Review: The cold and empty world of Thief
Thief is a tough title to review. It’s a strange experience with not as much freedom as you’d expect. We throw in our two-cent’s worth before Garrett picks them out of our pockets. Josh shakes off his fanboy-ism to see if this reboot is a steal to treasure always or not.
Let me get this out of the way. Thief is a staggeringly pretty. The environments all drip with detail and with light touching and reflecting off almost every surface making your world an incredibly immersing experience. Main character Garret gives insights and objectives under a hushed whisper. As you begin to explore you’ll overhear guards complaining as they patrol, people shouting from street corners, the NPCs chattering as they go about their meaningless lives. The scene is perfectly set.
As you begin your journey Garrett’s abilities are introduced slowly to help you get a handle on what is quite a well made control system. The moves and techniques feel natural and within minutes of playing you feel comfortable in Garrett’s shoes. Less comforting is how the nonsensical plot starts to unravel, both literally and figuratively. Randomly jumping years ahead after a strange and unexplained event, our hero awakes in a much darker and broken city.
For absolutely no logical reason he jumps straight back into his profession with a lack of any explanation. It’s a little flippant, especially considering the loss of a full year of his life and his tendency to mutter everything that happens to himself. If you can shake that off, for the next few missions the game are actually quite fun. Each area has sections to explore and houses to rob. The areas you visit are well designed and effectively help to paint a picture of the impact the missing year has had on the city, slightly making up for the strange storytelling. At first.
The world begins to sour as you sift through it. The first worry are the missions, lacking the major component which made the earlier games in the series so special, namely choice. Every mission takes you down though a set path, which feels like a conveyor belt of exposition and cheap tricks. The Thief franchise was always about offering multiple ways to approach any given situation. It would force the player to explore, find and memorise guard routines, and look for loot. It was this freedom and open nature which made you feel like a master thief.
The new more linear pathways were one of the first major irritations I encountered and eventually ended up destroying the immersion all together. Once you have made your way the pseudo-open world a few times, crossed some of the major hubs and looted what little there is to steal, it’s all a little dull and lifeless, no matter how pretty it might look on the surface. On top of this, Garrett’s skills seem wasted on the extremely average enemy AI. I found myself getting caught out more from environmental glitches and contextual climbing fails than attentive guards. With boring enemies, on-rails locations and a decidedly humdrum story line, no amount of fan love for the franchise could excuse or overcome these rather glaring issues.
But I don’t want to paint this game entirely with a negative brush. As far as missions go, Thief does manage to give you some exciting moments. While wading through the story you are constantly thrown curve balls. Some sections put Garrett in harm’s way to help keep it feeling fresh as you run from capture or daringly escape a dangerous environment. This does add a tense sense of urgency to the experience and will have even the most veteran ghost players scrambling for cover and clinging firmly to the shadows at times.
The development team over at Eidos Montreal allow you to tailor the Thief experience in almost every way you could possibly think. Your can customise everything down to the smallest detail including removing the HUD or light gem to increase the difficulty and earn yourself bonus multipliers for each. There are plenty of different techniques to unlock and hardcore gamers will still get their money’s worth with plenty of items to find and treasures to steal. Plus achievement collectors will have their work cut out for them conquering all of the awards on this one.
I can’t hide my disappointment for what could have been. Shoddy AI, lack of freedom and a the lack of a fleshed out plot were enough to take what is a visually stunning and potentially interesting world and made it dull and lifeless. For new console owners, Thief will help you hold out until other releases arrive, but sadly I just felt the multitude of problems got in the way of my overall enjoyment leaving an unfortunately underwhelming game.
For a taste of Thief, check out the trailer below.