Beta’d Review: THIEF Returns After Ten Years
By Malik Forté on February 25, 2014
Back before Altair and Ezio Auditore made swan diving into haystacks a thing, or before Corvo Attano made his “dishonorable” debut into the world of stealth-action titles, Thief’s shadow-lurking antihero, Garrett, was the numero uno in hooded hide-and-go-seeking. Now, in their first full-length console title since Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Eidos Montreal aims to please with the first Thief adventure in a decade. The Thief series set many trends in its heyday, so the expectations are running quite high for its return, especially considering that it’s the first brand new AAA game to release for next-gen consoles in 2014.
Once again Thief is set in the dark and gloomy fictional town known as “The City.” Not much has changed about our main man Garrett; he’s still the same old, stubborn, cunning kleptomaniac that we know and love. After an unfortunate accident, Garrett gains a new ability called “Focus,” an enhancement to his vision that allows him to see advantageous areas within his surroundings, like places he can climb or switch boxes to disarm traps. This, along with Garrett’s preternatural ability to use the shadows to his benefit, will be your most useful tools for accomplishing your missions.
Throughout the game, you’ll find yourself stealing items and looting areas for gold that can be used for character and weapon upgrades. Thief continues its tradition of providing a variety of different arrows: water, fire, and explosive arrows, to name a few. There are also the extremely underutilized rope arrows, which can only be used in a scarce amount of designated spots. You can also use sawtooth arrows to headshot and kill guards if you’re bloodthirsty, but for the most part, Thief is meant to be played in as non-lethal a fashion as possible.
As you’re traversing the rooftops during the beginning of the game, you’ll notice that Thief is pretty darn pleasing to the eye. Aside from the fact that The City dons an annoyingly claustrophobic labyrinth design, from a visual standpoint, it is extremely gorgeous. Eidos Montreal must have held the aesthetic value of the game high on their priority list, because their attention to surface detail and lighting effects is phenomenal and sufficient enough to please any graphics-centric gamer out there. This is a bold showcase of the next generation of graphical capabilities.
Not to be outdone by its visual counterpart, the game’s sound design is similarly amazing. If there was ever a noise for when someone has their eyes locked onto you, Eidos Montreal has managed to capture this sound and include it in Thief. There’s this harrowing audio that cues and notifies players when they are in the line of sight of an enemy, and boy, does it make things all the more intense. I noticed many cases of intricate aural awesomeness like this throughout the game, like hearing the heaviness of enemy footsteps when they become suspicious of your presence or just the bizarre ambient conversations that take place between characters when you’re hiding nearby.
This means that staying concealed goes beyond just keeping to the shadows in Thief: you’re just as vulnerable audibly as you are visibly, and receiving a guard’s unwanted attention is as simple as knocking over a vase or taking a loud trudge through a puddle of water. Noise from the environment has been a recurring enemy throughout the Thief series, and, just like before, it adds an entirely different angle of challenge to the game, forcing players to be conscious of their surroundings as opposed to freely traipsing through each section. Even if you’re as stealthy as they come, spending too much time in the vicinity of a dog or making sudden movements around caged birds will almost always result in them sounding off, thus alerting anyone in the area.
Speaking of the enemies, there were many instances within Thief where the A.I. was noticeably spotty. At one point, I alerted a group of City Watch guards and after simply running into the shadows a few feet in front of them, they acted as if I had vanished into thin air and eventually gave up their pursuit. I watched them walk in circles, completely perplexed, making reassuring statements like “I must be seeing things.” Having witnessed titles like The Last Of Us set a benchmark of excellence for enemy intelligence, I found this to be very disappointing.
And for this reason, Thief was not a challenging game by any measure. Perhaps the goal was to make the game more accessible for newcomers to the genre, but ultimately, the pacing of the game was hindered by its simplicity and redundant stretches. It made it difficult for me to want to continue the game, and after two chapters, I had to really force myself through the rest of the game, which wasn’t bad overall, but the fact that I had to force myself through certain areas definitely left a lot to be desired.
Thief continues the tradition of the previous installment and includes an semi-open world environment in which to play. As with any open world game, an essential part of creating an engaging sandbox environment is by populating it with engaging, believable inhabitants. I really wish Eidos Montreal would have spent a little more time focusing on residents of The City, or rather the lack thereof. Where on earth is everyone? For example, when only three citizens show up at the town’s public executions, it immediately took me out of the game. This type of thing was understandable in the previous Thief titles, given the technical limitations of those time periods, but in this day and age of high-end hardware and powerful game engines, you can’t convince me that there could not have been a bit more detail extended to making The City feel more alive with its inhabitants.
Thief‘s biggest drawback is that it deviates gravely from its essential calling as a stealth-action title in an attempt to be more story-driven. With a convoluted plot-line that spirals in many confusing directions and a cast of characters who are poorly developed, I doubt this was the proper angle for the game. There are moments where you get to creatively infiltrate structures, like one section of the game that has you breaking into a brothel to steal a very important book. You find yourself sneakily making your way through patrolling guards and prostitutes, grabbing all the loot you can and eavesdropping on all the awkward “transactions” taking place within the brothel as you proceed to your target. This was a blast but an extreme change of pace from the story, which I wasn’t too jazzed about continuing upon moving on to the next mission.
The good news is once you finish the story, there’s 20+ side missions available along with a separate challenge mode for added replayability. These have no attachment to the main story and are cut and dry, but still prove to be a bit more enjoyable than anything I did in the main story. Between missions, you’re returned to a clock tower that serves as your Batcave of sorts when you’re not out burglarizing. There’s a collection display there which includes expensive jewelry, trinkets, and paintings that you’ve managed to lift throughout the main story, but you’ll find that most of these are better off acquired after you’ve finished the main plot line.
As I said before, this is the first AAA release for the next-gen consoles in 2014 and the first Thief appearance in a decade, so the expectations were stacked up against this game to begin with. Thief is, without a doubt, a very ambitious game, but in many aspects its ambition exceeds its actual performance. There are areas of sheer brilliance that normally would make a game like this a must-buy, but then there are these discernible deal breakers that exist in it as well, and these set the game back to somewhere slightly above a mediocre experience. Fans of the Thief series are sure to fawn over this one for sure, and rightfully so, but if you’re a newcomer to the realm of Thief, you may want to tread very lightly on this one.
If you’d like to chat Thief or anything else gaming related, I’m only one tweet away at @Malik4play.