A stranger in the dark.
The Thief series is widely regarded as one of the fathers of the stealth genre. It is hard to believe that a series that pioneered so much of what the genre does has been absent for almost a decade. Developed by Eidos Montreal and bearing the clichéd reboot name of simply Thief, the series has returned with mixed results. While it gets the core stealth game play right, it fails to advance any part of the genre, leaving it feeling like a follower, as opposed to a leader. Combine that with the uninteresting characters and convoluted and weird story, and we have an experience that stumbles more than it succeeds.
Thief once again follows Garrett, a master kleptomaniac who takes everything that isn’t nailed down. I admit it is kind of weird how much stuff he seems to pick up around the world. Used as the currency system, Garrett will snag everything from trinkets to forks. The setting feels strikingly familiar to Dishonored with a steam punk setting, complete with an underlying plague. There are cult references and some weird story twists, and that ending is something I still don’t understand.
Garrett also has plenty of new tricks at his disposal. The most notable is Focus. This ability, which he gained from some bizarre accident, showcases items and locations in the environment. It also sort of slows down time a bit to allow Garrett to perform certain actions faster. It has limited use and the meter is refilled using scarce poppies, so I was never able to abuse it.
In the blink of an eye.
Garrett also has a quick move ability, not unlike the Blink in Dishonored. However, instead of being able to teleport, this is just a quick dash, which is essential when moving from cover to cover. He also has a climbing hook that he acquires early on that adds to his already impressive agility to traverse the environment with ease.
These are all imperative tools to have, as Thief is designed for stealth. The combat is designed for Garrett to lose, and coming into confrontation with even one guard can prove fatal. This is why sticking to the shadows is the best course of action, and if I was caught, running and hiding was the best option. Garrett can handle himself well enough to take down guards from the shadows, and has plenty of tools to make sure he is never seen. He does have his trusty bow, which is also good for taking down enemies, as well as a wealth of attachments such as water that can aid in remaining hidden. This is a stealth game, and it shines in this area.
I could also tailor the game to my strengths with a set of options that make the game more challenging, like removing the waypoint markers or other pieces that spike the difficulty. Players have the option to make this a complete trial-and-error experience if they want to, which is nice because players like myself can opt to leave all of that stuff turned on, and play the way that makes me comfortable.
Upgrade your experience.
Early on, the upgrade system comes into play, and this is why Garrett can steal almost anything. Gold is used for every upgrade from increasing my Focus power, to upgrading Garrett’s abilities and gear. It is a simple system, but one that helps some of the more frustrating situations in the game.
When I was sneaking around and capturing loot for people, I was having the most fun. The hub city is also full of some of the best ideas that Thief delivers. Sadly the bulk of the game follows a contrived storyline that makes little sense, and seems to shatter the better aspects of the experience. Instead of sneaking into areas from various angles, or deciding where to go, I was funneled into areas in specific fashion with very little chance for experimentation. It is disappointing, and crops up constantly throughout the campaign. The moments the developers dangle the better parts of the game at me, the more furious I became.
For every exceptional moment there were numerous parts that simply frustrated. Toss in the fact that the storyline and dialogue let me down, in the end, the experience is hard to recommend.
Another snagging point is the performance of the game. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions suffer from frame rate issues and glitches. Characters would get stuck in animation loops, and cut scenes would crop items in and out randomly. While the frame rate is far from consistent, it never broke the experience, but considering how well developers have been able to stabilize with this new hardware, this game stands out because of these issues. I am also not a fan of Garrett’s awkward dialogue throughout the game.
Thief stumbles in some areas, but purely as a stealth game it does have some shining moments. The experience suffers from not taking a lot of the advances of the genre into consideration in its design. So many little things hold it back, but the core stealth experience is fantastic. Fans of the original will likely find parts they love about Garrett’s new adventure, but anyone bred on more recent stealth games likely won’t see what all the fuss is about. Eidos Montreal has done an admirable job, but too much holds it back from being the reinvention of the franchise we all were hoping for.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on PlayStation 4.