I'm going down th'bear pits t'morrow!
Looking Glass Games created the pattern by which all stealth games have tried to evolve, they made an incredible game with Thief and Thief 2. It's the norm of the industry these days to reboot things, see Tomb Raider and so on. Now Thief returns for the previous and next-gen consoles. It's a mixed bag, if you take it as part of Thief lore and the Thief franchise as was, then you're going to be a bit put out by it. If you look at it as a complete reboot, with ties to Thief and a new game with a new take on the old classics - you might be able to accept it.
Personally, we don't dislike it as much as some of our gaming peers seem to.
It isn't perfect, but it's not terrible by a long shot.
Thief is plagued with a few issues, many of them stem from the audio engine and repeated dialogue glitches that strike the game in some later areas. Read on, Taffer.
The story is a hotch-potch of sorts and doesn't quite find its feet as well as it could, it feels rushed in places and laboured in others. Garrett was always quite an interesting character, the amoral thief that steals because of his larcenous tendencies, he had no cocky side-kick apprentice to bounce off or anything like that. This new Garrett's story is one of amnesia, an accident and a connection to his apprentice that attempts to drive the story forwards into a mystery surrounding the City and supernatural elements unleashed by a foolish ruler. It's a factor of new game development, Garrett has been saddled with this kind of cookie-cutter tale compared to weaving something that could have made use of the City in a different way.
Perhaps it's a personal desire, but really, this kind of tale has been done to death. We were hoping for something a bit more meaty and perhaps something that took advantage of the City's inhabitants more, their relationship with Garrett and more importantly his motivations to steal things.
What we get is. Garrett + Smart-ass pretty and murderous sidekick, heist gone wrong + accident with supernatural forces = Amnesia and loss of memory for our hero. Sidekick dead. Kind of a Thief-esque Batman tale where our fun loving light-fingered hero now has a cape and a moody personality, standing on the edges of buildings and narrating at the night.
If you like that kind of thing, you'll eat this up.
Thief is a hub-based city stalker, part sandbox and part linear game that manages to do a fairly decent job of keeping the player immersed in the world it's created. When the stealing works, it really works and there's a heck of a feeling of immersion as you're creeping through someone's house robbing it off all their worldly goods whilst Garrett makes comments now and then about certain things that get his interest. It's definitely a game about sneaking too, because you'll spend a lot of time dying if you decide to try and go into all out combat with more than a couple of guards. Pay close attention to your Light Gem and you'll be (mostly) fine. If it's lit, you can be seen, Thief 101!!!
It's first person, with the odd camera switch to third now and then when Garrett performs a takedown move, or a specific climbing section (there are a few of these).
The controls work well enough and when you're sprinting you can use the LT to parkour around the levels in certain places, all done smoothly and with hardly any control hiccups. From moving silently from shadow to shadow, swooping (press A) from place to place in a neat little swoosh of motion, and picking locks, Thief gets this down to a T and it really shines when the level design supports it. Several of the missions early on don't quite do the game justice, so it's best to look at these as a tutorial of sorts, but as you get further into the meat of the game, the options open up and your various routes support several playstyles - including a full Ghost run. We also love the Peek option that lets you nose around corners and see the layout of the area ahead of you.
The game can be completed without you KO'ing or killing anyone, without you being seen or even heard.
Garrett has numerous tools at his disposal beyond his trusty lockpicks, he has a powerful bow that's as much as gadget as it is a weapon. Cheap arrows can be used to trigger certain switches from a distance, including light switches, so it's possible to lure guards that way. The bow supports a plethora of arrow types, including the thief's best friends: rope and water arrows. The former can allow you to access secret areas of the City with ease, and the latter are great for dousing open flames.
Add to this choke arrows (for disorientating guards), fire arrows (for lighting oil on fire and a few other tricks), flash bombs, blast arrows and you have quite a rounded set of gear that any Master Thief can use in a pinch.
You can upgrade Garrett's arsenal as well as buying perks (in the form of trinkets), merchants sell various gear, tools (wire-cutters, wrench tool) and many of these are required to open up other areas of the City as you progress through the game. If you own the Bank Heist DLC for example, many of the traps can be deactivated by using the wire-cutters to snip the mechanism. They open up alternate routes, new loot areas and more.
It all adds up to the score you get at the end of a mission, which in turn gives you more loot. Play as a Ghost and you'll be unseen, unheard and never detected. Predator that playthrough and you're striking from the shadows, knocking people out and so on.
Garrett also has a blackjack, his only weapon and method of taking down guards silently or in hand to hand combat. Don't expect to be like Corvo from Dishonored here, you're a thief and not a great fighter, so if you get into a melee it's best to bash and run if there's more than a couple of bad guys facing you down.
Garrett also has (if you're not a Thief purist) Focus Mode, a mode that's triggered with the Y button and allows our hero to perceive hidden things in the world, slow down time for combat and aim easier in ranged combat too. You can get Focus Points as you play through the game, either from story based quests or from donating cash to the Queen of Beggars, Focus upgrades give you snazzy additions to the ability like an x-ray vision that lets you see the interior workings of locks, making picking them a lot easier.
Where Thief really shines though is when it takes off the training wheels, when it lets you explore the City and sneak from rooftop to rooftop, discovering hidden maps and finding more loot that lets you expand your arsenal. The City, as mentioned previously is designed in chunks and is hub-based, you always come back to it after a successful mission. Climbing around the city, from ropes and jumping from ledge to ledge feels natural and well crafted, the controls are easy to use and easy to master too.
There are side missions too, client jobs for various personalities in the City. There's also (later on) a bunch of very small heists from Basso, one of Garrett's contacts. So it's not like it's a small game.
You can save anywhere in Thief, which means you can pick up and play for a few hours and then start right back where you left off.
Or you can experiment with a huge array of custom elements that can change the game, removing all the tooltips, removing Focus and basically adding a massive degree of difficulty level customisation into the game. If you don't like waypoints, remove them, don't like the fact that you can KO guards - run a playthrough where you can't be seen, can't KO anyone and basically must Ghost the whole thing - good luck too!
Our minor complaint: why action escape sequences where you're running away in a glorified sequence of parkour madness? It's kind of immersion breaking when you're playing this 'I am never seen' stealth guy, doesn't work for us.
What we really loved: Puzzles, more puzzles please, especially some of the late game ones. They were superb!
Thief is a hugely atmospheric game, the City comes alive with lots of lovely graphical touches and beautiful lighting effects, shadow effects and more. It looks lovely and the torchlight is especially spectacular as the guards move down the streets shedding radiance against every shadow. There's a lot of detail on the characters, the environments and the costumes in the game. The loot looks gorgeous too, especially some of the special pieces you get to steal for client based jobs.
The frame rate suffers in some areas, which is an odd thing to see for a next-gen game. We put it down to the game being developed for previous gen as well and not quite getting optimised correctly. We've seen it suffer on the PS4 version, so it's not just a thing that happens on the XBox One. Yet really, this is the kind of thing that the next-gen shouldn't suffer from, so colour us bemused and slightly put out by it.
What we really love about Thief though, above all other things, is the immersion created by the full-body design of Garrett. You can see your hands, your feet, your detailed shadow and when you peek around corners Garrett holds onto them. It's this kind of immersion that really matters, and this kind of immersion that flows into every aspect of the way Garrett interacts with his world. From picking locks, to opening doors, it feels as though you're actually there with him looking through those haunted eyes.
The animations for the game are solid, they're especially impressive when it comes down to Garrett's interaction with the world. It ties into the full body design of the graphics and modelling perfectly, with some great touches as Garrett opens safe boxes, picks out nice necklaces and looks them over as they sparkle. Combat animations are good as well, with the third person camera working quite well to showcase the Master Thief's takedowns and other moves.
What we really adore about the physics engine in the game are the cloth simulation physics, created by something called Shroud. They work really well and when Garrett interacts with those elements, such as curtains, they part realistically. They also lend a great character to his cape in the cut-scenes and the clothing of various NPCs.
The rest of the physics are the usual affair, good quality weight of action physics, such as combat hits and motion based connectivity - leaping over a railing feels as though you're actually vaulting it as you sense the weight of your landing on the other side, it ties nicely into the animation system.
The Thief AI varies from being highly intelligent to dumb as a rock, it has contrived patrol patterns and only tends to come alive in terms of intelligence when it spots where it thinks you are. On the harder difficulties it does get sharper and reacts to more stimuli. It's also sometimes capable of spotting you even if you're in shadows, remember, light-gem people!
Oh dear. Where to begin, Oh dear. Where to begin, Oh dear. Where to begin? See how irritating that is, Thief's dialogue engine suffers from incredible repetition in terms of audio bytes delivered by the game as you are exploring the City. It actually put us into such a rage we were determined to shut every NPC up on the streets just so we could get some peace and quiet into our larcenous endeavours. Now as a Thief fan, one of the highlights of the originals was the way sound actually played into the whole adventure, the dialogue was hilarious (the bear pits alone) and the guards always had something different to say most of the time. Here they repeat the same damn sentence time and time again, then they sometimes repeat it over the top of their original one and if you're lucky, it'll cut out and you'll miss some of the dialogue completely.
If you're really lucky, you'll get three or four conversations all overlaid at once with bits spliced in, which can be pretty hilarious - but come on folks, this is next-gen, not the early days of game development! It's affecting the PC, PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game so we expect it'll be an issue with the 360 and PS3 too.
The other sounds in the game are good, they're atmospheric and the sound design when it doesn't bug out is superb.
The soundtrack to the game is superb, it's extremely atmospheric and has all the key points mapped out in the expansive selection of tracks. It matches the City perfectly and stalks you as much as Garrett stalks his loot. We really love it, so all kudos to Luc St-Pierre for the music here.
Whilst he's no Stephen Russell, the new voice of Garrett - Romano Orzari had to take on the full body capture duties, as well as the vocals of our hero. It's a task he succeeded at admirably and over our 10 or so hours with the game (probably more now) he's become synonymous with this new darker version of our Master Thief. Whilst we don't love him in the role, we don't hate him either. The rest of the cast are pretty good and the voice work itself is delivered with care and attention.
Thief's script suffers in places from the story itself, it doesn't quite gel for us at times, but at least we have the memories of the Bear Pits to make us smile as we play. If only there were some memorable bits like that in the game, and if only the audio issues didn't plague us when we were listening to the dialogue. There are a few stand out lines from Garrett though and those are enough to get us to nod approvingly.
Multiplayer has to be shoehorned into a lot of things these days, but we don't lament the lack of it in Thief. We're rather glad it's missing and was never part of the original reboot design, bravo for this decidedly single player experience, all the more richer for being developed with a story in mind - even if that story is prone to leaping around like Garrett on his rooftop escapades!
No one says Taffer in the game, which is a shame. Thief is a decent reboot, marred by some annoying audio issues, some odd design choices (escape sequences) and could have been so much more than it is. What you do get though, when it works, is a fun and engaging game that may well delight old Thief fans with some of its story lore that does tie into the previous games. It's more a perfect game to bring new fans in, ones who aren't used to the stellar journey that was Thief: the Dark Project and Thief II: the Metal Age. In this respect it succeeds admirably and creates an atmospheric location ripe for a larcenous git like Garrett to plunder it blind.
Perhaps a sequel will bring more of the previous game's glory into the light, or the in the case of Garrett, peeking at us from the shadow.
A point of note: Dishonored borrowed heavily from Thief (1 and 2) so lets remember which came first.