Imagine that you’re deftly dashing and creeping amongst the shadows, quickly extinguishing a candle to ensconce yourself in darkness as you pick the lock of a safe beneath the unsuspecting noses of patrolling guards before snatching your prize and slipping unnoticed out of an open window – that not only sounds brilliant, but is exactly what you’d expect from a Thief game.
Now imagine a tepid approximation of the Uncharted-like spectacular set-piece in which you sprint across a collapsing bridge, your input amounting to little more than holding down the Assassin’s Creed-style freerun button in what feels like the worst example of game design by committee – that doesn’t sound so good.
When Eidos Montreal’s Thief reboot plays like the former, it’s a great stealth game.
The main issue Thief has is that when, as in the latter, it deviates from that core, things quickly go south.
Thief Review – Is Thief Too Linear?
Two things will likely strike you early on where Thief is concerned. One: the story is terrible. Two: the game feels a little linear.
On the first count, do not expect things to improve.
Thief is entirely unoriginal in a narrative sense, telling what amounts to a rather boring tale about the conflict between an evil tyrant obsessed with industrialisation and a man of the people who starts to lead an oppositional movement, with a bit of the occult thrown in for good measure.
Thief draws nothing interesting or provocative out of this conflict, predictably falling into wishy-washy cliché liberalism, while it’s characters are far too boring to salvage any kind of interest in the goings on of the world in which Thief is set.
When it comes to Thief’s linearity, things do get better as Thief begins to present the player with mini-sandboxes out of which the game’s best moments emerge.
As you cautiously explore your environs, you can see the different routes that you could have taken to reach the same area and the different techniques that you could have used to aid your progress.
While some of the tools on offer feel a little underutilised – in particular a largely useless upgradeable focus system that can be used to augment protagonist Garrett’s abilities – that there are different ways of getting the job done, as opposed to a singular approach that the developers are forcing you to take is to the game’s credit.
Thief Review – Making You Feel Like A Master Thief
Whichever route you find yourself taking to steal whatever it is you’re tasked to steal, Thief regularly does an excellent job of evoking the sense of being a master Thief.
There’s a kleptomaniacal joy to picking a level clean without leaving a trace and you’ll undoubtedly find yourself snapping up valuable trinkets from shelves, rooting through drawers, finding and picking the locks of hidden safes, pickpocketing guards and cutting paintings from their frames for the sheer satisfaction of doing so, if not for purpose of earning cash and finding collectibles.
The problem with Thief is that as the game progresses into the latter stages, it seems to forget what it is that makes the game fun.
Levels start to feel less like mini-sandboxes that you’re tasked with clearing out in any order you see fit, and more like a means of getting you to go from A to B.
The simple pleasure of picking the bones of a level clean begins to fade and the increasingly elaborate security systems that you imagined yourself subverting fail to materialise.
Worst of all, Thief spends far too much time trying to be something other than a stealth game and failing spectacularly.
Whether it’s an attempt at an action-based set-piece, a horror level, or one of the game’s uninspired third-person platforming sections, Thief will find a way to frustrate by deviating from the stealth core that makes it worth playing in the first place.
Thief Review – Why Thief Only Works As A Stealth Game
Despite Thief’s campaign gradually unraveling in such a fashion, the game is saved to some degree by the optional side-missions that are available to take on in Thief’s hub area.
These missions offer an opportunity to get you back to doing what you should be – sneaking in the shadows, using your water arrows to put out torches, silently taking out guards with your crossbow and, of course, finding a way to loot your prize from wherever it’s been locked away and hidden.
Speaking of what you should be doing, it’s important to note that Thief is very a much a stealth game.
Thief is quite clearly not intended to emulate what Eidos Montreal aimed for with Deus Ex: Human Revolution – that is, to support players who want to take the stealthy route and those who want to take on their opponents head to head.
Yes, you do have the option to adopt a more aggressive stealth style, but try to take on guards directly – padding at them ineffectually with a blackjack that suddenly feels like an oversized cotton bud – and you’ll quickly realise that Thief’s combat is, perhaps intentionally, rubbish.
Thief is a game that caters to stealth players, to reloaders who enjoy testing different approaches to get through a section with style, not to those who want to leave a trail of chaos and destruction in their wake.
When Thief focuses on its strength – that is, being a stealth game built around the satisfaction of looting – it’s a very enjoyable game indeed.
Regrettably, Thief too often loses its focus, introducing a hodge-podge of poorly implemented gameplay types and systems that feel at best unnecessary and at worst directly at odds with the core experience.
Thief is a good game that does enough to please stealth aficionados in its stronger sections, but there’s far too much wrong with it for it to be considered a great one.
Version Tested: PC