Thief Review: Sticking to the Shadows
In fact, Thief excels at stealth. Incorporating everything from light and shadow to glass bottles you can throw to distract guards, the game places a high premium on getting around unnoticed. Incorporated into the UI is the “light gem,” a circle that lights up as you become more visible. It’s entirely possible to complete entire missions without anyone ever knowing you’re there, and those efforts are when Thief is truly at its best. Creeping from shadow to shadow and avoiding enemies while filling your pockets with all the available loot just feels good. It’s also a necessity, as taking a more confrontational route almost always ends with your death.
As mentioned previously, there’s no sword available to Garrett, so head-to-head confrontations are a bad idea. While you might hold your own against a single enemy, even one additional foe means you’re doomed. The blackjack simply isn’t an effective enough weapon for melee confrontations. Furthermore, rapid movement or violent action can tip off the caged dogs and / or birds that seem to be kept handy at most guard locations, making your presence known. You’re far better served to creep up on the enemy and knock him unconscious, or to simply slip past him unseen.
This is especially true because the enemy AI leaves a bit to be desired. If they see you in the light, they’ll happily pummel you to death, but slip into the shadows and you can squat quite safely a few feet from them, right in front of their eyes.
More disappointing is the AI’s inability to recognize changes in the environment. Open a chest and walk away, and the guards will saunter by without a care. There’s also no variation to the patrol paths the guards might take. Instead, they simply trudge the same routes until you inevitably crack them on the back of the head. You can drag their fellow guards off into the darkness, and they’ll never be missed.
If you find that the AI simply isn’t challenging enough, Thief includes the option to completely customize your difficulty settings. Want to turn off ammo counters, health bars, or the light gem? Almost every element of the UI can be toggled on or off. You can also choose from Rogue, Thief, or Master difficulty levels, but the difficulty options don’t stop there. Thief also includes a number of custom difficulty options, including disabling manual saves, turning off the crosshair, removing health and focus resources, and even a permadeath option. This level of customization is rare in a modern game, and it’s a welcome addition here, even if it doesn’t make up for the sometimes-inept AI.
Thief’s story is a confusing mix of magic, politics, and secrets. Garrett, who throughout the franchise has always been out for himself, is for some reason encouraged by the mysterious “Queen of Beggars” — the blind woman who still seems to somehow know everything — to “save” the city from the machinations of the ruthless Baron Northcrest. To do that, Garrett has to find out what happened to Erin, his protege, who he assumes to be dead. With little more encouragement than a cliched “Even you need other people for something,” argument, Garrett sets out to do just that.
The story holds together early on, with Garrett trying to discover what happened to him after the mishap at the outset of the game. He’s missing a year of his life, and he wants to know where it went. As you get deeper into the the game, the mystical aspect of the tale takes over, and things start making a lot less sense. Alternate realities seem to invade Garrett’s mind, and you’ll find yourself wandering black and white landscapes listening to the voice of your fallen associate, while strange beings move about.
Boss fights also appear as you near the end of the game, and Eidos is to be commended for allowing you to use stealth to bypass them. Even the game’s final battle doesn’t involve using a weapon. It seems the studio learned from the boss battles in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Sadly, the game ends with a less-than-fulfilling cutscene that provides no answers and no closure, and seem to make a mockery of what you just spent an entire game trying to do.