System(s):PS4, Xbox One, PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher (Developer): Square Enix (Eidos Montreal)
ESRB Rating: Mature for blood, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs and violence
Thief is one of those franchises that a lot of people have fond memories of. Even if they don’t have a vivid memory of exactly what made the original Thief games so good, they stand by their belief that its legacy is one to be cherished. When the 2014 version of Thief came out, I think some were expecting to experience those non-specific, yet undeniably positive feelings yet again. Sadly, many were disappointed. I too left Thief feeling underwhelmed even though I had no prior experience with the other games.
The title Thief is as straightforward as it gets. You’re a guy that steals stuff. The question is what are you stealing for? In Garrett the main character’s case, he steals because he likes it. He keeps a trophy room with empty spaces reserved for his most treasured licks. He talks to himself about stealing even though his main focus should be on something else. That’s the guy I wanted to play as. I wanted to be a self-serving thief before anything else. I didn’t get that feeling from Garrett. Ironically, there’s not enough emphasis on stealing stuff for the heck of it in the main story.
Let me give you an example. The walled city Thief takes place in is filled with buildings that I’m sure has plenty of goodies for a thief to take. But a lot of the thieving doesn’t feel much different than just picking up random items in other games. When any other video game character grabs an item off a table, it doesn’t feel like stealing. It feels like a dude picking something up because no one else wants it. In the grand scheme of things, acquiring random items doesn’t feel essential in these types of games. It’s just something you do along the way to your main objective. That’s what playing Thief is like. Garrett doesn’t feel as much as a thief as he does a sneaky assassin that doesn’t know how to fight. The interesting things he steals throughout the game at the request of others are a means of progressing the story. The things he keeps for himself are hidden in the world. It doesn’t matter if you miss these collectibles. It doesn’t matter if the master thief fails to steal the cool stuff.
Bag of Tricks
In order to get by in this game, you have to be very stealthy. Like I said earlier, Garrett can’t fight very well. If you end up a facing a guy with a sword and another guy with a crossbow at the same time, it’s pretty much over for you. Garrett’s main melee weapon is a blackjack he uses to club people in the face. You can dodge incoming attacks, but it’s not as easy as what we’ve experienced in Assassin’s Creed or Batman games. The first-person perspective makes it difficult to gauge how far away you are from an enemy’s blade. You may think you’ve got a dodge nailed down, but that satisfaction is taken away once you realize you’re getting hit. It’s best to stick to the shadows and sneak behind your opposition. Garrett can knock people out in a single blow and drag them into shadows to avoid alerting others. This is how you’ll want to handle pretty much every hostile person you come across. It’s just not worth it to go toe-to-toe.
You also have access to a range of support items such as a variety of arrows. There are fire arrows that can get the attention of enemies, water arrows to douse flames and create more shadow and arrows to give you an offensive hand. Besides the water and fire arrows, I didn’t feel a need to use the others. You only have a limited supply until you buy more, and I was taking out everyone I could by hand anyway. The first time I did use an arrow on an enemy, it did nothing but give away my location. It barely hurt him.
I also don’t like how accessing these items works on the DualShock 4 touch pad. The calibration is all off. There were times when I couldn’t get to the item I wanted because the pad was unresponsive. If an item was in the upper right corner, and I swiped from the left side, nothing would happen. The dead zone was very wide.
Garrett also has access to something called Focus. When you use Focus, you’ll see interactive items highlighted in blue. It also makes combat and picking locks somewhat easier. Focus drains as you use it and can only be replenished with poppies. Maybe it’s me, but I couldn’t find too many of these in the wild. This made me use Focus very sparingly. I’m okay with that though because Focus never seemed essential.
Things have been pretty negative so far, but there are things to like. The atmosphere is very dreary as an illness referred to as the “gloom” is spreading around and killing people. The people are further oppressed by the Baron who rules things with an oppressive hand. With a setting like this, it’s not hard to understand why one would have to sneak around. There are also moments when you truly feel like a master thief. During the first half of the game, you have to make your way through a mansion. You only have to go from one point to another, but there’s so much neat stuff in there to steal, it’s hard to not risk it all and go for it. I wanted to explore every single square inch of that place in order to clean it out completely. I also love the way Garrett doesn’t automatically open safes or drawers after you break the lock. As a player, giving me the opportunity to open these myself fills me with anticipation for whatever new loot awaits me.
The City also provides an interesting atmosphere. Everything is dark and depressing, but begging to be explored. With all the problems going down in the streets, you’d think a man like Garrett would spend his time navigating the tall rooftops. Nope. Exploration and vertical movement are like illusions in this game. Just when you think you can take to higher ground, there’s an object in your way to prevent you from doing that. There’s some promise to Garrett’s parkour-like movements, but they’re not fully exploited. Just when you think you’ve got a rhythm going, you’re stopped in your tracks.
The in-game map is also really bad. It’s a combination of squares and rectangles that really don’t help you get anywhere easily. The map does show you if you’re at a dead end, but won’t give you a path to get around it. Maybe you have to go through a window and load the next area of the map, or maybe you made a wrong turn on the way to the shop. I hope you learn The City’s layout because the map is not helpful.
Successfully navigating to chapter start points will reveal a story that’s nothing too thrilling. There are some supernatural elements involving a ritual and some cult-like figures and for some reason a master thief is the best person to fix everything. It’s just not a story that’s engrossing.
Thief is average. It’s not terrible and it’s certainly not a high water mark for this still young generation of new consoles. It suffers from too frequent loading screens, cut scenes that actually look worse than the in-game visuals, some audio bugs and overall mixed direction. I can see the potential of what could have been an open game with free movement. It could have been Assassin’s Creed meets Dishonored. Instead it’s a somewhat confining mix of ideas that doesn’t excel in any one thing.