The Thief franchise has always created a tense atmosphere through its occult setting. Many purists who adore the art of sneaking consider Thief’s dark and desolate world to be up there with the best. After a long hiatus, the next Thief game has finally arrived but there has been some scepticism from fans. As more details were slowly released, there were murmurings of a new combat system which appeared to deviate from the stealth element. The producer, Stephane Roy, famously stated, “I don’t know if you remember with the previous game. Let’s say I’ve been detected; it was really, really tough to survive. You know? It was unforgiving.”
This angered the core Thief demographic who yearned for a hardcore and punishingly difficult stealth game. Combat was always intended to be a last resort after being spotted. Garrett is, after all, a master thief and not overly proficient at intense sword fighting. Thankfully, Eidos Montreal listened to the concerns and toned down these fighting aspects. Despite this, these alterations didn’t have a profound impact as the game falls painfully short in every department. You are left with an experience which is completely devoid of direction and innovation.
Throughout the story, you play as Garrett, a professional thief who steals anything of monetary value. You begin your quest alongside an apprentice, Erin, who is skillful but a little naive. During one fateful night, you attempt to acquire a mysterious and ancient relic of unspeakable power. Garrett’s experience and intuition tells him to retreat in the wake of certain death. Erin’s overconfidence is her downfall as she recklessly retrieves the item and succums to an untimely death. After this traumatic event, you are transported one year into the future. Garrett is perplexed about Erin’s fate and tries to rationalize what happened. You wake up in a dreary and miserable world which needs a saviour to overthrow the overbearing elite.
Garrett as a character has the propensity to formulate a wonderful storyline through his secretive and complex personality. Garrett’s non-lethal ideals illustrates that he has a certain level of morality despite being an underhanded thief. For example, Garrett is mortified when Erin kills a helpless guard to cover her tracks. He argues that a non-lethal approach is needed and they are human beings after all. During the early chapters, you perceive Garrett as a disconcerting character who remains fairly aloof. This interesting concept is wasted as the story unfolds. Thief’s plot focuses on a convoluted political backdrop instead of Garrett’s unique and interesting character traits.
The story in general is mystifying, sluggish and unbelievably monotonous. In fact, the plot is so dreadful that I felt inclined to skip each cutscene and ignore the wafer thin supernatural undertones. I wanted to learn about Garrett’s misgivings and his clinical abilities as a professional thief. Throughout the story, I was completely baffled and had no idea what was going on half the time. There are a number of contradictions and I can’t even recall one memorable moment. The pacing is excruciatingly slow and can become painful to watch at times.
Thief’s stealth mechanics manage to redeem the game somewhat as they are superbly executed. It is imperative to remain in the shadows or you will be easily detected. There are light switches, lamps and bright candles which can be detrimental to your success. Dousing the candles whilst being hidden under a table is high recommended. Light switches are difficult to turn off as the surrounding area is often heavily guarded. Garrett shoots arrows from a suitable distance to switch off the lights and slip past any confused guards in the vicinity. This is an exceptional design decision which never gets old and adds to the overall tension. Just as in the original games, Garrett uses his wit and cunning to overcome enemies instead of combat. You also have to tread carefully on water because the ambient noise will attract some attention. If you make too much noise, the guards will investigate and eventually discover your location. The squalid environment usually contains broken glass on the floor which easily alerts your foes. Environmental obstacles are perilous and makes travelling to new locations more exciting. This also creates the impression that the world is alive and constantly evolving.
Thief’s combat engine was heavily criticized after an E3 showing because the game rewarded headshots with an XP boost. The fighting element is buggy, awkward and unbelievably cumbersome. This is mainly due to the unresponsive controls and one-dimensional enemies. The mouse itself controls beautifully, but the act of striking an enemy is surprisingly difficult due to in-game lag which puts a damper on gameplay. Also, the fighting is eminently primitive and feels like an afterthought. When you engage in combat, there are a small number of options at your disposal. You can flee by jumping onto the rooftops and moving at a pace which bamboozles enemy guards. Hiding behind objects is a less successful tactic as your foes often meticulously investigate the surrounding area. Weapons, and I use that term lightly, are designed to stun your opponents and quickly find a safe location. Fire and Water arrows temporarily disorientate guards so you can sneak past them as they rashly inspect the trajectory of your arrow. Most of the time, you will be using the Blackjack, which is a non-lethal club. This item incapacitates guards with a swift blow to the head.
The guards themselves are extremely resilient and difficult to defeat. You need to perform at least 3-5 strikes before an enemy can be defeated. In contrast to this, your foes are dangerous and have the ability to kill you within 2 hits. That feeling of vulnerability heightens the adrenalin rush when you are attempting to sneak past a group of powerful guards. Discouraging combat doesn’t excuse the lacklustre fighting mechanics in any way. In fact, something which was designed to be used so sparingly should have been executed with due care and attention.
There is a rudimentary cover system which allows you to peek around corners and assess the situation. In theory, this is a great idea because you can decipher the movement path of specific guards. However, the entire system is rather clumsy and doesn’t feel fluid. Motion blur is applied when you look around the corner and this caused motion sickness for myself. As a result, I subconsciously avoided this mechanic and slowly peered around corners using the standard viewpoint. Thief’s AI is predictable and overly passive which makes for a sub-par experience. When you walk out of cover, a meter starts rising which illustrates the guards’ level of suspicion. It can take a ridiculous amount of time to be spotted because they don’t act on their suspicions until this arbitrary meter is filled. On occasions, I’ve walked into clear daylight in front of 12 guards, and it still took a few seconds until I was exposed. Your opponents give up far too easily after sweeping the surrounding area.
Guards will investigate if they hear a faint noise or see sudden movement. However, after a while they end up shrugging their shoulders and going back to their initial position. The AI can often aimlessly walk around with little conviction. Instead of peering around corners and observing possible items which you could be hidden in, they just move backwards and forwards. Music cues are also applied when you are at risk of being spotted which makes the game even easier. Thankfully, there is a wide scope of HUD options which can be disabled and provide a more tense and realistic experience.
A large proportion of your time will be spent looting various properties. The valuables you collect have a set intrinsic value which can be exchanged for defensive weapons. Patience and persistence are required when you have to loot drawers and cupboards for valuables. Originally, I found the stealing aspects particularly satisfying and what I expected from a Thief game, but in the end, it just became a chore. After a while, this becomes repetitive as the items lack enough variety. Ironically, the greatest foe you will face is from wildlife and animals. Dogs have a heightened sense of hearing and smell you from a great distance. If a dog gets hold of your scent, he will bark loudly and attract the guard’s attention. Birds are also troublesome and squawk if you get close to them. As a result, you have to tread carefully and avoid these creatures at all costs. The only element of diversity comes from collectables hidden in safes and behind picture frames. QTEs are employed to uncover these rare items.
To unlock a safe, you have to slowly rotate the mouse until a coloured circle appears. Paintings require you to feed your hands over the frame until you discover a hidden latch. These puzzles pose no challenge and add nothing to the overall experience. This feature becomes fairly dull soon after and artificially prolongs the game’s length. The items you uncover are truly unremarkable and don’t appear to have any special properties. If some much needed variation was added you would feel more inclined to find these hidden objects of value. The level design is exceptionally linear and constricted which only allows for a small number of approaches. The world is awash with tight corridors and claustrophobic houses which all appear very similar. You can’t explore the world or tackle challenges through different routes. You have a sensation of being told where to go and even the way in which you should approach objectives. This linearity directly contravenes the Thief ethos and modernizes it in a negative way. You can use parkour to ascend buildings and reach checkpoints in a more indirect way.
However, this rarely adds a new dimension and only forces you to interact with environmental objects. The system becomes fairly obnoxious when it highlights what items you need to jump on. The player doesn’t need to be told basic information like this; let them discover the solution for themselves. The end result of this design leads you to play the game in one of two ways. You can either sneak past those pesky guards or perform stealth takedowns and hide the body. The confined environment is a massive disappointment and adds to the monotony.
From a technical standpoint, Thief is up there with the best PC ports ever made. The game runs surprising well with a single GTX 670 at 2560×1440 using medium settings where I saw a steady 45FPS. Downscaling slightly to 1920×1080 allowed me to play at high settings with a rock solid 60FPS. There are options for AA, AF, Texture Quality, Screenspace Reflection, Depth of Field, Tessellation and many more. The game includes an FOV slider which reaches 110. There is a windowed mode and even borderless windowed option. Control wise, the keyboard and mouse works beautifully and there is no mouse acceleration whatsoever.
I tested the mouse controls with two separate mice running at contrasting DPI settings. Neither mouse caused a problem and provided a fantastic overall experience. You can fully remap the keys to whatever suits your play style. Other settings allow you to modify every aspect of the HUD and even individual difficulty attributes. For instance, you can disable alerts, food and supplies and enable stealth takedowns only. The scope of customizability on offer is staggering. The only letdown on the technical front were sound issues. There is full surround sound support, but many times I experienced sync issues between the voice acting and facial animations. This problem was most noticeable during cut scenes. Nixxes, the company responsible for this port, and others such as Human Revolution and Tomb Raider, is by far the best around when it comes to providing top-notch PC projects. It is too bad they will have such a terrible title attached to their otherwise good name.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
Thief is without question the most disappointing game I’ve played in a long time. The story is bland and repetitive with no redeeming features whatsoever. The AI is primitive and lacks any awareness of your possible strategies. On a more positive note, the actual sneaking has been superbly executed and creates a sense of tension. However, this feeling is overawed by the horrendous linear level design which limits your modus operandi. Thief is a generic stealth game which is completely devoid of any notable moments. It’s a crying shame, because I adore the previous Thief games and consider them to be the best stealth experiences ever produced. I would avoid this latest entry because it is a complete waste of your time. Save your money and buy the original Thief trilogy instead.