Giant Bomb Review

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Thief Review

2
  • PC

Thief offers up moments of stealthy satisfaction, but not nearly enough of them to make up for its many rough edges, bland level designs, and god-awful plot.

A good stealth game makes you feel like a silent badass. A bad one makes you feel like an idiot stumbling around in the dark. It is with much regret that I inform you that Thief, Eidos-Montreal's update of Looking Glass Studios' classic stealth franchise, leans more toward the latter. As master thief Garrett, you spend hours sneaking around a dank city, plucking coin and other valuables from every available drawer, pocket, and hidden safe you can find. This is the part Thief gets right, which makes the many aspects that it gets wrong all the more bewildering. Instead of focusing on Garrett's chosen profession, Thief spirals into yet another story of apocalyptic mysticism and grand conspiracy, and often does so at the expense of the game's best aspects. Moments of true thievery are frequently left to side missions, which leaves roughly 10 hours of story in which you navigate bland mazes of narrow corridors, dull traps, and dimwitted A.I. foes, all for an end result that does nothing but underscore what a colossal waste of time the whole endeavor ultimately was.

Before Garrett becomes wrapped up in all this world-ending nonsense, he is The City's number one thief. Whether rich or poor, Garrett steals from anyone who happens to have something he might want, and he's managed to avoid jail and death primarily through his deeply rooted sense of self-interest. One fateful night, Garrett and his protege--a young woman named Erin--stumble upon The City's generically vile Baron conjuring up an ancient power. Garrett, sensing this is a situation he can't properly handle, tries to escape, but Erin plunges ahead and ends up crashing through the ceiling into the middle of this bizarre ritual. A lot of blue lights and smoke effects consume the screen, and suddenly... nothing. Garrett awakes on a cart full of dead bodies, only to discover he's been asleep for the better part of a year. With no idea what's happened, Garrett sets about uncovering the mystery of the ritual, Erin's fate, and the terrible disease that's gripped the whole of the city in his absence.

Where that plot goes is extraordinary only in its mundanity. It sounds like an unfair dismissal to just say nothing interesting happens in Thief, but as I sit here, racking my brains to try and come up with one element of the story that stood out in the slightest, I just can't. Thief plods along at a pace that ranges from slow to excruciatingly sluggish, and at no point does it ever deliver a new character or situation worth caring about. The characters are acted well enough in most cases, but Garrett often sounds barely interested in what they have to say, and the script never fleshes out any of them sufficiently enough to grab your attention. This makes moments of presumed satisfaction--such as the culmination of Garrett's barely formed rivalry with the city's top corrupt cop, or the sudden reveal of a bad guy's true motives toward the end of the game--fall completely flat.

It doesn't help that Thief's story missions often seem only mildly interested in Garrett's role as a thief. Sure, the entire game is built with stealthy environmental traversal in mind, but few story missions require you to do much actual thieving. There's certainly loot to be found in each chapter, and collecting it allows you more funds to use to purchase upgrades for Garrett. But all that stuff is optional. In most missions, you're tasked with hunting for clues that tie in to the game's overarching mystery, one that becomes less and less interesting as it goes along.

This is Thief's greatest folly. It gives you this character with all these nifty abilities that should make him a great thief, then spends the entirety of its storyline making him investigate a supernatural mystery of no particular interest. Instead, it relegates much of the thievery to scattered loot and side missions. In these side missions, you'll have the opportunity to earn quite a bit of coin doing jobs for various unscrupulous types, stealing all sorts of different goods. These missions aren't often terribly involved, but they make the best use of Garrett's abilities, and there are quite a lot of them. Whether you're sneaking into an apartment to grab a valuable painting, or tailing a drunk through the streets to find where he's hiding stolen goods, these are the moments that best line up with what a game called Thief ought to be. It's just a shame that these missions are so far out of the way from the main story, where the act of thievery feels mostly incidental to the larger, less interesting mystery.

But that's Thief in a nutshell, a game that spends an inordinate amount of time making the player do uninteresting things while shoving the more fun stuff so far in the corner you'd be forgiven for missing most of it. Its mechanics feel best suited for gameplay scenarios the main story doesn't often care much about. Sure, whether it's in the story or on a side venture, you'll have to play a similar kind of stealth in order to avoid spooking guards and progress through the stage. But the sense of reward for that careful sneaking feels loads more satisfying when you're just nicking trinkets and valuables, versus the slog of trudging through the awful plot.

In a best-case scenario, you'll spend much of Thief cloaked in the shadows, avoiding bad guys rather than directly engaging them. In some cases this works well, especially if you take the time to learn the environments and discover their many available hiding places. (I say "if" as if there's much choice in the matter, but in truth you'll have no choice but to learn the environments through repeated trial-and-error.) In a worst-case scenario, you'll find yourself often surrounded by four or five bad guys because you somehow alerted a guard without realizing it. This is not a game in which combat is recommended whatsoever. If you can sneak up behind a guy and take him down unawares, then great. But head-on fights involve you swinging your trusty cudgel over and over again while trying to time dodges against enemy swipes and shots. Every fight is essentially the same dodge-and-swipe situation, and if you've got more than a few guys surrounding you, you're usually screwed. Unless they suddenly get stuck running up against a piece of the environment, or inexplicably just stop and stare at you from a few feet away, that is.

Again, taking enemies head-on is very much not the point of the game, but it's rare that Thief allows you enough leeway to truly avoid all confrontations. Every environment feels cramped and tight, which means you frequently have to walk within inches of bad guys just to get to the next area. Sometimes it's easy enough to predict what will alert an enemy to your presence, but other times it just comes out of nowhere. This means it's often best just to wait until you can get a guy alone, sneak up, and whack them from behind. You do this again and again and again until you get to the next checkpoint, which makes the game sometimes feel a bit like an especially sneaky rendition of whack-a-mole. You can cause distractions by tossing objects, or by using one of the many different arrows Garrett comes equipped with. Sometimes these are effective in sending guards off in the opposite direction, and sometimes it just causes them to all freak out and start running around every which way. Most often, your best bet is just using water arrows to snuff out fires while skulking around in the dark, hoping you don't happen upon anyone you won't be able to avoid fighting.

This combat stuff would mean less if the environments were better-designed, but navigating Thief's world is rarely very exciting. Using Garrett's "swoop" ability to dash from one dark corner to another is a delight, but many of his other movements are saddled to an all-purpose action button. Garrett can't even jump freely, which forces you to find ledges and corners that will trigger his various leaping animations. Finding those isn't terribly difficult, mind you. Garrett's brush with mystical forces gives him a "focus" ability that highlights all the different traps, climb points, and other areas of interest within his field of view. In general, the only real challenge to traversing the world is how easy it is to get turned around and suddenly find yourself at a dead-end. With this added ability, it becomes super easy to just figure out where to go in most situations. On the one hand, this relieves frustration you may feel with the game's map, which borders on useless. On the other, the only real challenge then comes from finding ways to avoid fights. Those looking for a tougher challenge will find it if they skip out on using the focus ability and ramp up the difficulty level. Playing on the higher levels imposes some tough restrictions on attacking foes, which in turn makes careful play all the more vital. Plotting an ideal path through a bunch of clueless enemies can certainly be satisfying, but even in more challenging situations, the path to success is rarely that hard to uncover.

More disappointing is how bland and cramped every environment feels. Thief flirts with the idea of an open world outside of its story chapters, but in reality, The City is just a series of small open sections bookended by load times. When you first exit Garrett's hideout and enter The City, only minutes go by before you come upon your first door or window that leads to another load time. It's surprising just how often these pop up, and it sucks nearly all the fun out of exploring The City. That's unfortunate, since exploring The City is exactly what you'll have to do in order to take part in those side missions. If there's any positive here, it's that you can often use these load times to your advantage when being chased by enemies. Once you hit one of those new area access points, all you have to do is press a button and suddenly you're out of the fire.

Thief's small environments might be more forgivable if the game were some kind of visual powerhouse, which it most certainly is not. Character and environment art are caked in a steampunk-lite industrial vibe, but without any unique flavor or style to call its own. It's all very drab, which perhaps fits with the game's gloomy atmosphere, but doesn't lend itself toward being especially memorable. In fact, all I really remember about Thief's visuals is how bad nearly all the animation looks, especially in any combat situation. Arms flail about until either you reach a quicktime event pops up to let you K.O. them, or they run out of health and fall over in an animation that looks like a bad placeholder. The game does at least run reasonably well on PC, though I kept running into a bizarre array of audio glitches throughout my playtime. Key dialogue would somehow get mixed down to the point of being inaudible against background sounds, or sound effects would sometimes drop out altogether. And then there were the random crashes, which popped up at least a half-dozen times over the course of my playthrough.

Above all else, Thief's greatest crime is one of boredom. Too much of its gameplay is bereft of excitement or satisfaction. Instead of feeling like a master thief, you mostly spend the game feeling like a generic first-person action hero who just happens to be especially bad at fighting people. Sneaking around Thief's world is intermittently interesting, especially when the game puts its focus squarely on the act of stealing, but even those moments are frequently brought down by the game's various rough edges. You have to work very hard to find the fun bits of Thief, and more often than not, the payoff just isn't worth the effort.

Alex Navarro on Google+
224 Comments
Posted by Tennmuerti

@tennmuerti: I don't judge by meta critic but rather critics whom I know have similar tastes to me and I know have had similar tastes to me before. Such as Alex here.

I was only referring to your statement about how it's being received.

I don't judge by Metacritic either.

Posted by oldskooldeano

A lot more informative than John Walkers review at RPS which can be summed up as:

"This is a bland game with bad, gimmicky mechanics, quite a lot of bugs, and a garbage story. It's really good though. 10/10 would shill again"

I went to RPS to read the review based on this comment and it is 100% accurate. An odd review indeed.

Edited by jsnyder82

I'm glad I got this without having to pay anything.

Edited by mushroommachine

Alex's reviews are always a treat.

Posted by killer_meatballs

I was all set to pick this up tomorrow, but between this and the Kotaku review, I think I'm going to hold off.

Edited by jsnyder82

@killer_meatballs said:

I was all set to pick this up tomorrow, but between this and the Kotaku review, I think I'm going to hold off.

Play more Dishonored instead! I'm going to. I just started The Brigmore Witches.

Edited by AV_Gamer

Pretty low reviews across the board. I remember when Dishonored first came out and people were hating on the game, claiming that it was a pathetic Thief clone and the upcoming new Thief game would out-do it. Turns out Dishonored surpassed Thief in every way. Whose laughing now.

If you want a good quality Thief game, play Dishonored.

Posted by Mustainium

What a bummer. For all of its flaws, I adored Human Revolution, and it's a shame to see this news about Eidos Montreal's next game.

Not the same team, thankfully.

Posted by LucidDreams117

Youch. I'll admit, I saw this coming in terms of this being a mediocre game, but damn. Not THIS bad!

Posted by Nettacki

@mystyr_e said:

would like to know what system he was playing on cause saw some footage on PC maxed and looked damn gorgeous

I'm wondering the same thing.

Posted by thefriend

RIP in peace, Thief franchise.

Posted by magicwalnuts

RPS fucking loved this game, which is pretty bizarre. It looks absolutely shit.

Edited by Nefarious_Al

Gamefly you da best!

Edited by kippers

Ouch. Can't say I didn't expect it, though. The city looked bland, empty and very linear for a supposed stealth game, and that immediately seeded doubt in my mind.

I'm looking forward to the QL though! Should be entertaining.

Posted by WalkmanBoy

2 stars from Alex, called it!

Edited by ArbitraryWater

I sort of expected this, but I got this game cheap enough off Greenman Gaming ($33) that I am willing to see how bad it is for myself. That's not to say this review wasn't useful; Alex is a good writer and I have lowered my expectations accordingly!

Posted by Abendlaender

Bummer. I really want a good stealth game......

Edited by Fairbrethees

Reading this made me want to play Dishonored again. Vast and layered environments with intuitive controls making navigation a breeze.

If one was inclined to play Thief, I suggest Dishonored as an alternative.

Stabby stabby stab stab.

Posted by Krakn3Dfx

Reviews for this game are all over the place. Got it with an AMD Never Settle Gold coupon that I picked up on Ebay for $20, so it basically cost me less than $7 between this, Saint's Row 4, and Grid 3, so I'm not too broken up either way, but hopefully I enjoy it more than 2 stars worth regardless.

Posted by Humanity

@av_gamer said:

Pretty low reviews across the board. I remember when Dishonored first came out and people were hating on the game, claiming that it was a pathetic Thief clone and the upcoming new Thief game would out-do it. Turns out Dishonored surpassed Thief in every way. Whose laughing now.

If you want a good quality Thief game, play Dishonored.

I don't think anyone is laughing here, I doubt anyone wants games to turn out bad.

And until I actually play the game the jury is still out. Jeff gave Strider 3/5 while Patrick said he loved it and likewise I also am loving it. Different strokes for different folks an' all that.

Online
Posted by Machocruz

@av_gamer said:

If you want a good quality Thief game, play The Dark Mod, it's free.

Fixed

Posted by Cronstintein

Am I the only one who thinks going a more open-world direction would be more fun? Like a mini-skyrim but with better stealth mechanics. My favorite parts of skyrim was busting into random places and stealing as much as possible. There's gotta be a game in there somewhere.

Posted by The_Laughing_Man

@bongchilla: I agree this is by far the most negative.

Posted by X4N
Posted by gbrading

You know what? Dishonored is a damn fine game, and the DLC is excellent too.

Posted by AssInAss

If you want Alex to basically say this in video form, watch the latest Bombin' the A.M. (17:22 to 34:00):

Edited by Arach666

@x4n said:

I actually recently installed Thief Gold with HD texture mod. Along with The Dark Mod in preparation for this.

Bummer.

Yeah,but to be fair it was expected,besides you´re very well served with those as far as stealth games are concerned,and if it´s your first time going through them don´t forget to have a go at Thief 2: The Metal Age wich is not only the best in the series but in most ways still the best stealth experience ever made.

Posted by Wampa1

@arbitrarywater: I blame greenmangaming's super cheap pre-order deals for many poor purchasing decisions, sure it was clearly my lack of impulse control that caused me to end up with Colonial Marines and a season pass but it's easier to blame a company.

Posted by Vrikk

Well shit.

Edited by AMyggen

As a fan of the series, this has seemed like a a mediocre to bad game since the beginning. It has been in development hell, the word coming out from E3 was absolutely terrible and the stuff they've shown off has seemed like the blandest shit ever. It just seems like they never decided what kind of game they wanted to make, so they decided they'd try to please everyone and ended up pleasing no one. It's a shame, I really wanted a new, good Thief game.

Edited by Rukus

@nettacki said:

@mystyr_e said:

would like to know what system he was playing on cause saw some footage on PC maxed and looked damn gorgeous

I'm wondering the same thing.

Looks great on my computer (i5-4670k, GTX780) with everything maxed at 1440p. Nixxes does amazing things when it comes to PC ports/optimizations. One thing Nixxes mentioned in a preview was 4K optimizations, which really shows on the UI icons/fonts. Most games today are designed for 1080p, which is really obvious on a larger display (mainly anything pre-rendered - like the UI graphics - get blurry), but everything is nice and crisp in this. e: (Two examples: http://i.picpar.com/KW9.png and http://i.picpar.com/NW9.png)

Posted by BigD145

@cornbredx said:

Although, I haven't played it so this is just a guess based on how very poorly it's being received.

It's averaging slightly above 70 atm, so it's being received a-ok. Not great, but nowhere near as terrible as people are making it out to be.

The actual text of the reviews put it much lower than a 70, so it is indeed being poorly received.

Edited by Sweetz
@oldskooldeano said:

@monkfishesq said:

A lot more informative than John Walkers review at RPS which can be summed up as:

"This is a bland game with bad, gimmicky mechanics, quite a lot of bugs, and a garbage story. It's really good though. 10/10 would shill again"

I went to RPS to read the review based on this comment and it is 100% accurate. An odd review indeed.

Games can be like that though. I mean look at something like Binary Domain. If you try to break that down objectively, it's a lackluster Gears of War-alike. However, somehow it's more than the sum of it's parts and ends up being a thoroughly enjoyable experience as Vinny and Patrick will attest.

I feel the same way about Remember Me. While I recognize a ton of ways that game could be better (except the music, which is gob-smacking brilliant as is), I think it's a great game in spite of its weaknesses and really enjoyed my time with it.

I'm sure there's some game out there that's around a 50-65 on metacritic and yet you really like - and if there isn't, well it's entirely possible that you're a boring person :p

Edited by R3belD0gg

Went ahead and pre-ordered this for PS4. It was this or AC4, and I'm not a fan of the series. I hope it's not as bad as it's been made out to be. Hopefully some of the problems (like the audio glitches) get sorted out with a patch early on. I played a demo of the original Thief game when I was a kid, but was never able to play the full game and missed the other games as well. Some of the difficulty options look like they could make the game more interesting and replayable. Really hope I didn't just blow $60 on horsecrap.

Posted by weegieanawrench

After hearing all the rumblings about this game during its development, I`m not at all surprised at this score. Always great to read Alex`s reviews.

Posted by LtDestroyer

Ouch Alex...

Posted by ghostyTrickster

I love the Thief franchise to death and knew this would be hot garbage the second they announced it.

Edited by AdequatelyPrepared

Reviews for this game are getting a bit weird. A lot of hate and love going on. Generally, I interpret a Metacritic score between 50-70 as saying "This game will have it's audience, and lacks a bit of polish". Here's hoping I'm part of that audience, seeing as I pre-ordered the game under the motivation that I loved Deus Ex HR and Dishonored.

Great review as always Alex.

On a side note, the things I've been hearing about the PC port of this only makes me wish all the more that Ubisoft will finally hand off the PC porting jobs to Nixxes. I want a playable Watch Dogs dammit.

Edited by vulkans

Bummer, I'll just go and replay Thief Gold and Thief 2 for the umpteenth time then.

Posted by ref

Unfortunate, seems like another great stealth series going down the drain. First Splinter Cell, then Hitman and now Thief.

Guess I'll stick with Blood Money, Chaos Theory and Thief 2.

Online
Posted by Daharpinator

I was hoping this would be good, even if only so I had something new to play on my PS4.

Don't fail me now, inFamous.

Posted by killer_meatballs

@killer_meatballs said:

I was all set to pick this up tomorrow, but between this and the Kotaku review, I think I'm going to hold off.

Play more Dishonored instead! I'm going to. I just started The Brigmore Witches.

I've played it twice already, and I never play a game more than once. Love it!

Edited by Dan_CiTi

Looks worth playing once it hits a low price...until then there are plenty of other things to play and spend my time on at the moment.

Posted by KingGiddra

This is one of the few reviews I've read where the text matches the score. It's like everyone is ready to rip apart this game in the text, but no one has the balls to give it a score below 6/10. I'm glad someone has the courage to do it.

Posted by zladko

Not a big surprise.

Posted by Generic_username

Ah, that's too bad. Though I feel like Dishonored has your back if you're looking for this style of game now.

Posted by d0x

I'm buying this flaws and all but for what platform? The ps4 version is native 1080p but from what I've heard it has more frame rate issues than the Xbox one version at 900p. 900p is damn near indistinguishable from 1080p unless you are really looking and I do prefer the Xbox controller but in this case its all coming down to frame rate. Whichever is more stable is what I'll get but Eurogamer hasn't done a h2h yet! Gah...

Posted by MeAuntieNora

*wince*

Edited by MrBubbles

It hurts me to see the newest game in a franchise I deeply love get 2 stars but I'm still going to play it because I love Thief (and hope that if they make another it will be much better).

Edited by TheManWithNoPlan

:( I almost pre-ordered this game.