Oh Stealth genre, how I love the. I have such fond memories of sneaking into Shadow Moses in Metal Gear Solid, Confusing guards by shooting lights out in Splinter cell, or completing the entire dishonored campaign without killing a soul. There’s something satisfying about stealth games that only fans of the genre can really appreciate. It’s not about shooting first or the having the biggest gun but rather careful and methodical planning. It takes a bit of strategy and I think deep down somewhere in my brain that’s one of the fundamental reasons why I play stealth games.
It won’t surprise anyone who’s played the previous Thief games that you play the role of Garrett, a master thief, who returns to his home city after being away only to find his home has been run into the ground by “The Baron”. Or as I like to call him, “that old guy” from that PS4 tech demo. The city is overrun by a plague called “the gloom” and the citizens of the City are obviously not too happy about it. There is a very supernatural overtone running through the plot and setting of Thief. The setup is very reminiscent of Dishonored in that there is a plague or sickness going around and an oppressive group trying to run things. Unfortunately for Thief, where Dishonored gave a great introduction to the characters and setting, Thief kind of falls flat. There isn’t much in the way of initial build up and a lot of the earlier scenes don’t make much sense outside of the obvious thin plot lines. I don’t dislike the story I just wish it was more fleshed out especially with it’s setup.
As I’ve said, I love this genre and I’ve played many action/stealth games over the years including the original Thief games. Thief III wasn’t the best of the then trilogy but it is the one I probably played the most. This new generation of Thief feels very different – more loose and un polished. The core mechanics of gameplay revolve around you avoiding or disarming guards and other baddies. This can either work really well or go horribly wrong and the latter doesn’t always hinge on how good you are at the game. There were times when I’d go in for a stealth takedown only to miss the button prompt some how, which usually left me exposed. Other times I would go even further on the stealth side and avoid enemies all together by utilizing the building planks, which are like shelves hanging from the buildings, only to slip off magically either falling to my death or taking enough damage for me to reload my last save. At least the game saves exactly where you are when you initiate the save. I thank the devs for that. Gameplay isn’t all bad though. In fact, when you get into the groove of things and when Garrett does the things you want him to do, it’s quite enjoyable. I really liked stalking the guards or finding an alternate path that lead to loot. Oh and there is plenty of loot in this game. Mostly trinkets but lots and lots of trinkets. So if you’re a collector or completionist, you will most likely enjoy this aspect of Thief. I do wish there were bigger finds and I know there are speciality items you can find, which is a welcome change from the normal brooch or coin purse. But there were times when I’d find rooms full of non-interactive items that looked like they’d be worth more than the trinkets I’m taking next to them.
One of my biggest issues with the game is how the overall “hub world”, the City, is setup. I think most developers use hub worlds to make getting to other “levels” easier on the gamer. In Thief, it’s the opposite. The layout of the city is very haphazard. The city has several thieving opportunities with windows you can jimmy open to gain access to vacant rooms with random loot. Cool. Problem is, the city also has shortcuts using identical windows throughout the map. So you literally won’t know if you’re jimming a window to access a vacant room or a shortcut to another part of the city. There are no context clues or tooltips to warn you of this. The only thing you can do is pull up your map which is slightly buried in the menus. And because there is no fast travel to speak of, you will be wandering around this city trying to make heads or tails of where you’re going. This wouldn’t be so much a pain if the city was laid out better and if everything didn’t looks so damn similar.
City map aside, Garrett has a small set of offensive and defensive items at his disposal to help alleviate some of the the city layout annoyances and to help dispose of the baddies within the game. I’ve gone through the game mostly only using the defensive items but there were occasions when a guard got an arrow through the eye. It’s always fun shooting a guard in the eye with an arrow. There are also health and poppy flower consumables. Poppy Flowers refill Garretts controversial “focus” power. The focus power lets Garrett see context sensitive items within the world. By far, the most used item in Garretts inventory for me was the rope arrow to get to higher places. The nice thing about these arrows is that they stay on the main city map. So if you’ve used one right outside the main gate, it’ll be there throughout the whole game. This is very helpful but sometimes I wish Garretts rope arrow was just a reusable item and you had to retrieve it and reuse it each time to add a little more edge to the stealth.
Thief has been in development for many years. Usually, when games run a long development cycle, especially between console generations, graphically things… aren’t good. If I’m being honest, Thief is like a PS3 game with a new coat of paint. In other words, thief is in no way what the kids are calling “Next-Gen” graphics. But that’s ok in my opinion. I don’t need a game to look like the second coming of Crysis for me to enjoy it especially a stealth game. BUT that’s not to say I won’t dock points for it, especially when the graphics hinder gameplay at times, at least on the consoles. I’ve played through the PS4 version and I’ve come to expect no less than 30 frames per second (fps) on PS4 games. By no stretch is 30fps a great bar to shoot for but it’s at least playable for us console peasants. Thief is all over the place in terms of fps. I couldn’t tell you what fps the game is at any given moment but I can say it’s not stable and this affects gameplay. The lower the fps, the harder it is to control your on screen character smoothly and efficiently. Two things you really want in a stealth game. If I had to use one word to describe Thief’s graphics, it would be “unpolished”. In fact, I think I’d use that word to describe a lot of different aspects of Thief.
This was a hard game for me to review. I have a library of other games that have done this genre justice. There’s also the “Dishonored” factor. If you haven’t play Dishonored, skip Thief and play that. Saying that makes me a little sad because thief was the golden standard for this kind of game. Thief (2014) had very large shoes to fill. I enjoyed playing it especially when everything was going well but the story, unpolished controls, and poor framerate really hurt the experience for me. I didn’t hate it by any means in fact I enjoyed it and I still think anyone interested in the genre should take a look. Just don’t expect the Thief we all fell in love with over a decade ago.
Great atmosphere and mood, A true stealth game that feels somewhat nostalgic, Fun if you like the genre especially once you get into the groove of things
Overall an unpolished experience, Cumbersome map system and no fast travel makes backtracking tiresome through a boring and confusing city, frequent freezes and other graphical glitches pull you out of the experience, Weak nonsensical story
Eidos Interactive, Square Enix
Eidos-Montreal, Nixxes Software BV
Feb 25, 2014