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By MrJenssen04-03-2014
StuntmanLT (editor)

The Defence

Eidos Montreal
Square Enix
Action, Adventure, Stealth
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core i7
AMD FX 8000
Nvidia GeForce GTX 660
AMD Radeon R9 280
4 GB
20 GB
10, 11

The Case

The original Thief trilogy holds a place in many a stealth gamer’s heart. Not without reason, but because the games offered impressive freedom of play, some solid stealth mechanics never seen before, and an overall atmosphere to die for. It took ten years to get an official sequel to the third instalment, but Eidos Montreal are now here to pick up the torch where Looking Glass and Ion Storm left off and move the series forward once more. Does this reboot repel all the naysayers and skeptics? Or simply confirm their concerns?

The Trial

First things first; the new Thief is no sequel. It’s a reboot. It shares a handful of similarities, like how the city is still called ‘The City’, light and sound still plays their part, and Garrett is still...Garrett. But by and large, the new Thief feels like a completely different kind of ordeal. For all intents and purposes, I will be looking at Thief as its own game, and will only be comparing it to the old games in a few instances. This is a reboot, after all.

The story of Thief throws out pretty much everything the old series established. You won’t find any returning characters or events. There isn’t even a mention of past events in the game. Eidos Montreal instead opted to go the tired old route of “bad event happens, protagonist gets amnesia”. It’s a cliché that, when used properly, can be very effective. But in the case of Thief, it feels like a lazy way to avoid having to consider the events in past games.

The new Thief looks fantastic.

The new Thief looks fantastic.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the new story frankly isn’t all that great. During a nighttime sting, something goes horribly wrong and Garrett ends up in a coma for a year. When he finally returns to the land of the living, he inexplicably has a glowing eye which lets him activate X-ray vision and the ability to “swoop” quickly in any direction. He must now try to find out what’s happening with the city and its inhabitants, while dealing with the loss of a character that’s supposed to be a friend; but you wouldn’t know that from playing the game. Overall, it feels shallow, and the plot twists that you come across have no impact. What makes it even worse is a sour ending that won’t satisfy anyone, and feels more like a slap in the face to anyone who bothered to sit through the whole experience. Garrett himself feels anonymous and generic, he seems to take no stances, and your actions in his suit, will never amount to any sort of change.

But the story isn’t the first thing you’ll notice when starting the 12 or so hours campaign. No, that’d be the visuals. The steampunk vibe is all but gone, replaced by a rather generic-looking interpretation of Victorian England. Don’t get me wrong, the game looks fantastic, even despite how it’s set exclusively at night. The textures are sharp and the dynamic lighting is remarkable. But Thief will never give you any “WOW”-moments like Dishonored or Bioshock did. There’s no artistic flair to the visual aspect.

That said, Thief is still impressive, at least on a technical level. The good looks are accompanied by a stellar soundtrack and overall realistic sound design. Slowly walking over pieces of broken glass with a guard standing right beside you will likely send shivers down your spine, at least the first few times. The performance was impeccable even maxed completely out on an upper-middle tier rig. The port-work is also admirable; Thief offers a good selection of buttons and sliders in the options menu, including adjustable Field of View.

'Swooping' is just about the only new feature worth talking about.

'Swooping' is just about the only new feature worth talking about.

Anyone familiar with modern first person stealth games should immediately feel at home with Thief. You sneak around various environments, staying in the shadows, avoid getting spotted, look out for traps, pick up loot and knock guards out from behind. If you screw up, you will have to get acquainted with the game’s primitive combat system. Garrett isn’t some big, tough badass, so it’s suitably thematic that his combat abilities aren’t the best. You can strike at foes multiple times to make them eventually yield, which then gives you the chance to perform a knockout attack. A dodge-move is useful to avoid taking damage, though combat gets very hard very quickly once you start facing multiple foes. Best to run away and hide somewhere instead. You can upgrade some of your abilities to become more effective during combat, but this frankly takes away from the experience. The stealthy approach is generally the more rewarding way to go.

The controls work well for the most part, though it boggles the mind why the ability to jump has been made contextual. When platforming takes up a significant chunk of the gameplay, you’d think that the developers would at least give you the freedom to jump on your own accord. And the contextual jumping doesn’t always do what you tell it to, often resulting in a fall to your death. The same goes for dropping down ledges. Sometimes you can just walk off a ledge, other times you’ll have to push a button to do so. This system doesn’t work very well either, and can lead to the same accidental falls.

But we’re only getting started with the list of little niggles found within this dark city. The flipside to the good graphics, is the fact that the game seems to have to load every couple of steps you take. Every time you’re asked to go somewhere, you’ll have to go through half a dozen zones. Loading between zones is generally fast, but it’s made extremely tedious by forcing you to go through the same QTE sequence every time. Even worse is the fact that the environments themselves are very hard to navigate and the map you’re given makes it even more confusing. You see a blip on the map and even an icon on the HUD to display a quest location, so you’d think it would be painless to get to where you want to go. But that’s not the case. You see, the icon on your HUD doesn’t do a good job at all, and only some of these windows and stacks of boxes actually lead you to a new zone. They usually lead to small rooms where you can find some trinkets worth a couple of coins, and these rooms become pointless after the first visit. So what you end up doing, is going back and forth between these empty rooms and the outside environments until you finally find that one window that leads to the next zone, so you can repeat the process all over again. When that same QTE-prompt is required every time, it’ll test the patience of even the most mild-tempered gamers out there.

This guy apparently can't see me.

This guy apparently can't see me.

Stealth games need good AI to work, and Thief sadly doesn’t hold up. The main problem is how inconsistent the AI is. You’ll sometimes be able to sneak right up to someone without them noticing, and other times they seem to spot you from across the map. Enemies will react to flames you put out right in front of them, but won’t make a single complaint about it if you wait until they’re out of sight before you do it. Once you do get spotted, getting away is so easy that it’s almost painful. Because guards can’t climb, getting up on a rooftop is a free pass, and guards will just give up even when they follow right behind. NPCs have a tendency to bug out as well, getting stuck in “alert mode” and so on.

When you’re not hampered by loadscreens, weak AI, repetitive QTEs and bugs, you might actually have some fun with Thief. The game lets you choose what player aids to have enabled and which to turn off. For gamers who are into thinking for themselves, figuring out the best way to approach each situation, it’s highly recommended to disable the X-ray type “Focus vision” and the object highlighting. HUD icons can all be disabled individually for purists as well. It is when you disable these things that the game truly starts to show its true potential. Unlike some modern stealth games, succeeding in Thief isn’t solely reliant on the player aids. Traps and secret buttons can be spotted without activating Focus if you look close enough. You can peek through keyholes in doors to make sure no one is on the other side before you open them up. It works quite well.

Disabling player aids will make the experience slightly more cerebral, but you’ll still never feel like anything you’re doing actually matters. Whether you get into a room through a window or through a ventilation shaft, you still end up in the same places. And because jumping is contextual, you’ll never feel like you found a truly secret entrance or a way to progress. You’ll always be at the mercy of the level design, and the contextual jump button.

There are many sidequests. Some more worthwhile than others.

There are many sidequests. Some more worthwhile than others.

All the irritating things I’ve mentioned earlier would be forgivable, if it hadn’t been for the fact that thieving in Thief is such a chore. Everything you find scattered around the world, is worth a couple of gold coins each. The gold is used to buy ammo, equipment, tools and even ability points. These things cost hundreds and sometimes thousands of gold and even the bigger, more intricate heists you pull off, never reward you properly. You always end up with a few hundred gold coins worth of loot, and then some extra at the end of the mission for completing side-objectives. There are also unique treasures to find, but these are literally worthless collectibles that you bring to your hideout where they are put on display. Every heist, not matter how suspenseful it is, will leave you dissatisfied.

You’re left with the only choice of picking up everything shiny you come across that isn’t nailed down. And every time you do, you have to endure the same two-second animation that frustratingly locks your control until it’s done. Thief focuses its gameplay entirely around two things: stealth and thievery. But the stealth here is only decent at best - and only if you turn off most of the player aids - and the thieving feels monotonous and unsatisfactory.

The Verdict

Thief 2014 can best be described as a videogame version of Hollywood’s summer blockbuster movies. It looks and sounds great, and at first inspection it plays well too. The developers clearly knew what they were doing on a technical level, but Thief still feels soulless. The story was clearly an afterthought, and the project overall feels like it lacks any sort of artistic or creative direction. It has a lot of great ideas going for it, but it’s hard to imagine the developers actually having finished their own game, without noticing all the tedious and monotonous elements bogging it down. The gameplay feels like it’s torn between attempting to please the old fans while also appealing to arguably more impatient “modern gamers”. In the end, it doesn’t satisfy any group. It’s too shallow and monotonous for hardcore stealth gamers to get completely immersed, and it’s too clunky and contrived for anyone else to fully enjoy.

Case Review

  • A Beautiful Night: I don’t know how they pulled it off, but even in the dark, Thief looks great.
  • Entertaining: Though you’ll never feel like you’re crafting your own story, the options given to you can offer a lot of entertainment.
  • Tools of the Trade: Most of the tools you have are useless, but at least they’re there.
  • Cumbersome: Too many frustrating elements hamper the experience.
  • Repetitive: Pick up this, pick up that. Rinse and repeat with a tedious animation.
  • Soulless: Thief exhibits a distinct lack of artistic or creative direction. There are lots to see and lots to do, but most of it isn’t worth it.
Score: 3/5
You’ll find some entertainment here, but never a soul.
Comments (8)
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Posts: 1317

If I reviewed Hitman Absolution, I'd probably end up giving it a 2 or 2.5. It's a direct sequel, so it's meant to be compared to previous iterations. And it just fails completely when compared to Hitman 4. But even just judging it by its own merits, it's a terrible stealth game, with only a few redeeming qualities (some funny characters, great graphics etc).

Posts: 1317

Thief 4 is far better than Hitman: Absolution though. It has a lot of frustrating shit going on, but it at least functional. Turning off all the player aids forces you to think, but it's not impossible. Hitman: Absolution, when you turn off the player aids, just turns into shit. You can no longer look through keyholes and such, and because the level design is so linear, you're FORCED to walk past people while using that x-ray vision to "blend in" and avoid attention. But because you're playing on a high difficulty setting, you run out of that X-ray vision after two seconds, so you're fucked. The game clearly wasn't intended to be played any other way than with the X-ray vision available to use at all times. Which is just laughable, because it takes away any sort of REAL challenge. You don't need to think. Just tap a button to see guards through doors and so on, and do the one thing that isn't really dumb. Hitman 4 and earlier games in the series, were all about thinking for yourself, the best course of action.

Posts: 3290

ConViction was a step backwards, and horrendously simplified compared to the earlier parts in the series. But it mostly worked as a competent action/stealth(lol) game in its own right.

Blacklist on the other hand...I can be far more negative than you kiddo. You can bank on that. I' simply refrain from doing it in public

Posts: 341

Thief 4 is what Hitman Ass was to Hitman. What Conviction/Whatever was to Splinter Cell.

Completely dumbed down linear garbage games for console kids with no patience... though Thief surely tests your patience with the xtremely repetitive animations when looting, lack of unique items, linear nature AND QTE to open a window you ALREADY DID, but magically closed behind you as you entered a random building.

Posts: 3290

Nooo, I mean most of the people giving the low scores are quite obviously marking it down not for its faults, but because they considered it an offense to the Thief name. Compare it as part of a franchise, sure. But there's a huge difference between a game being a poor sequel and being a flat out terrible game in its own right

Posts: 1317

We're far from the only one, Elof. The scores are all over the place, and very few are absolutely just praising it without end. It mostly gets 6s and 7s from other reviewers, it seems.

You need to work on how you give compliments, Xidio.

Posts: 341

Love how compliments arent allowed on this site.
But Death threats etcetera is dandy.

Posts: 3290

Why do I feel so much like we're the only site that's given it a critical, but fair, appraisal. I still maintain all the low scores elsewhere stem from fanboy whining