Thief - Review

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Thief franchise gained a cult favorite status among stealth game fans.
With its distinct settings and big emphasis on the theme of theft, fans had to wait a very long time till the previously called Thief 4 saw the light of day.
Now, in 2014, Eidos Montreal, the developer behind Deus Ex: Human Revolution, revived the beloved Thief franchise.
While not being named Thief 4, the new game simply called "Thief" probably aims at a new and fresh approach to reboot the franchise for new audiences.
Regarding its long time in development-hell, strong fanbase and reputation, can Thief still compete with other stealth-competitors on the market while staying true to the roots of its predecessors? Or is it a game you wouldn't even want to steal?


The plot:
Thief is set in a dark fantasy world inspired by Victorian and steampunk aesthetics. Garrett, a master thief who has been away from his hometown for a long time, returns to it, a city known only as 'The City', and finds it ruled over by a tyrant called 'The Baron'. While The City is ravaged by a plague, the rich continue to live in isolation and good fortune while the poor are forming numerous mobs against the authorities, Garrett intends to use the volatile situation to his favor.

Despite featuring a great gloomy and dark atmosphere, reminiscent of other games with a comparable style like 2012's Dishonored, Thief's story is far away to write anything home about.
Though it features a nice backdrop to some exciting missions, Thief's relatively short 8 chapter story is completed fairly quickly in roughly 7 hours.
While this doesn't necessarily have to say much, it is the loose nature of how the story is told that holds it back to be something extraordinary or meaningful in the grand scheme of the game itself.

Mainly focussing on Garrett finding out what happened to his former partner Erin after a tragic heist gone wrong and simultaneously dealing with a supernatural threat bound to take over the city, the story loses focus extremely often.
With that said, story-related cutscenes, that are supposed to fill the gaps between Garrett's several missions, do this very poorly. Most of the time, Garrett's missions seem to have only little to do with the main plot by focussing on numerous bland side characters without any depth or enough connection to the main story to care about. It results in Thief's story not being interwoven well enough into the several missions of the game whatsoever.
Although Garrett often gives commentary during missions to remind one of the connections to the main story, the overall package of the main narrative still feels very shallow and watered down, especially compared to stealth games with stronger stories like (the most obvious equivalent) 2012's Dishonored.

Surprisingly enough, it's the side quests in Thief that often give reason to pay attention to the game's lore the most. Though the side quests tend to be just as much hit and miss as some of the game's main missions, they nevertheless often deliver quite some interesting information and facts about the underground politics of the city and give the game's background a considerable amount of more depth.

"So, this is how thick the plot is. Interesting."


Core Mechanics - "Clunky in the Shadows"

Your own hands are greatly and successfully emphasized as your most valuable tools of theft in Thief.
Not only are your hands always visible while sneaking around, but they also are your main tools to not only grab or steal everything in sight, but also move through the environment, crack safes open or glide your fingers along picture frames to find hidden buttons.
It only further underlines that Thief does a great job giving you the right feel of inhabiting the body of Garrett. Sneaking or walking delivers a great sense of realistic weight to your movements (mostly due to the good first-person-camera work) and especially the "swoop"-move, which dashes you silently into a dark corner or out of a guard's view, gives the player a great feel of agility as a thief.

Sadly though, Thief cannot completely be called a through-and-through "free-running-experience".
While most of the game does function like a first-person stealth game, Garrett is noticably limited in terms of where he is able to climb or ledge onto.
Without the ability to hop, climbing or leaping onto platforms and objects requires them to be situated directly in front of Garrett. This results in frustratingly many occasions, in which you encounter a crate in front of you or a rope directly above you, which Garrett simply cannot jump to.
Despite his greatly delivered sense of agility, this makes controlling Garrett very often feel extremely clunky and unreliable. Especially in the midst of frantic chases, the player will tend to get killed more than once purely by Garrett not willingly to jump onto that certain crate.
While not a game-breaker, the annoying clunky controls in combination with the unclear environment restrictions represent a very unlucky contrast to the otherwise great sneaking mechanics.

Luckily enough, the rope dangeled right in front of Garrett.

Tools and Upgrades - "It Just Feels Like Magic"

In addition to your trustworthy "swiss-army knife"-hands, Garrett has a distinct set of thief-equipment, which he can upgrade by spending money at specific trading spots, as well as stock up on arrows, health packs and other consumables before each mission.
Especially through the usage of arrows or a purchasable wrench, new and previously unaccessable sneaking paths can be unlocked, making mission-territories quite a bit more interesting to navigate but simultaneously the mission as a whole also quite a bit easier to beat.

However, along with Thief's incorporated supernatural themes in its storyline, Garrett is also able to take advantage of some unique, reality-bending abilities.
By using the "Focus"-ability, the player activates a blue-filtered vision that highlights various objects of interest in the environment, making it easily comparable to Batman's detective-vision from the Arkham games.
Furthermore, through spending certain "Focus Points" the player can upgrade Garrett's Focus-abilities in an upgrade tree, improving existing abilities or adding new ones like dodging enemy attacks in slow-motion, sneak more silently or run faster.
Considering the fact that the Focus-vision more than once comes in handy to for example see and avoid traps or glass shards (which give away your position), the Focus abilities are nice features corresponding fairly well with the other supernatural elements in the game.
Though some players might consider some abilities to be overpowered and easily exploitable, the Focus feature is nothing that stands out too much among other stealth games and rather represents the common "specific advantage of the protagonist stealth character" that has become a standard in stealth games (others are for example Sam Fisher's special spy-gadgets or Corvo's supernatural powers, which give each of them an advantage towards the enemies).

Garrett's equipment also comes with a corset...for some reason.

Enemy A.I. - "Serious Eyesight Problems"

But what would a stealth game be without enemies to avoid?
In Thief, those enemies come in the form of guards scattered around the city and most notably the areas and places Garrett is destined to sneak into.
Whereas the game's level design tends to frequently utilize light and darkness for the game's missions structure in great fashion, the inconsistent enemy A.I. drags the player's immersion down quite a bit.

The guards' awareness of you or (to be more precise) their field of night-vision is terribly poor and feels rather inconsistent. At times, guards are suprisingly aware of your presence by listening closely to whether they hear you sneaking around, walking over cracked glass or whether you are standing in the light even from several feet away. Other (and most of the) times however, guards seem to be incredibly gullible. Due to their inconsistent range of vision, the player will encounter some occasions, in which Garrett can stand 3 feet away directly in front of their faces without being seen due to him crouching in the dark. Yet still, in other similar occasions, guards suddenly will become suspicious and notice you if you try to reenact the same situation.
The advantage of staying in dark areas therefore can become pretty ridiculous and often fairly unreliable due to (yet again) unclear restrictions of the game's enemy A.I and environment.

However, when guards actually do spot you, things can become pretty frantic.
With Garrett being a thief and not an assassin, his equipment of self-defense is pretty limited. Escaping the area to find a good hiding spot is in most cases the best option when chased.
Still, Garrett is able to dodge enemy attacks and either instantly take them down (when unseen) or beat them unconscious through multiple hits.
Whereas dealing with one single guard at a time is very easily and quickly done, things look pretty bad when the player has to deal with multiple armed enemies at once. Even with upgrades, Garrett is not well suited to withstand many strikes, making stealth approaches to missions absolutely necessary (to a degree slightly comparable to Deus Ex: Human Revolution).
With that said, there still are a couple of missions which give opportunities to radically takedown every encountered enemy to actively clear out the entire area, yet this approach garners way less granted points aside from not being an option seeing how difficult later levels become.

Those are not the jewels you're looking for, Garrett!

Collectibles - "Cleptomania much?"

Thief is a game all about stealing things and collectibles. Even when not tackling a certain mission, in which your goal is to get into the possession of a certain valuable item, stealing things still is a constant in Thief's open world.

Roaming the city, the player will find scattered money lying around on the streets and paths of the city in form of monetary items like silver bracelets, golden goblets and other very shiny objects. Simply by picking up those items the player is granted a certain amount of cash to buy equipment and ammo from at trading spots.
However, regarding the amount and frequency the player comes across shiny monetary items lying around everywhere quickly makes it seem ridiculous. Shiny rings, bracelets, forks, etc. can be found in seemingly every dirty corner of the city, making picking up those shiny and supposedly valuable items feel like picking up trash for some minor quick cash.
The frequency you come across quick cash like this therefore effectively degrades the player's feel for the value of shiny and seemingly valuable objects of the game in general. It makes great and bigger finds seem just as valuable from a visual standpoint as any other item you just picked up from the alleyway.
Of course nobody is forcing you to pick up every item and search every drawer, but considering that this is a thief game and money is required to upgrade, makes it feel sort of like a necessity anyway.

Despite this, there indeed are certain collectible items worth stealing in Thief.
When roaming the streets of the city, the player can gather information about the locations of various highly valuable collectible items (like a distinct set of rings or paintings) by overhearing conversations of citizens or reading stolen letters.
Tracking down those collectibles in Thief's open world can be pretty challenging but therefore the more rewarding, making the effort of getting those items even feel far more rewarding than stealing the actual obligatory relics from the main missions.
While Thief will still have a hard time trying to convince non-enthusiastic players to spend hours of playtime tracking down the large number of various collectibles, trophy hunters will have plenty to do here.

Difficulty Levels & Replayability - "Tailor-made Difficulty"

Aside from collectibles, beating the relatively short main story and some fairly nice side quests, the game's replay value largely consists out of playing the game on various difficulty levels and trying to beat your own reported highscores for each mission.
After each successful mission, the player is faced with a post-mission report displaying every important score and data about your run.
Improving upon your previous score is greatly emphasized through the fact that a higher stealth rate grants higher rewards
Hardcore players, who still haven't had enough, furthermore can even customize the difficulty level of the mission (or entire game) by de-activating certain abilities like the use of Focus or certain indicators, enhancing the realistic immersion of being a thief.

Sneak. Steal. Repeat.


Thief being the first real stealth game of this new console generation, there is still some time required to see developers harness the true potential of the new consoles' capabilities.
Despite this, Thief is of course a great looking game. Although the lack of a large color pallette might put off some players, the game does a good job in delivering a credible, gloomy and dark atmosphere in a steampunky Victorian city.
Comparing last and current-gen consoles, both versions look and seem to perform pretty well, whereas the current-gen versions on the PS4 and Xbox One have noticably better texture maps (which is a frequently occuring difference between the versions) as well as slightly more detailed character- and object models. Also, some specific lighting effects are put to more effective use on current gen consoles.


Soundwise, Thief holds up really well. The game features solid voice acting but most notably a very great orchestral- and electro-beat soundtrack that kicks in at specific moments during missions, effectively underlining the atmosphere and dynamic of the situation.
Very good sound design is a necessity in every stealth game, in which you have to listen closely for every move guards make, and Thief is no exception in that regard.

However, hearing a scaring orchestra string every single time when you silently take out an enemy can get fairly annoying really quickly. 

Still not as bad as Detroit.

The Verdict

All in all, Thief is a pretty solid stealth game, which, despite it's unique theme of stealing valuable objects and large emphasis on stealth approaches, misses the chance to stand out as a truely remarkable game in its genre.
A loose and very fragmented storyline, unreliable enemy A.I. and clunky controls due to unclear environmental restrictions are the biggest factors that noticably diminish the game's promising feel of immersive gameplay as a thief.
Yet, despite a relatively short 7 hour main story, Thief features a fairly good lineup of interesting missions with fun and gradually more challenging stealth gameplay that puts a lot of focus on the player constantly trying to improve his final score. 
Furthermore, collectible-junkies will find a lot to love in Thief's wide selection of countless collectibles to track down to complete your personal collection. While some aspects like the ridiculous amount of cheap-monetary-items scattered everywhere degrades the accomplishing feel of stealing, still, trophy hunters will have a lot to do in Thief.

Ultimately though, Thief qualifies as a nice stealth game to hold one over and to experience once, but its several technical issues and lack of enough new ideas make it practically destined to be forgotten, at the latest once other stealth-genre-competitors make their next-gen debut.

 Final Verdict: 6 out of 10 

Status: Okay / Rental

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