Reboots are very tricky things to get right, especially when the folks who played a game series the first time around are still hanging about waiting to see how the re-imagining comes out. There’s a long answer to how the developers at Eidos Montreal have made out with this one and there’s a short one as well – the long is below but the short is this: If you go into Thief looking for the same game as the early titles, you’re going to be disappointed.
That doesn’t mean that Thief is a bad title. The PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was reviewed here, stands up well on its own in most respects. There are aspects of the game that drag the whole down but for a first-time Garrett impersonator, there’s also a lot to commend.
Right from the beginning, players will find themselves confronted with the idea that there’s more than just larceny in the offing. Sure, you’ll be stealing everything that isn’t nailed down and possible demolishing a few things that are (long story) but there’s a larger overall story, the scene of which is set in the opening sections of the game. That story involves a missing friend following a job gone wrong (thanks to some supernatural mucking about) and, while players will find themselves relying on a tool of her devising throughout Thief‘s course of events, it seems that she hasn’t quite left the playing field.
Also involved is the Baron, a delightful dictator type who has much of the city oppressed (and who bears a striking resemblance to this fellow). This might be because of the Gloom, a disease that stalks the Victorian London-like streets and killing people from all classes, and early on there are hints that Baron Northcrest is at least partly responsible for the ills the city is facing. There’s also a beggar queen, fences, a rebel leader called Orion and various other colourful characters who want something from our stealthy hero – including, in at least one case, an eight-legged cat – but in the end everything funnels into the main story.
Which, unsurprisingly, progresses whenever Garrett steals something very important, usually after a very stealthy approach to the target and an acquisition that is followed by discovery and a quick exit. Gameplay is as easy or as difficult as you want it to be, thanks to a whole collection of settings that can be tweaked to your liking so Thief is either a cinematic glide through the darkness or a pretty tough challenge.
There are a variety of ways to overcome obstacles. Players can take the mostly safe route and stick to the shadows in the rooftops, which proves to be the mostly boring option. They can also go full stealth and refuse to engage any enemy at all, aside from those that are thrust their way via cutscenes. There also a non-lethal approach, where players can just bonk targets on the head from behind, or a more… permanent ranged solution thanks to Garrett’s bow and some Sawtooth arrows. These human solutions are just part of it though, there’s usually more than one route to an objective that might be littered with traps, extra enemies, or sometimes almost nothing in the way of actual threats.
And scoping out your surroundings is a good idea, since Garrett is a bit crap in a face-to-face fight. Players will get away with it if they’re facing one opponent but letting an enemy get behind you is certain death. Staying on the sneaky side of action is a definite must.
But all isn’t well with Thief. The story and characters are all well and good but gameplay manages to suffer somewhat by being extremely samey, something that we didn’t expect from a game that gives you a fair amount of freedom to play. Players are often funneled down to a single course of action which has to be taken and there’s usually only one way to go about it. Guards and other AI are not as smart as they appear on the surface and, once players hear the same guards repeat the same set lines for the thirtieth time, memory loss caused by rampaging syphilis (which is often mentioned in the game) is a prime suspect for their behaviour. This might also explain their tendency to walk in circles and stand with their backs to convenient shadows.
The game’s level design is another area that needs to be addressed. There is usually a simple route but there are areas that seem to be designed to be as irritating as possible, with lights that cannot be circumvented and pin-point timing needed to evade detection. It’s also fairly easy to get lost within the wider confines of the City since so much of it looks the same. Even the in-game map isn’t that much help, unless you’re eidetic. Lastly there are the visuals, which are sub-par compared to the PC-based preview that Stuff was privy to a while back. There’s little doubt that, as console versions go, the PlayStation 4 release is the one to have but it can’t measure up to the expectations we brought back with us with lip sync and animation problems marring the whole experience.
If you accept Thief for what it is, a good stealth game with some faults, a gloomy setting and a whole lot of stealing, then you’ll probably be okay with it. If you’re looking for the same feeling that the original title gave you back in the day, you’re setting yourself up for some disappointment. That Garrett doesn’t live here any more.