Thief joins an increasingly long list of series games that have been given a reboot by publisher Square Enix. This effort has thus far applied to Final Fantasy, Hitman and DeusEx. More or less, this has been a successful effort, so it makes sense to apply it to the Thief series too. Then again, whenever you start to tinker with a beloved franchise, there is going to be fear, resistance and backlash. I think this is where a lot of the negativity surrounding the game comes from in reviews and with fans.
I am writing this review as a longtime fan myself, just so you know where I’m coming from on this one. I played and loved all of the Thief games, though my favorite is probably Deadly Shadows, which I played many times over the years. Most people would probably say The Dark Project was the best, and I did love that one too, especially for its time, but really enjoyed the horror and frightening elements of Deadly Shadows, which appealed to me.
Anyway, on to Thief, the 2014 reboot of the series. We still find Garrett the master thief being more or less a loner in a dark medieval city, tough one with both fantasy elements and a touch of the industrial revolution peeking through in places. It’s not quite as overt as when the Pagans and Hammers were going at each other. This time around the industrial pipes, electric lights and smokestacks are more insidious, creeping into places where they seemingly have no purpose, yet not really disrupting life in The City outright. There are worse things to have to deal with now, like a plague known as The Gloom that seems to be killing off most of the population, and a leader that doesn’t seem to care, or may even be promoting the sickness in some ways.
Garrett apparently had an apprentice named Erin, though it’s obvious that the two of them had a falling out some time ago. And in the very first mission you will see why. Erin has no problem killing people who get in her way if it can save her a few minutes of sneaking around. Garrett as you know takes a different approach. Historically, he almost never kills anyone, and only really considers a crime to be perfect if he is able to get in, take everything that’s not nailed down, and escape without anyone even knowing that he’s been there.
He and Erin bicker on the first mission job. Their employer didn’t tell Garrett that he hired them both. Garrett tries to fall back into a teacher role, but Erin is apparently pretty hardheaded. The mission ends with Erin missing and presumed dead, and Garrett knocked out in a clumsy attempt to save her. Erin is an interesting character who has some influence over the game despite her condition, and you later learn that she was very fond of Garrett, and in fact quite intimidated by him. I wish there was more of her in the game actually. The developers really want you to care about her, but don’t really flesh her out enough. Perhaps she might be a focus of a DLC in the future or something?
You wake up some time after the first mission, and have to sneak back to the clock tower which is your home and base of operations. All your plants are dead and dust covers everything. You eventually learn that you’ve been missing for over a year. Finding out where you were the whole time becomes one of your overall goals alongside of figuring out if Erin is still alive, or at least what really happened to her.
In Thief you take on missions to steal major items, but can pocket tons of trinkets along the way. Small items like spoons and combs are immediately turned into gold coins. I assume that Garrett can easily fence them and the game is just making this easier with the auto-gold conversion. Some items Garrett prefers to squirrel away to decorate his hideout. Special jewelry with rich histories, bronze plaques from historical sites around the city, famous paintings and the like go into his personal stores. Money is used to upgrade your character’s abilities to do things like quicker lock picking or to be able to hide deeper in shadows, stuff like that. This is done by visiting the mysterious Queen of the Beggars. You can also buy equipment and special items that help your work, like boots that let you fall farther without taking damage or a magical amulet that deflects some arrows. These can be found at a variety of common vendors scattered around The City.
While on a main mission, you will also find, if you look really well, a variety of sub-missions and side quests. I would highly recommend going on these. Not only are they mostly profitable, but some of the smaller side missions make up the most unique and interesting content in the entire game. Thankfully, there are quite a few, though you have to look a bit to discover some of them.
Like with previous games, there are a lot of things to steal just out in the city. If you have to travel several blocks to get to your mission starting point, you can probably expect to steal 40 or 50 things along the way on a good night. Some of these objects like coin purses or ashtrays (also automatically converted into gold for you) will just be sitting out in the street, normally with a guard nearby. Others will be in apartments and houses along the way. Some spaces can be entered by climbing up to a window and jimmying it open while others can be entered directly through open portals. The spaces you have to jimmy open normally mean that they have to load content which could mean the interiors are bit more detailed, though some of the open-world content is pretty good when it comes to traps and pseudo-puzzle solving.
My biggest complaint is that the main map is pretty nondescript. Nothing is labeled on it, so if you are told to go down to such and such a street, good luck finding it. Thankfully the game provides a waypoint that you can follow, though not directly because of guards and locked gates and all that. But I never really felt like I knew the city like I did in the other games in the series. The City is also broken up into different load points or levels, so memorizing things are difficult because it’s more disjointed than I think it needs to be. I’m pretty sure that if Thief was a pure PC game that the maps could have been more open and much bigger. But to make it work for consoles, my guess is that it had to be scaled down into smaller chunks. The maps also seem less homogeneous than before in that the rooftops that used to be the Thieves Highway now only span so far. It seems like the game encourages you to have to jump down to street level fairly often, exposing yourself to guards, just to keep things interesting. However, I would have preferred if they let me roam more on my own, especially once I got up to the top of the buildings.
You have to stay in the dark to remain undetected, and the light gem is once again your friend here. However, the graphics are very well done and very detailed, if a bit grey and gloomy, so that it’s easy to tell what is dangerously bright and what is safe and shadowed even without the gem.
All of your old arrows are back, including the water, fire and choke arrow. The water arrows are helpful for taking out torches, but don’t do anything against electric lights, which seem invincible against any attack. Other than the water arrows, there are also rope arrows which help you to get higher up, but only at somewhat rare and predetermined spots. I almost never used anything else. Oddly enough, the new Thief can be played for the most part without using your signature bow very much at all. You also inherit a claw device from Erin, which allows getting up to higher ground by hooking a vent, making the bow even less useful. There were entire levels where I forgot I had it.
Your best friend in both story and side missions, as well as in the open world, is going to be your lock picks. Lockpicking is some of the best I’ve experienced in a game. It’s a challenge, but not overly difficult. You simply rotate the mouse around like you are feeling the tumblers, and then click when you hit the sweet spot. You don’t have to worry about a pick breaking or anything like that. The only real danger is if someone sees you while you are picking.
One thing that was added to Thief that was not around before is the ability to perform DeusEx style takedowns. Sneak up behind someone and you can trigger a cut scene where Garrett hits their legs to make them kneel, and then whacks them across the back of their head with his blackjack. That suited me just fine since I like to remove guards from the picture, but don’t like to kill people unnecessarily. you also have to hide the bodies so they won’t get discovered, just like DeusEx. However, I can see where some people might feel that the ease of the takedowns might break the pure stealth mechanic. You get rated on different aspects of your play, but there is no chaos mechanic or anything like you will find over in Dishonored. As a role-playing point, most longtime Thief players will probably want to opt for pure stealth or at least modified stealth with non-lethal takedowns, but there is no penalty for being a murdering psychopath if that’s how you want to play it. I’m half tempted to go back and replay the game and just kill all the guards I come across.
I will also mention that in addition to being a pretty dark world, as in bodies hanging on hooks going through a conveyor belt dark, the game is also quite adult in nature. There are lots of topless girls in the brothel mission early on, and people having sex if you look through the right cracks in the wall. Heck, there is even a bondage game going on in one of the rooms that you do have to voyeur into for the main plot. Just don’t play with kids around.
In the end, I found that I really enjoyed the new Thief. The game world is certainly larger than it ever was, even if you are regularly corralled into certain districts and narrow streets by impassable walls. Even so, there is a lot of adventure and paths hidden within those areas. Part of the joy for me is finding all the secret areas, hidden paths and bits of treasure concealed by the urban environment. The gameplay is a little slow at times, which again, did not bother me. I was happy to watch a patrol walk for ten minutes to find the one free second that would allow me to swoop in and steal a valuable (read cheap) ashtray left on the side of a crate in the guard’s smoking area. But there are many who won’t have the patience for it.
That said, I think those who loved the original Thief are going to be the core audience for the new game. Whereas many games are trying to go mainstream, Thief seems to take a step back from that. If anything, it’s more difficult to play than before. I don’t think this was the developer’s intent, but that’s how it turned out. As such, I don’t think a lot of new players are going to flocking to Thief, but those old school sneak and snatch gamers like myself are going to have a pretty good time. In this age of all casual gaming all the time, I’ll consider that a win.
Thief earns 4 and one half GiN Gems, but even so, may not be the game for everyone. But hardcore fans, please, get this one any way you can, even if you have to steal it.