At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Richard Pilot PC/Mac Square Enix Eidos Montreal 1
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
PC-only. Minimum: Windows Vista, High-performance dual core processor, 4GB RAM, AMD Radeon 4800 series or Nvidia GTS 250 or greater, DirectX 10, 20GB HDD space. Recommended: Windows 7 or 8, AMD FX 8000 series or Intel Core i7 or greater, more than 4GB RAM, AMD Radeon R9 series or Nvidia GTX 660 series or better, DirectX 11, 20GB HDD space PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One Click here to buy Thief.

Thief review

My original plan for this review was to write it the week of the game's release. That would have required me to complete the game quickly, and unfortunately the game offered little incentive for me to do so. This review's fate was therefore destined to never be written and then something happen this last week... I completed it, and what I had played was so frustrating that I had to write something.

As you can tell from the title at the top of this page, I am of course, talking about Thief. It is the fourth title of the series and like Tomb Raider before it (another Square Enix property), it was set to be a reboot of the series. You play as Garrett, a master thief who takes on various jobs around the city. At the start of the game, you follow your partner in crime, Erin, on a job, during which things go terribly wrong as they do, and Erin falls to her death. The reason for her death is the lack of the claw gadget (read: grappling hook) which you removed from her earlier for using it to kill guards (we'll come onto why this is problematic later). A ritual, that was going on through all this, completes and you lose consciousness to wake a year later with no memory of the intervening time. Amnesia is no stranger to being used as a trope, and whilst its inclusion here is not a surprise, it's not done in a novel or even compelling fashion. This setup out of the way, Garrett returns to his thieving ways taking on multiple jobs in the city. As you complete these missions you begin to realise that these jobs, the ritual that took place, and the plague that is now ravaging the city, are more connected that you first thought.

Garrett meets all his friends on rooftops

Garrett meets all his friends on rooftops

You will travel across the city between every mission, serving as a hub of sorts, but these parts of the city you get to explore are moody, dark and mysterious. Fog drifts through the dark streets lit only by the moon and the torchlight of a patrolling guard. Between every mission, you're treated to a short vignette over the main courtyard outside your hideout. These are well crafted to inform you of the rising tension in the city and the baron's weakening control over his citizens. This 'intermission' area is used to great effect, both in setting the scene and providing a bit of breathing room to explore, being one of the larger open areas of the game.

During the first half, at least, Thief is - as you would guess and hope by the title - all about thievery. Basso, your main contact in the game, assigns you jobs from the various clientele that approach him and these early missions see you sneaking into various parts of the city to steal a key item. At roughly halfway through the game, however, the story tries to assert itself and this is where things go wrong. Gone are the missions of sneaking into buildings at the dead of night to be replaced with trips through an asylum or the caves beneath the city. It's not that these levels are poorly implemented, it's more that they are a bad fit, almost like the game is trying to become something it shouldn't be. At one point, it even tries its hand at horror with jump scares abound. Level design is also similarly torn from the series' roots, resulting in missions that are very linear with only one or two branching paths. There are a few standout exceptions, like the aforementioned city hub and the earlier missions where Garrett is tasked with infiltrating a location within the city. This is where the pieces fit together and you get to approach these buildings in any way you see fit, with multiple floors and secret passages for you to find, offering you the freedom the game should have given you throughout.

Probably best to stay in the shadows

Probably best to stay in the shadows

When you do find yourself in a position to perform some real thievery, there are a number of tools at your disposal to perform the deed. There's the trusty lockpick of course, as most items of value are rarely left unlocked. A number of empty circles are your guide to finding the pins and rotating your mouse, and they will turn opaque when you've hit your mark. Difficulty comes in the number of pins and the sensitivity you need in order to find them. That task isn't difficult but it costs time, a valuable commodity when trying to steal from a safe before the guard loops back round on his patrol. Failure at any point doesn't reset you but does make a noise, again a hindrance if you're stealing with keen ears around. You'll also find paintings that have hidden triggers on them and you must run Garrett's hands around the frame to identify them. Whilst not challenging it at least makes for more varied gates.

There are also tools to help you get around, like the aforementioned claw that lets you climb up conveniently placed metal grids and a wire cutter that can deactivate traps. Returning to the supernatural for a minute, since the incident Garrett also has a power dubbed Focus. This essentially translated into 'Thief vision' and allows Garrett to identify traps and treasure. In a strange design decision anything your powers identify leave a glow after you deactivate focus. This meant that I was able to tap the focus key, highlight anything useful and deactivate it again, barely making a dent in the meter. You can use focus points acquired throughout the game to upgrade your abilities or grant you new ones, such as seeing how much noise you emit or how steady the aim of your bow is. These cost a higher drain in your focus meter but if your playstyle is a stealthy approach, you won't need them. Speaking of the bow, this wouldn't be a Thief game without arrow-based gadgetry and much like DC Comics' Green Arrow, you have a fully kitted out quiver. There are, of course, regular arrows and armour-piercing arrows, but also more exotic types like the return of the water arrow, useful for putting out torches or the rope arrow which you can attach to posts above to access new areas, although that has limited effectiveness as the game heavily restricts where it can be used.

Nothing to see here

Nothing to see here

Sadly, this arsenal is yet another illustration of the disparity between adherence to genre this game belongs to and the action game it is trying to be. For every arrow based around stealth, there are two more designed for clearing the room like explosive arrows or coughing gas, both of which sends guards to full alert. The atmosphere and systems scream stealth, yet your tools say fight. At the end of the game, the shop was full of trinkets that were useless to my shadowy playstyle, health upgrades and damage reduction that I'll never use. Even the items you set out to steal show a similar level of interest by the developers. By the time the game ends you'll have opened your hundredth desk or double doored wardrobe and with the exception of items placed out on tables, you'll know by heart the layout and contents of this same repeating prop. While the exact contents of each instance of the exact same desk model may change, the pattern you go about to obtain them doesn't. Press use, pick the lock if applicable, retrieve item; rinse and repeat.

It seems that in the process of creating a Thief game, the developers have lost touch with the cornerstones that make this franchise interesting. Eidos Montreal has created a fantastic living, breathing city and inhabited it with intriguing characters. I cannot stress enough how much the environment reeks of tension, an atmosphere of apprehension, yet what they do with it is incredibly disappointing. The story ends in a confusing mess and the systems are designed for a playthrough unsuited to the game's tone. Its saving grace is that the early missions, coupled with most of the side quests, are really good and what the game should have been for its entirety. It's hard to recommend this game, but if you're willing to forgive it for its ambitions to aspire to something outside of the roots, then there is definitely some enjoyment to be had here.

Ratings

Overall Thief offers an interesting environment from which you can perform tension-filled acts of thievery. It's therefore a shame that the late game missions deviate so far from the series' origins. 6/10

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