an already lacklustre story into a cumbersome bore. Worst of all is the fact that the voices rarely sync up with the visuals, giving a slightly delayed lip-sync like quality to the game.
Then there is the guards themselves, who frequently spout the sane nonsensical dialogue. It is very haphazardous and sometimes it will sound like two guards are talking to one another even though there is only one left in the room. One massive problem with the game’s audio is that it doesn’t matter where a sound is coming from or how far away the source, it all sounds the same. It can be really hard to plan a stealth-based attack accordingly when you have no idea where a sound is.
Thief tries to do everything that Dishonored did a few years back, but sadly doesn’t reach that game’s level of polish of complexity. The illusion of choice is very much present but unlike many other games, there are no consequences to making certain decisions. This gives Thief a very shallow feel, and combined with flat, lifeless characters and a cumbersome story, this results in a game that has a lot of good ideas but lacks the correct execution.
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