Publisher: SQUARE ENIX, Eidos Interactive
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
Reviewed on: PC (Steam)
Thief is the latest in the recently resurrected steampunk stealth franchise following the adventures of master thief Garrett as he sneaks through a semi-industrialized medieval city. The game enjoyed a healthy price cut during Steam’s winter sale so I hawked it on the cheap to see what it was all about.
Thief takes place in a city transitioning to the Industrial Era. Old castles and shacks fill the city, with the occasional pipe or electronic lights spread among more traditional torches and candles. The player takes on the mantle of the master thief Garret as he and his old apprentice Erin attempt a job to steal from The Baron, ruler of the city. Needless to say the job goes poorly, and the remainder of the game is spent following Garret as he attempts to piece together what went wrong, while searching for Erin.
Gameplay is to be expected of your typical stealth game. You sneak around dark areas, stealing anything shiny that isn’t nailed down and giving guards a good thump on the head when they’re looking away. Getting spotted usually ends up with you scurrying to the rooftops or the nearest gutter for a few minutes. Garrett has a bag of tricks at his disposal such as water arrows that extinguish flame light sources, blunt arrows that can trigger distant switches, flame arrows that can relight said flames or set enemies alight, and a flash bomb to fling when spotted. All the staples of any stealth game are present here.
In between missions Garrett is free to roam the city, taking on side jobs or just sneaking into houses and lifting anything of value. Players can use hard-earned cash to buy tools such as arrows or health kits, or more expensive gear that provides permanent bonuses such as increased health or reduced damage. Players can also exchange gold for focus points to improve focus skills such as faster lock-picking, silent running, or faster pick-pocketing.
The world of Thief looks just as it should — dark, gritty, and dirty, with an emphasis on light sources and excellent presentation on the way darkness coats an area. I found myself feeling dangerously uncomfortable anytime I was standing outside the shadows, quickly darting back into the darkness even if I knew I was alone. The lore you find among newspaper clippings, books, notes, and overheard conversations really immerse you into the dark of the decrepit and dying city.
Crisp animations really feel like it’s yourself traversing ruins or dark city rooftops as well as peering through keyholes. This is especially evident during a level where Garrett is sneaking around an insane asylum. The atmosphere coats the player in an uneasy anxiety for the entire level, and despite never being in any actual danger for the most part, I managed to yelp and gasp — it was the first level where I couldn’t bring myself to search every nook and cranny for collectibles.
While it might seem like a strange thing to consider a positive, the AI in the game is completely and utterly stupid. Guards appear to have no peripheral vision whatsoever, and unless Garrett is standing in light, can only see several feet in front of them. If you alert enemies, they will roam around the area loudly screaming for about a good minute or two, before calming down and returning to normal patrolling. This was especially comical when I had alerted the last guard on a map, proceeded to practically trip over about a dozen unconscious bodies I had left in a courtyard for about a minute, and then loudly proclaim, “If he was still here I would have found him by now,” only to instantly panic again upon seeing the body he was standing on.
But strangely enough I really liked how stupid the AI was. I felt like I was a master of the shadows and really in control, something that I believe a dumber AI encourages rather than frustrates. At the same time, the game still punishes the player for sloppy play, with alerts most often ending in swarms of guards that Garrett is pretty helpless against — most alerts end up with the player in a dead end being smothered by the pointy ends of swords, so the fear is still there.
The story and its presentation are by far the weakest aspects of Thief. I had the feeling while playing that the project had endured some kind of development hell that restructured and removed almost entire parts of the game. Throughout the game I was constantly confused as to why I was doing what I was doing. There is such little character interaction: other characters are on screen for such a short time that all they can do is spitball plot points before Garrett is shoved forward. It’s really underwhelming, and I often couldn’t bring myself to care about the story. On top of that I just can’t stand the way Garrett actually looks in-game, which made cut-scenes even more difficult to take seriously.
Cutscenes seem to occur at random intervals and transport the player into completely different areas on end. It really gives off the feeling that there wasn’t a solid plan for the progression of the story and the cutscenes were created first and frantically inserted into the game.
While roaming the city between missions, players overhear conversations that might give hints or clues to some rare loot for the player to seek out. However the same lines will be repeated throughout the entire game. I must have heard the same line about the baker being arrested or the culling of livestock over a dozen times. These conversations sound like they’re happening right next to you when you’re alone.
I know I previously cited the dumb AI as being a positive of the game, but enemies have a serious issue related to pathing. I would constantly get guards and enemies wedged in doorways forcing me to reload a save. One level featuring a tight underground prison had me load four saves due to the issue occurring repeatedly in the exact same spot. God forbid you have more than one baddie chasing your or else they’ll undoubtedly get wedged together somewhere along the way.
The game uses mini cutscenes whenever Garrett does things such as open doors or pop open air vents. These little scenes are unskippable and uninterruptible. Countless times I would press the button to crawl out of a vent or closet just as a guard wandered right in front of me and I was forced to scream at my screen and watch helplessly as Garrett slowly opened the vent, crawled out and clipped into the guard. This happened more times than I would have liked, and was a frustration for the entire game.
Thief is a solid stealth game. The immersive graphics and animations are solid and really draw the player in to the role of a master thief. Sadly, the devil’s in the details and other than the base stealth gameplay, Thief doesn’t have much else to offer. Fans of first-person stealth games should give it a shot, but for everyone else I have to suggest giving it a pass or hoping for a discount during an eventful sale.
Like the review or think I’m full of it? Let me know in the comments below!