I need to start this review with a couple of admissions. Firstly, I have never played the old Thief games. At least, not properly. A friend of mine had Deadly Shadows on the Xbox and I had a dabble with it but, ultimately, Garrett’s last adventure just didn’t “click” with me. Secondly, I had intended to get this review done over the weekend. Instead, I’ve been having too much fun playing Thief to pull myself away to write about it.
Still, one of the benefits of getting a review out a week after the game’s release is that there’s time not just to reflect on the game as it is, but also the reception it’s received. I think it’s fair to say that Thief has divided people in much the same way that the Tomb Raider reboot did last year. Eidos Montreal have abandoned certain elements of the old games in favour of appealing to a larger audience. It’s a gamble but one that seems to have paid off for both games with Square Enix seeing Tomb Raider set series sales records a year down the line and Thief nab top-spot in the charts.
In my opinion, Thief thoroughly deserves this success. There’s a care that’s gone into creating the game’s city that draws you into Garrett’s world from the moment you crack your first safe. The gothic architecture and clever lighting come together to create a dark yet beautiful playground to sneak your way through and, in much the same way as some of the finest areas in Skyrim, there are marvellous incidental details that the designers have placed to give each building and room its own little story.
Crucially for a game based around thieving, there is also a hell of a lot to steal! Drawers, desks, nooks behind chimneys and the classic hidden safes (check every painting you can) are all filled with goodies to pinch. There is so much to steal in fact that I have yet to finish a level and achieve 100% loot taken. Admittedly, that could be because I’ve turned off the standard “glint” that accompanies objects of interest though. This brings me nicely to the master-stroke of the design team- everything is customisable. You can literally turn the game into the experience you want through the way you remove elements of the user interface. From the way-point markers to the map and health indicators, you can turn all of them off if you choose. My personal recommendation is to at least turn off the way-points as I’ve found so many surprises by wandering off the beaten-path and getting lost.
Speaking of pleasant surprises, another brilliant mechanic is the “swoop” ability which seems to have been included in place of Garret being able to jump. It’s essentially a more limited range version of the “blink” ability from Dishonored and allows you to quickly dash a short distance without being seen. Enabling the player to dart between shadowed areas can really give you the edge when it comes to making your way past the many guards in the game and it’s hugely satisfying when you get the hang of where to use it.
The game is not without its problems though. The pre-rendered video sequences seem to run at 10-15 FPS for some bizarre reason and the cut-scenes using the game engine are also prone to severe slow-down. In fact there are quite a few areas where Thief feels like it was in need of some final polishing. Character lip-synch in the cut-scenes is just bad enough to be annoying rather than funny and the less said about the story and script the better. I’m also not a fan of the design for Garrett with him looking less like a seasoned criminal and more like a next-gen Raziel (Soul Reaver really needs a new game incidentally). Also, if you’re playing on PC like I was, you’ll need a control pad as lock-picking and switch finding all rely on rumble feedback to let you know you’re getting it right. It’s not a major issue but worth bearing in mind if you like to play your first-person games with a mouse and keyboard as the visual indicators they employ for this control method aren’t anything like as effective as the rumblings of a pad.
You shouldn’t let these rough edges put you off though. Look past the ridiculous story and you’ve still got a solid stealth game set in some of the best environments I’ve seen in the last year. He might not be quite the same Thief he used to be and maybe that will dissuade existing series fans from wholly embracing this new iteration. As far as this newcomer is concerned though, Garrett’s return is a real triumph.
Thief is available now on PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4.