It’s a great looking game, but ultimately an unsatisfying remake with better, more modern competition.
Despite the ditching of the series’ number progression, Thief is not a reboot of the famed stealth/action series, but rather a redefining of the game’s goals, and a refinement of its mechanisms in a modern, apparently ‘next-gen’ gaming world. It advances Garrett’s urban kleptomaniac playground even further towards a steampunk setting, and gives the eponymous anti-hero a new range of supernatural powers, while still trying to instil in players the idea that stealth and secrecy will always trump bold action and getting into fights.
As such, it’s very easy to compare the game to last year’s Dishonored, and – unfortunately – it’s not a great comparison.
The City – great naming there, Eidos – has seen better times. There’s a nasty plague ravaging the population, which is ruled over by a ‘cruel tyrant’ straight out of Central Casting. Amongst all this angst and misery, Garrett just wants to steal stuff and be left alone, but he gets caught up in a job-gone-wrong which sees his thieving partner lost to some strange, arcane ritual, while he ends up with the ability to see beyond normal reality.
There’s a strong plot running through the game, but most of the time it seems at total odds with the way the game drives you to steal all the things. You might, for instance, be in a hurry to get from dingy alley A to misty bridge B, but you’ll be given any number of incidental premises and shops to rob on the way – and the game will definitely judge you based on your success at ignoring the main plot in order to walk away with untold riches from more or less innocent people minding their own business.
The thieving, however, is at least a fun challenge. You’ll need to negotiate the shadows, time the rounds of guards, and be careful making noise. The game slowly gives you more and more tools, too, that turn each set piece level into a careful puzzle to solve, such as water arrows to extinguish torches. However, the sense of free discovery that made Dishonored – a very similar game in this regard - such a joy to tackle here feels much more cramped, in part by the decision to actively hamper Garrett in hand to hand combat. It’s a tense, deadly affair, fighting guards, and one the game discourages. At the same time, some levels will auto-fail if you even so much as get seen – it’s very much a stealth game, and if the idea of being pushed to play that kind of game is not for you, you’ve been warned.
The various AI’s controlling the movement of guards is competent, however relatively easy to trick, and remarkably forgetful. Within second of alerting a guard, they’ll forget anything ever happened if you can just stay out of sight for long enough. With a system of freerunning now added to the game, it’s clear that the game is meant to played with a sense of speed – if you move through each section quickly and quietly, you won’t notice the tricks the developers have employed to create the world around you. Linger too long, though, and you run the risk of being seen behind the curtain.
Nowhere is this more felt than in the way some surfaces are highlighted as climbable, while others – of similar, or even lesser height – taunt you as being impassable. All of the game’s challenge is built on locked systems, rather than emergent exploration. Again, Thief compares poorly to Dishonored in this regard, as the latter game gave you tools that unlocked levels in seemingly unexpected ways. By contrast, Thief gives you limited tools, and limited ways in which to access them and the environment.
Which would be moderately passable if the game’s overarching plot were more gripping, or the voice-acting a little less hardboiled.
For those desperate for some challenging stealth mechanics and a love of steampunk, Thief undoubtedly delivers, though not perfectly. However, if you’re at all put off by being rail-roaded into sneaking over fighting, or looking for a more satisfactory story and setting to explore, there are better games.