A stealth game that is plagued by flaws will not steal your heart.
When I last spoke about Thief in my Most Anticipated post, I was extremely excited to play a proper stealth game that gave you endless possibilities when it comes to completing a mission. Yet upon an actual play through I was surprised and disappointed at how linear this supposedly open game was. As you play through the campaign as Garrett, a master thief who lives in the shadows and steals anything from expensive jewelry to a dinner spoon, you come to realise how little choice there is when it comes to finishing missions.
Each mission forces you to take certain routes to proceed to the next area, with narrow corridors and armed guards promoting the use of stealth throughout. The missions are lovely to look at, with a Bioshock-esque feeling to the graphics and movement, and it is great to traverse through a freaky asylum or a colourful brothel and overhear interesting conversations between NPCs that could help you find one of the few alternate routes through the map.
Side Missions Are Key
The most fun you will have in Thief is through the side-missions where there is a huge amount of choice on how to complete the mission, unlike in the main campaign where you are limited in your choices. I wish that Eidos Montreal had made the main campaign more similar to that of Dishonored and give players more freedom to do as they please, not as how the developers envisioned it.
Stealth in Thief is absolutely the best way to go. There is a certain thrill of lurking in the shadows a few metres away from a guard and being able to pickpocket him or open a safe without him ever knowing you were there. When playing on a high difficulty, you really have to learn guard’s walking patterns and be able to flit in and out of the shadows without being caught. This is where Garrett’s swoop special ability comes in handy, giving him the ability to speedily move ten metres in silence in order to avoid the highly astute eyes of the guardsmen.
Unfortunately, the game-play really stumbles when Garrett does get spotted by guards and an unbelievably clunky combat scenario occurs. Players have to dodge and strike enemies but this becomes far too difficult when there is more than one guard or if there is no easy way of running away. There is a huge difference between having difficult combat to encourage stealthiness and the highly flawed and frustrating combat that Thief dumps on you. Combat just isn’t fun and it makes the game feel quite cheap and boring if you ever do have to fight your way out of a sticky situation.
Hidden in the Shadows
Combat isn’t the only clunky thing that plagues Thief; moving around can be a real pain, especially climbing up and down from ledges which is an integral part of a game that utilises height to move around. Sometimes Garrett will just climb a ledge with ease and others he won’t move at all or won’t climb a ledge that is half his height. This makes the game feel incredibly linear and limits options when it comes to having a unique gaming experience. It also can be a nuisance when trying to make a quick getaway from a crossbow guard who is about to stick a bolt in the back of your head.
Garrett has a huge number of items at his disposal and for the most part they are incredibly useful, especially the broad-head arrows for killing guards that you just can’t avoid. However, some of the items have a very limited use and just seem to be added in for the sake of it. Also the game gets quite infuriating when there is a limit to the number of arrows you can carry but no limit to the amount of junk you can steal from a mission. Little things like that get very annoying throughout Garrett’s adventure and they all add up to leave some bitterness in my mouth.
From the rather convoluted plot which rarely enticed me into caring about any of the characters or about the story as a whole, Garrett is awoken after a yearlong slumber tasked with overthrowing the evil baron of ‘The City’. Garrett narrates the whole game but his poor voice acting doesn’t emit any emotion and makes listening to his droning voice for the 12-14 hour play through rather dull. There are a huge number of glitches in Thief, with background conversations constantly looping or each character speaking the same sentence twice and interrupting other conversations. Along with frequent drops in frame-rate, this makes Thief feel quite unfinished and unrefined.
Broken City, Broken Story
The plot is nothing special, but The City really could be interesting and fun to roam around in; if it wasn’t for constant stoppages for loading screens that take up to half a minute to move you from one area to the next. This completely jars up the game-play and removes any sense of fluidity when carrying out side missions or navigating around the highly confusing map. There are a number of secret areas in and out of missions that are really difficult to get into but have no worthwhile reward when finally solving the agonizing puzzles that accompany them. Most of the time it doesn’t feel worth it to find the extra areas and it wasn’t too fun to actually get into them.
However, solving puzzles and finding secret doors is made much easier by Garrett’s focus power that lights up objects of interest and can assist in combat and stealth. Garrett can upgrade his focus power to make combat much easier which does take away some of the challenge, but the combat is so poor that this is the best thing to do to get it over and done with.
Thief was a game with a huge amount of potential, based on a series with a high pedigree and was competition for the amazing Dishonored. However, with a forgettable, linear story with awful voice acting and far too many glitches, Thief just doesn’t manage to steal my heart. The stealth can’t be faulted and the side missions are great fun, but this is all brought down by the numerous flaws and general laziness on the developer’s part.