Thief – Review

Title   Thief
Developer  Eidos-Montréal
Publisher  Square Enix
Platform  Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Windows PC (reviewed)
Genre  Stealth, Action
Release Date  February 28, 2014

If you’ve read a lot of the press around the release of Thief you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a terrible game; it’s been getting a lot of 7s and we all know that in games journalism a ’7′ is pretty much the worst score you can give something. However, those people are wrong; Thief is by no means a terrible game and I’m here to tell you why.

There’s no question that Thief has problems, with its biggest problem being that it really doesn’t know what it wants to be, almost as if someone just dumped a bag of game tropes onto a table and said “make a Thief game with all of these in or you’re fired”. It has the mandatory brothel section, the mandatory escaping from a burning building section, the mandatory mystic hallucination/vision sections, the mandatory “tap E to do something for no good reason” sections and a bit where dogs chase you across rooftops, just because.

This is ostensibly a first-person stealth game about stealing things and yet they’ve put in random third-person traversal sections that are totally linear and don’t appear to serve any actual gameplay purpose. It’s supposed to be about free-form exploration and finding your own path to your objective, and yet a lot of the main plot missions are terribly linear with only one or two different approaches available to you.

Speaking of the plot, it’s pretty awful. Magical artefacts, ancient powers, a mysterious disease, the evil ruler, the altruistic everyman, you as the brooding loner who reluctantly helps save the city. It’s hackneyed and clichéd and pretty incomprehensible in a lot of places. I honestly couldn’t tell you what happened at the end of the game; it was kind of a mess. The script is pretty bad too, and at one point a major character actually uses the line “You know we’re not so different, you and I” and that’s one of the better bits of writing.

There are also a few things that feel out of place or just really odd; even on the hardest difficulty you can make a reasonable amount of noise moving around before anyone notices you, but if you break a lockpick trying to open something it’s like a bloody gunshot – everyone nearby is instantly alert and looking for an intruder. When you find a unique collectable, you become unable to interact with the environment while you spend five seconds looking at the thing and commenting about how pretty it is, which will often get you caught because you can’t close up the safe before a guard comes back and notices it. Additionally, the “something exciting is happening” music veers between techno and dubstep and feels totally incongruous in the steampunky setting.

At one point I came across a bug with the incidental dialogue which meant that for about thirty minutes all I heard over and over and over again was the same conversation between two guards about how one of them had just had sex with a prostitute called Polly Adler and how the other was still on her waiting list. It was incredibly annoying.

Great, now I’ve made it sound bad too. It’s not. Stick with me.

Putting aside the plot for a moment, the world that Garret The Master Thief (as everyone you meet insists on calling him) inhabits is very immersive; you can see your own hands and feet if you look down and every action you take is fully animated, be it climbing up a wall, pulling lockpicks from your gloves, grabbing a bottle off a table or opening a drawer and removing its contents. The animations are all very fluid and while it’s not the prettiest game I’ve played, it’s far from being ugly and maintains a consistent aesthetic throughout.

Where Thief really shines is the side missions, which are often fairly sizeable sandbox areas with nothing more complex than “steal this thing” as an objective and everything else left up to you. You can clear the place out, top to bottom, or just head straight for your target and then flee. Stealing stuff is fun in this game, which is why it’s such a shame that the theft is relegated to an incidental objective in the main story missions. I will quite happily buy any DLC they put out that just has more of these side missions in it, because they’re the best part of the game.

You have a wide range of different arrows available to you, but most of them are offensive or, at the least, attention grabbing and that’s not usually a good thing when you’re trying to stay hidden. I found myself primarily relying on rope, water and blunt arrows to manipulate the environment and while they’re in short supply a lot of the time, you’re unlikely to find yourself completely out of options at any point. On the subject of arrows, while I appreciate the utility of it, it did feel a little out of place having a shady vendor pop up in the middle of the villain’s secret hideout, offering to sell me more of them.

There was much consternation pre-release about the Focus abilities that have been added to the game, in a similar fashion to Hitman: Absolution‘s Instinct but, as you might expect, it was all a bit overblown. If you really want to, you can turn off Focus entirely, but I have to say that I did find it useful without it breaking the game in any way. At a basic level it allows you to see better in the dark and highlights which objects you can interact with, be they loot, switches, light sources or people; upgrading it will grant you abilities such as moving silently and slowing down time while picking locks. You burn through your Focus bar quickly, however, and the poppies that replenish it are in short supply (on lower difficulties it will slowly regenerate on its own) which means you have to be judicious in its use or find yourself without it.

In my opinion, the hallmark of a really good stealth game is the ability to avoid having to take out every guard you come across in order to proceed. Most just give you a bunch of painfully obvious opportunities to eliminate the opposition by having them do stupid things like inexplicably turning to stare at a wall for five seconds as part of their patrol route. I don’t think there was a single instance where I couldn’t sneak past someone rather than taking them out; sometimes I chose to for the sake of speed but it would be quite possible to finish the game without ever having to disable a guard, let alone kill them.

If you’re one of these people who thinks games are all too easy these days and really want to give yourself a “proper” challenge, then you can create a custom difficulty using one of the existing settings as a base. You can turn off quicksaves, Focus mode, the targeting reticle for the bow, limit your arrow types, remove health/focus restoring items or increase the cost of purchasing items, amongst others. If that’s not enough, you can turn on a selection of instant-failure options including: if you take any damage, if you kill or knock out any human or animal or if you are seen by any human or animal. Finally, there’s Iron Man, which is a hardcore mode and will erase your save if you die or fail a mission. Tough enough for you?

I spent fifteen hours with Thief on Master difficulty and didn’t even come close to completing all the content; you could easily spend twenty hours without even considering doing 100% loot sweeps of every area. It may have its problems, but I can’t deny that I had a hell of a lot of fun with Thief and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys stealing things from unsuspecting victims.

  • Immersive world
  • Stealing is great fun
  • Rewarding stealth mechanics
  • Comprehensive difficulty settings
  • Terrible plot
  • Linear story missions
  • Overuse of tired tropes
  • Dog Parkour

Thief is a game in the midst of an identity crisis, there's a great core game underneath it all, but it's smothered by the unnecessary inclusion of all the worst bits AAA games have to offer us. The main story is utter balls but the side missions are a joy to play, the voice acting is bad but the character animation is excellent. Without the failed attempts to pander to a mass-market audience and with a little more of what made the old Thief games great, it could have been truly excellent. If you like stealth games, you will like Thief, but you probably won't love it. The 7 I've given it is a real 7, not a games journalism 7 - well above average but, sadly, still short of greatness.

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  1. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Sold. I need to get this on PC before the end of the month, I think.

  2. Lorna Lorna says:

    It looks gorgeous, but the lack of decent story is a little disappointing. Still, I like the sound of it enough that I’ll pick it up – good stealth games are in short supply and with this setting it has me intrigued enough to want to try it. Also, the Mirror’s Edgey rooftop stuff looks like fun, and is probably as close as we’ll get to ME for a long while.

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