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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 flasaltine

Great game huh?

Posted by captain_max707

Oh my.

Posted by Pudge195

welp,ty for reviving this ip squaresoft and eidos.

Posted by cloudymusic

I was hopeful this would somehow turn out to be OK. That's too bad.

Posted by Atwa

Not that I had expectations, but it still hurts to see a franchise that once used to be at the top, turn out like this.

Posted by Waffley

I feel bad for anyone who didn't see this coming.

Edited by Zips

This is the first review I've seen for this game where the score actually matches up with the complaints made about the game in the written component.

Everywhere else is just a lot of complaining about the game in the review but they still score it in the 6 to 8 range.

Posted by supermonkey122

I thought this game would be pretty good. Guess I was wrong.

Posted by Imperatas

Great, been holding off getting this on steam and caved last night... at least I didnt get doubly shafted buying it on xbone

Posted by JesusHammer

Alex telling it like it is like always.

Edited by BongChilla

Out of all the reviews I've read this is definitely the most negative. I'm still going to buy it. The earlier games didn't have much in the way of story either and were still fun. Also, the PC version is apparently the best and most customizable.

Posted by leejunfan83

Chill!

Edited by Solh0und

Man, I really wanted this to be awesome since I didn't care for Dishonored. Well at least I got a free copy of Thief Gold last weekend.

Edited by kingjulesxii

Daaaaamn lol

Posted by EthanielRain

Expected, but still disappointing.

Posted by Triumvir

Bummer. Definitely saw this coming from a mile away, though.

Posted by KillDeer

Thank you for saying what needed to be said.

Its still real to me dammit.

Posted by pornstorestiffi

@zips said:

This is the first review I've seen for this game where the score actually matches up with the complaints made about the game in the written component.

Everywhere else is just a lot of complaining about the game in the review but they still score it in the 6 to 8 range.

Feel the same way. I like my reviews brutally honest and the score to match that.

Posted by AlmightyBoob

Saw it coming.

Posted by Skytylz

All I heard was middling things prior to release, but I was still hoping it turned out. Oh Well!

Posted by Brodehouse

Good to know.

Making a game called Thief and then making larceny to be a minor aspect of it seems ridiculous. You sound like less of a thief and more of a Magical Dude Who Has Knives.

Online
Edited by cannedstingray

Great, been holding off getting this on steam and caved last night... at least I didnt get doubly shafted buying it on xbone

I put it in my Steam cart last night, but held off on actually pulling the trigger. I may have actually dodged a bullet this time. I've paid full price for crap games way too many times. Maybe you'll like it, the GameInformer review was pretty positive.?

Posted by Mystyr_E

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

Posted by Gute

Rambo and now Thief you messed up, gaming industry... wtf are you doing.

Posted by fumaofthelake

Not surprising, but still a damn shame.

Edited by Sir_WilliamIII

Really is a shame to see a franchise that I remember so fondly taking a turn for the worse like this.

Posted by Aristotled

Well Christmas Steam Sale it is then. That review, scathing.

Posted by Tennmuerti

I kind of find it a bit scary how some people can take one persons opinion/judgement on a game as an empirical measure of it's quality without reservations, as if it's the one and only definitive truth.

Posted by amir90

Based upon videoes, at least it looks good and runs well.
Regardless, not a thief fan.

Posted by Aleksandr

D:

Posted by MonkfishEsq

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"

Posted by Pete0r

Well the Thief IP will be consigned to the vault for the rest of time. A shame, but I got my Thief next gen revival excitement two years ago with Dishonored and this just makes me want to go back and play that again.

Posted by Devise22

I feel like Dishonored was the best modern Stealth Game because it tried very hard to allow you to play it like it wasn't a stealth game. It had tons of trial but you were rarely severely punished for error, encouraging you to try out more of the games mechanics to find what worked best for you while still giving you a "stealthy" style experience.

I'm sad Thief didn't live up to expectations though. I feel like games like this haven't learned the lessons that modern stealth games fight and claw to learn and suffer for it trying to somehow make a generally always unsuccessful modern take on old game concepts.

Edited by DickSocrates

@imperatas: You caved in pre-ordering a digital download at the very last second before the reviews dropped and before the game releases? Get a refund, I think Steam allows you to cancel pre-orders now.

Posted by Quid_Pro_Bono

Why anyone would play this game over Dishonored is beyond me at this point. In the face of terrible reviews I still know people who are going to "give it a shot," but I think in all cases they'd be better served by a runthrough of Human Revolution or Dishonored or something. Bummer how poorly this one turned out, though.

Edited by me3639

Cant wait to play......when its on steam sale, less than half price and patches and fixes are in place. Day one is for suckers.

Edited by mlarrabee

I have to know, @alex, did you play and enjoy the original trilogy? Several of your negative criticisms were of aspects that were in those games as well, but then there are definitely right and wrong ways to do the same feature of a game.

EDIT: Oh, and if the mod community gets their hands into this the way they did the other three, I'll never even have to touch the shipped game to get my money's worth.

Posted by lockonandfire

My take away is "pick up Dishonored cheap".

Edited by VoshiNova

I read this and totally understand Alex's complaints. But I still want to play this game, as I love the Thief franchise and would be doing myself a disservice by dismissing this entry into the atmospheric world of Thief.

Posted by CornBREDX

I feel this game suffers from "taking too much from negative feedback during development" syndrome. They should have just made the game they were going to make- as terrible as it sounded like it was going to be- as at least it would be the game they intend and not the game it is.

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

I'm real curious, though, so I'll probably still check it out when it's super cheap.

Edited by TheHumanDove

I saw a live stream of the game, and it was terribly unpolished.

Posted by Alex

@mlarrabee: I have experience with the first two games. Admittedly it's been years, but I remember liking the level designs in those games a hell of a lot more than anything in this one.

Staff
Posted by BBAlpert

Well, I guess I could just go back and play the "Shipping... And Receiving" level from Thief 2 over again a few times if I want to scratch that itch...

Posted by mlarrabee

@alex: They were certainly mazes, maybe to surpass Doom 2's levels, but from your review it seems that's one thing that didn't at all carry over into this sequel.

Posted by Zero_Tactility

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.

Edited by Tennmuerti

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.

Posted by SomeJerk

Please oh please let them not have wasted too much money on this pile.
(Thanks focus groups)

Posted by ThePaleKing

Seems like the developers looked at the final levels of Thief Gold and the final level of Thief 2 (if you haven't played them, those levels are very plot focused with little to no thieving elements and excruciatingly tedious), and thought "This! This is what the players liked! More of this!"

I'm just glad I never had any hope for this game in the first place. Back to playing Thief Fan Missions and The Dark Mod.

Posted by CornBREDX

@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.

Edited by _Dad

Once again, I win for not pre-ordering.