Thief Review: Sticking to the Shadows
It’s been almost 10 years since the last game starring the master thief named Garrett, but the intervening decade hasn’t lessened his desire for shiny objects.
While this latest Thief will be familiar to veterans of the series, it isn’t a prequel or a sequel. It doesn’t exactly feel like a reboot, either. Instead, it’s almost an homage, a nod to the greatness of the classic games of the Thief franchise that sometimes tries too hard to fit into the modern action game mold.
Platform: PC (Reviewed), PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Feb. 25, 2014
Like the previous titles, Thief is set in what is known only as “The City.” It’s a gothic-inspired warren of alleys and buildings that Garrett will only venture into at night. It’s also extremely well-realized, offering up some of my favorite moments in the game. In between story missions, you can wander the city freely, learning your way around and lifting a fair bit of loot as well. Learning the ins and outs of The City’s streets is not only rewarding in terms of coin, it also helps you perfect the skills that you’ll need to progress through the game’s story and side quests. It’s just too bad that your treks through The City are broken up by numerous loading screens.
Unfortunately, once you get into the story missions, that sense of freedom is largely gone. You’ll start a mission at point A, and you’ll have one or maybe two routes available to get you to point B. If you didn’t pick up the wrench (an item you can buy early on to open vent covers), you might find one of those possible options closed off to you. It’s a very linear experience, with only minimal diversions to be had. The classic Thief games offered multiple routes to complete each mission, and it’s a shame that that only happens occasionally in this installment.
The city benefits greatly from the power of the PC platform. As you clamber across rooftops or through alleys, the stones and mists of the city surround you, and you feel as much at home in the darkness as Garrett does. The game’s animations are similarly strong, although you’ll quickly tire of some of them, especially those that involve opening windows. The ambient conversations, the scuttling of the rats, and the crunch of aging roof tiles under your feet all server to draw you in and make the city a believeable place to inhabit.
Fans of the series will find much here that feels familiar. For example, Garrett is armed with his trusty blackjack, which he can use to knock out enemies, or to fight them if he’s discovered. Unlike the classic Thief titles, however, Garrett has no sword this time around, making it that much harder to take an aggressive approach to the game.
Also returning is Garrett’s bow with its array of useful projectiles, from the water arrows that can extinguish torches and other light sources, to the rope arrow that Garrett can use to attach a climbable rope to walls.
As cool as this bag of tricks sounds, its utility is actually somewhat limited. For example, rope arrows can only be attached to certain surfaces, and fire arrows deal minimal damage unless they’re used to ignite a flammable liquid. The claw that Garrett uses to scale high obstacles can only be employed when a grate-like texture is visible on the wall you’re scaling. All of these limitations combine to make the city feel as though it’s keeping you awfully hemmed in for a master thief.
Still, there is quite a bit of exploration to be had. Venturing down a dark alley may lead you to a disguised window or grate that you can slip into to find some unique loot. Once again, though, the joy of these moments is somewhat hampered by the fact that the vast majority of the “houses” you enter are simply one room that you steal two or three items from and can only exit the way you entered. You’ll almost never see another person inside one of these rooms, so there are no worries about getting caught while you’re pilfering. It seems like a missed opportunity not to have these excursions more fleshed out, especially in a game that’s so great at the stealth side of things.