Thief, the FRANCHISE, has been hiding in the shadows these ten years passed. It emerges, blinking, dazed and confused into the daylight of 2014, its “action stealth”, tagging, explosions and superhuman magic-men protagonists, like a relic from the past. It’s not entirely a bad thing, says Dave Green in our review…
I’ll start off this review by being honest. Yes, you read that right. I’m always honest (except for the times I’m not, this not being one of them) as you, dear readers, deserve that. I’m a fan of Thief the FRANCHISE. Have been for many years. I did not like the last iteration, Thief: Deadly Shadows, very much (The Cradle level aside). I’ve never been able to put my finger on why. It just didn’t grab me. The reboot, intelligently named Thief (someone was paid good money to come up with that title), from Eidos Montreal (though not the same team that brought us the excellent Deus Ex prequel/reboot/latest game/game) is better than Deadly Shadows. It drew me into its shadowy bosom, whispering sickness and foreboding tides into my ever eager ear. Is it as good as FRANCHISE pinnace Thief II: The Metal Age? No. You cannot destroy The Metal. It comes close and it’s similar enough to that 16-year-old game to feel remarkably fresh and unique in today’s market.
It’s funny to say that a game that is aping a 16-year-old one (with a fair amount of ‘the good stuff’ from the 10-year-old Deadly Shadows thrown in) feels fresh. But it does. It’s a relic in the stealth genre, and in its aping it carries with it all the same issues games from that time did (more on this later), but the stealth genre is completely bastardised now anyway – it’s more concerned with the spectacle than the patient watching and planning from safety that used to be the genres hallmark. You only need to look at the latest iterations of Hitman and Splinter Cell to see how ‘me too’ the stealth genre has become. Not Thief. Not on your nelly, son (or daughter. I think.)
So, what does Thief do well? It’s tense. The stealth works. It’s art direction is extremely striking, making the next-generation and high-end PC versions very handsome indeed. The score is excellent, as is the sound design in general (except for some ropey voice acting from NPCs and the occasional mixing hiccup). The plethora of investigating, side-missions and discovery outside of the main story is very pleasing, as is the freedom in which you can tackle these. Which is good, as the main campaign is a little weak – the story isn’t all that engaging, and what Eidos Montreal have you doing in it is a little rinse and repeat in terms of structure and progress. As mentioned before, it’s a true pleasure to find a vantage point where you can monitor The City’s streets and alley ways and come up with your method of attack (or not) and this is the games main strength, pal.
All the more strange then, that during the main campaign, Eidos Montreal seem determined to take this away from the game. Be it funneling you through corridors or sewers with no additional paths of divergence, bizarre out-of-place 3rd person climbing sections or end of level action set-pieces that require you to basically hold the left trigger and run, the developers don’t seem to have faith in the sublime stealth simulator they’ve created elsewhere. I understand. They want to add a bit of variation and pace to the main missions. But that isn’t the game they’ve created elsewhere.
By all accounts, Thief had a troubled development – and you can tell. It’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster of a game. You can see older iterations of the build pop into the main game at times, and it has technical issues. Built with the 360/PS3 generation in mind, it comes with all those load time, AI and world-population issues that gamers have come to expect over the years. While I’m certain Thief is best experienced on your PS4, Xbox One or high-end PC, it’s very much a last-generation game.
It would be remiss of me not to mention a few stand-out moments though, and these are the things that helped draw me into proceedings where Deadly Shadows didn’t. There is a tremendous physicality about the game – Garrett’s hands are almost constantly on-screen, there’s a real weight to the first-person running and climbing (which works) and searching paintings and bookcase for hidden triggers is a great touch. The asylum level is a true treat too, a tour de force of world-building, sound design and, funnily enough, the point in the game Eidos Montreal seemed the most confident in what they’ve created.
– Dave Green @davidpgreen83