Set in a mysterious city at the very edge of chaos, Thief puts you in the skin of Garret as he finds himself and his friends involved in the brewing revolution through his work as a master thief. But does this game live up to it's legendary name sake?
Thief is a hard beast to tackle. It's not just a reboot of an old videogame series. It's a reboot of the game series that defined the stealth subgenre and is arguably the starting point for many of the stealth mechanics and ideas that we know and love (or hate) in current action games. Talking about it right now is, as you all have no doubt already noticed, controversial. This game hits a tough spot for fans of the original, and strikes a flame of people who are unfamiliar with the series. This is a game that won't just get mixed opinions: it'll completely polarize any group of people that attempts to look at it.
Where some people are completely driven by the nostalgia or even the desire for a "worthy successor" in Eidos' new attempt to bring the Thief series back from the dead, others are seeing the silver lining in the game's modernized mechanics and rebooted storyline. I've had little-to-no experience with the original games, and to write this review I've made sure to keep it that way. This game is a reboot and a re-introduction for many people to the series that started the stealth subgenre, so it's only fair to look at it with fresh eyes.
That said, I understand the "legacy" of the Thief series and it's objective as a videogame, so I will try to judge this game by it's core principle in all forms: the idea of stealth. Please bear with me people... for this is one of those games that splits the internet's hive mind in half.
Let's begin, shall we…
Setting the stage for the great heist
Thief is a game that is heavily reliant on the atmosphere it creates. This is no surprise, as the environment in any stealth game is one of the most important things to begin with, and its practically a character on it's own. Splinter Cell would be nothing without the scenarios it created in foreign lands where you needed to rely on your wit and training to come out alive; Dishonored would have been nothing if it didn't create a unique and mysterious environment that made you feel curious to explore and get to know during your quest for revenge (which by it's own would not have held the game together).
Well crafted, cozy and inviting... The graphics set the mood as you let your kleptomania loose
Thief doesn't waste any time in creating it's own atmosphere, immersing you almost immediately into a city brimming with civil unrest and a city force that is as corrupt as it is brutal. The game's art direction has a clear design towards a realistic and dark look rather than the more vibrant tones we've seen in more recent games, and it's for a good reason. Thief is meant to emphasize the dark, both in a gameplay sense and a story sense, and the locations drive this motif forward with moody lighting and constructions very reminiscent of a past century english city, while making sure that the mystery of the unknown lurks in every corner.
The story itself is incredibly well voice-acted for all the characters,. Characters react in a way that you'd expect, in the case of Basso and Garret's relationship for instance, you can see that they're both good friends while trying to maintain a job relationship that's unusual to say the least. The cutscenes in between the missions are pre-rendered, so while the graphical fidelity of them is okay, there's the issue that they don't always add up to where you were in the map at the moment. Still, the effort to tell a story is there, and you can see that they did try to give it care by paying special attention to the voice acting talent.
That’s not to say that the story is very good by itself. Thief’s main storyline can be very boring to some people, perhaps even predictable as you advance through it. While they took great care in the details of the story, such as how the characters interact with one another or how they presented the cutscenes themselves and giving it a clean set of voice actors that do the characters justice, it just doesn’t do the game ITSELF much justice. It feels rushed at times, and the weird disconnect between cutscene and situation going on in the gameplay itself is an example of that.
Gameplay elements are disguised in the environments to the point where nothing feels out of place. When it does, it's because the room is built around it (such as the more secretive rooms in the third and fourth chapter of the game which are built around simple puzzles). The game thus manages to give you the information you need for gameplay, such as where you can climb and where it would be possible for you to use your diferent tools, without breaking the immersion. Some people may find this to be a con, however, as the gameplay elements can easily blend in with the rest of the scenario.
Graphically, the game can be rather intensive at it's highest setting, yet the game gives you an absurd amount of options to customize not just how the game looks but how the game acts difficulty wise and even hud wise, allowing you to easily run the game and adjust it to your preference. Much alike your main character's leather armour, you can adjust Thief to fit your computer's specs just tight enough to give you the best performance and looks, or you can set it loosely at low settings to give your computer some breathing room.
The game also gives you option to turn off several parts of the hud, such as taking off waypoint markers, crosshairs, button prompts, etc. The game literally allows you to customize almost every aspect of it, allowing you to enjoy the beautifully crafted graphical atmosphere. I would have liked sharper textures, but the lighting is what sets this game's looks, really.
A bit like Subway, this game gives you so many options on how you want your experience to be you may be overwhelmed at first. The PC menu is ridiculously extensive.
The atmosphere is worked in audio form as well, by using the NPC's that inhabit the city to tell small tidbits of the story as it develops, such as the civil unrest, reactions of people to the city's baron and guards, as well as how the guards themselves talk amongst one another about their own developing issues and questions. There are small self-contained stories all over the locations you visit which will pop up as long as you're paying attention to your environment. Unfortunately, the sound direction can sometimes be a little off, and the atmosphere is broken at times by the music queues that the game presents you with. I actually found myself turning the music volume down because some of the scores, while amazing in their own right, just didn't fit the situation that they were set in at the moment. Sometimes I'd be in a very tense sneaking situation and the song score would be more fitting to an all out chase in the city's rooftops
That's not to say all the music scores don't fit. When almost being found out by the guards, the music would enhance the tense feelings that the situation would give me on it's own and make me doubt my own hiding spot decisions. It's hit or miss, but when it hits, it hits hard.
The ambience doesn't just play to convey parts of the story, but it can work as both your greatest ally and your greatest enemy. Thief's environments are very dark, with scarce lights and routes that will help cover your tracks if used right, and uncomfortable spots of light and heavily guarded areas that will require you to use what you've learned to get through unseen... or at least alive.
This is a good time to bring up the game's mechanics, as they are heavily tied in with the game's theme and, of course, the objective of the entire effort, which is to give you the feeling of being a proper thief rather than some sort of legendary killing machine.
Gameplay and Mechanics
The gameplay and mechanics in the game revolve almost entirely around stealth, as you would expect, but unlike other games of it's ilk like the Assasin's Creed series or Splinter Cell, you are not given very efficient means to kill people. Some players may find this unappealing, yet this is a central part of the game. You are a thief, not a killer, and thus your characters skills are focused almost entirely on the idea of entering and exiting an area without being seen, ideally with no one even knowing you were there untill you're already long gone. You have to always be on the lookout for shadowy areas to hide, and the game helps you by giving a simple hud indicator to indicate when you're in full cover or too exposed by the light. This makes for an interesting mechanic, as it also makes you feel nervous when exposed to the light.
You'll have to supress your killer instinct if you want to properly play this game, trust me.
The game develops in different story missions, as well as some side-missions that are available for you outside the main story-line. All of these are centered around a main "City-Hub", which you can access from your hideout's window. Shops and hidden loot are scattered all throughout the city, which makes an interesting case for exploring it; however, the lack of direction or even anything that would call your interest about some of the areas that hide more important loot make the city hub feel a lot more like filler than an actual needed part of the game. Paths are not entirely clear throughout the city either, making you have to slowly work your way through the area towards your next main story mission. These story missions, unlike the city-hub, have a much clearer direction, arguably being a bit too linear for their own good. You are given several ways to go through a scenario, but the paths still go through the same areas. This basically means that while you do have several ways to go through a place, it's confined to one small area at a time rather than a sprawling location as some would prefer.
To navigate these areas, you are given a variety of tools. Your bow is your primary tool in taking on the challenges that the game throws at you, and it is surprisingly more of a tool than a weapon, as attempting to kill with it is very difficult if not impossible (this is one of the important points of the game however. Like I mentioned earlier— you are a thief, not a murderer). The bow has a wide arrange of arrows at your disposal, from simple arrows to water capsule arrows and noxious gas capsule arrows that will allow you to perform tasks such as knocking out guards and turning switches or traps on and off in the environments.
Other main tools include your lockpick and a small item called "The Claw" which allows you to climb certain areas in the map. You can also buy new tools, such as a wrench and a wire-cutter that will allow you to open different areas and loot trapped strong boxes around the stages. These aren't necesary to complete the game persay, but they are very useful if you want to get every piece of loot and explore the stages to their entirety.
The strange part about the abundance of tools is that you'll often find yourself using only one part of the entire set. I found myself going through most of the stages using only 3 types of arrows, the water arrow, the blunt arrow, and the rope arrow (which I used on rare ocassions), as they were what best fit my playstyle. I never felt a big need to go beyond them.
At first I thought this was because they were just the best option, but as I talked with some of my friends, I found that they were using different strategies, and relying on different arrows entirely. Where I was using the water arrows to turn off sources of light and use the time the NPC's took in turning the light back on to sneak around, my friend was using broad headed arrows to panic guards into searching areas she was no longer in by the time they got there, and another used noxious gas to blind guards momentarily and panic them to solve the issue of sneaking through tough areas altogether.
You can use blunt arrows to destroy certain things in the area and scare the hell out of the guards. Perfect to make your escape.
None of these strategies are less effective, in fact, they are all very good means to work through the stages of the game. However, this help to the stealth does bring up a rather dissapointing aspect of Thief's mechanics.
The tools never force you out of your comfort zone.
Where games like Batman: Arkham City or Far Cry 3 would at times force the player to consider different and more daring strategies, Thief is more than okay with letting you play the game however you like and keeping it like that all the way through. While this does mean that the game can be more enjoyable for some people who do not feel like changing their modus operandi, many players will feel that this is a lack of challenge on the games part.
That's not to say that the game isn't challenging by itself, but there are certainely instances where you do feel like the game becomes too methodic. This is present in the game's main missions, which are very similar yet give you enough of a variety of ways to enter stages and vary the theme of them that you do not notice at first.
One of the big things you have to make things less challenging is Focus, which allows you to notice things in the enviroment easier. Focus changes the way your hud works, making items that you can interact with in the environment light up bright blue or red depending on whether they constitute a threat or not (for example, traps or guards are red, while loot or possible hidden switches are light blue). Focus can also increase your proficiency in certain subjects temporarily, such as making it easier for you to lockpick while it's on or even allowing you to hit someone in a critical point to knock them out in one blow. It will improve your skills, but most notably, it is entirely optional. There are even options to completely turn off Focus in the game, and there are limited options to advance it (by giving money to a character called the "Beggar Queen"). This optionality is an admirable trait, especially because it means the developers created the game with the idea that you could finish it without a feature, which is something that other games do not do.
The enemy AI, for the most part, reacts very well to you. They turn on sources of light that you have turned off (often noticing when you turn one off in front of them, otherwise they attribute it to the wind, which given the stages is not implausible); they check doors that they see are open or were suddenly closed; and most importantly, unlike other "stealth" games, they don't send every single guard to check one noise you make in the environment. When you use a bottle or the like to distract the guards, they'll tell one man to go check it while the rest guard the area, meaning you'll give yourself an opening but not a ridiculous one like in Far Cry 3, for instance, when you throw a rock to a wall.
The AI isn't flawless, however. Sometimes it has hiccups that can be quite annoying and break immersion, most notable of them when they stick around an area even though they already have been assigned a patrol pattern, or for that matter not reacting properly when you turn off a light source that is close behind them (which I found a tad dissapointing when I realised it). Still, it's a much better effort than others in this genre, and that is not to be taken lightly. The worst example of the AI’s faults is when they get stuck in a loop and have a massive error. This happens rarely, but when it does it can be a real deal breaker.
You could beat 'em over the head to get in... Or deceive them to pass by.
The basic gameplay of the game is the same as always, however. You must infiltrate an area that is covered by many guards, find something inside this area to be discovered or for something terrible to ocurr inside it which prompts an escape or hallucination for your main character. These are enjoyable for the most part, to be quite honest, as the theme of the scenarios is very varied between the missions and finding new and different ways to search through them can be quite entertaining, not to mention that there are quite a few pieces of special hidden loot for the completitionist in all of us. There are some people, however, who will be bothered by the methodicalness of the ordeal.
Tension builds with the environment and the situations you are put in, causing you to doubt your decisions and to give you that added excitement of being the thief that you need to be. More observant players will be annoyed by the methodicalness of the missions, but those that find it interesting will have a blast, as tension building is something that many "stealth" games of this generation have completely forgotten to do.
As I played through the game and thought all of these conditions, I couldn't help but get a strange sense of Deja-Vu... it felt like I had played something much like this already. Something that was at the tip of my tongue but I couldn't quite just place it yet.
It wasn't untill I looked off to my little pile of games next to my desk that it clicked. I picked up one of the games from it and looked at it for a couple of seconds and just muttered to myself "... son of a..."
What are you talking about?
Allow me to take you back 7 years ago to 2007. A lot of strange things were going on for gaming during that time, including the start of a series created by Ubisoft that would spike the attention of everyone who saw the trailers for it. A stealth game designed around the idea of not causing massive amounts of destruction, but getting in, killing your target, and escaping without getting caught.
A game that recieved lukewarm reviews at best from the press, yet received an excellent rating from the people that played it, much alike what is going on with Thief right now. A game that, for once in a very long time, focused on the idea of stealth rather than mayhem, yet dissapointed at first because of some misteps in development and ideas that repeated themselves over and over during gameplay.
I am speaking, of course, of Assasin's Creed.
Nothing is true. Everything is permited. Except stealing Leo's comb. that's just a dick move, man.
The similarities between the two are baffling. The more I think about it the more I realise how interesting this entire situation is. Here we have two games that are separated by 7 years, have much different premises and entirely different studios, yet the similarities between the two when it comes to the finer things such as the contextual actions and even the way people have reacted to them is remarkable.
Enjoyable settings and mechanics, but a lack of depth and odd context sensitive actions that aren't necesarily always clear. Excellent story-telling, but a story that isn't necesarily speaking surprises. A lot of potential, but a few misteps that tarnish the experience for some people.
Thief suffers a lot of the same issues that Assasin's Creed had in it's original incarnation; however, it solves a lot of its issues. Thief really brings back the idea of stealth, and revives it with a very much needed emphasis on it, where other games would make a "stealth" game that would rack up to be a "hide in a bush until you can shoot/stab someone in the face" simulator.
Both games also have something in common. Something that many people seem to forget when they try to dismiss this game for it's flaws.
Assasin's creed didn't really take off untill the second installment, where they didn't just add on to what they already had, but perfected their previous effort, and this certainely feels like an effort that can be perfected into something as good as it could be.
So... Is it good or bad? Would you recommend it?
Thief is not a bad game. It has merits that push it over a lot of the games that claim to be about stealth this day and age; however, it's not a game for everyone.
Where other games would give a much heavier focus to their combat than their stealth mechanics, Thief focuses almost exclusively on it's stealth mechanics and, while it has some technical issues, it excels in them regardless, especially when you compare it to games of this current generation. Sadly, when comparing this game to it's predecesors (which is inevitable in the long run) you will find the game a bit lacking.
The game gives you several ways to play, working both with the idea of stealth and using the environments to your advantage, and it does make you feel very tense when sneaking around.
If you're looking for an authentic stealth experience in the modern gaming age, this may just be the game for you. It'll keep you tense and thinking on your toes, even if it doesn't hit the mark all the time. While the game on normal is not necesarily challenging, it gives you several tools such as disallowing focus and modifying your hud and difficulty levels in a custom way to fit your needs.
The exploration will keep you busy for a while if you're that sort of person, and completitionists will have plenty of items to look for through the entire city and main story-line. Fans of the series may however want to stay away unless they can be forgiving of the reboot's need to make away with some of it's more complicated features in order to, at least in this first installment, get the public used to a true stealth game once more.
i agree with the 7 rating but a 8 at graphics? dafuck you been smoking? have to agree with pros and cons as well. well made review. good job.
anyway, only proper way to play it, is without any hud. just as metro. thats where the immersion kicks in, in this game, especially since its a lot more casual than the original thief games. hudless is always a great way to boost immersion. in a game where you already have first person and great atmosphere its only making the game even better. asylum without any hud, 7.1 and trueaudio with tweaked contrast and brightness in the nvidia or amd control/catalyst center and with gamepad close to the monitor and fov 110.....thats fuckign epic. thats how i like my games. i wish more hudless games will come. but of course the gameplay has to stay simple if you cant implement many visual helps in the world itself like the climbing options being blue etc. still. i prefer immersion and simple gameplay over a ten million button mayhem like ac. even though the combat in the first ac games was like: wait and counter. thats it literally. ac 1 was boring as hell. cant believe it was so overhyped. the original thief had a strong sense of mystical or occult phenomenons which lacks here. and not enough horror. still. you cant deny that its fun to play as you try it the first time. only the side quests can be tiring and all the looting. looting should be rewarded and loot should be more rare. also, you get too much money for equipment and not enough for the artifacts you can buy in roder to get boosts. shit you dont need in a thief game. but well, thats nitpicking.