Developed the by the folks that have brought us Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the new Tomb Raider franchise and Hitman, anybody would think they were safely guessing that this would have been a brilliant game. To my shame, it was one of the reasons I wanted to get a PS4.
Developer: Eidos Montreal / Nixxes Software
Publisher: Square Enix
Avg Game Length: 28 hrs on a thorough playthrough
Ain’t hindsight a bitch? If you’re one of the 0.05% of the world’s population that still wants to play this game, this review is for you and you’ll definitely want to give it a look over before parting with your money.
Square Steals A New Direction For Thief
So it looks like Square Enix, in their first Thief title since the Eidos Interactive takeover, had decided to do away with the endearing ‘moving concept art stills cutscenes’ seen in previous games. This was a shame as they added a distinctive look and feel that complimented the grainy, industrious world Garrett inhabits. The story, this time around is told through more traditional methods of pre-rendered gameplay cinematics that, for some reason, constantly fall down on bad frame rate issues leading to a video that is out of sync…badly.
Expect every cutscene to be hard on the eyes. They even look blurrier than the more sharpened images of actual gameplay segments. What the hell, Square Enix? How could you release a game with these kinds of problems? Speaking of problems – there’s plenty in this game, both in terms of developer decisions and mechanics. This broke my heart as a Thief fan, playing a game that struggles to reinvent itself and falls down at almost every turn.
So Many Opportunities, Squandered
I would have preferred it if the developers went down the road of integrated cutscenes, events or set-pieces. Granted, they have done this a few times in the game. These little sequences are spectacular and very well designed indeed. Yet, they’re so few and far between the drudgery of the rest of game that, memorable as they are, simply don’t redeem the game of its failings. The story, without giving away any spoilers, is a little and doesn’t feel like it should fit into the Thief franchise we’ve come to know.
Unfortunately, the few characters you meet that are central to the plot are forgettable and lack any distinctive personality. The exception being the Baron but he’s gone as suddenly as he appears.
At Least It Looks Great…
The one area of Thief worthy of praise is it’s excellent visuals. The Unreal 3 engine was heavily modified for the better in Thief and it will age very well. If there’s one thing the developers were solid on, it was the overall tone to Thief’s environments. The lighting is nothing short of spectacular as blue moon rays spill through windows and fill great halls. Guards carrying torches illuminate the darkest street corners for a glimmer of time.
This all comes together with very sharp textures and a game world that looks almost photo-realistic at times. Shame the same attention to detail wasn’t applied in its character models or other aspects of the game and it goes without saying, graphics aren’t everything.
The City of Confusion
So – all of your gameplay will center around The City (that’s right. Square Enix didn’t even come up with a name for it). Die hard fans will likely recognise some of the street names from older titles. This nice and all but it doesn’t stop the place from being a total nightmare to navigate. Of course, you can set markers to where you want to go but get this – the marker isn’t progressive from one place to the next and the ‘parkour’ abilities the developers harped on about so much prior to release don’t count for diddly squat to get to where you want to go.
The marker will simply sit at the objective and there is no aid in how to get there. Many a time, you will consult the map ‘right…go down there. OK, then a left. That’s gotta be it’. Then, after following a trail you’re sure is the solution, you’ll be five meters away from the destination only to realise a great brick wall blocks you. You’ll then have to backtrack through winding alleys, several load screens and NPC’s saying the same tripe, to finally arrive there. Suffice it to say, there is no such thing as a B-line in this game. Again – what the hell were you thinking Square Enix??
Thief Gets A Little Better Once You Escape The Labrynth
When you finally arrive at your destination, you’ll enter into a more linear affair in the form of a mission. You’ll be given a few challenges to earn extra cash by the end. Typical things like ‘get three aerial takedowns’ or ‘don’t get spotted’. It must be said, however, once out of the veiled attempt at free-roaming, the game finds its feet a little. These mission areas are far more functional and allow you to use your initiative and tools with a little more variety. Of course, this is what the older games used to be. Do a level, finish a level, watch a cutscene, do the next level. It almost makes me wish that Square Enix just stuck to the formula instead being over-ambitious with this rabbit warren of a city hub to balls it all up with.
It is certainly more satisfying to take your time on a specific mission and plot out your approach. Enemy A.I is actually pretty sharp and you’ll have to keep your head on a swivel to ensure you don’t get spotted from above. The staple Thief idea of sticking to the shadows is still here but it doesn’t make you invisible. This adds a degree of challenge but in areas dense with enemies, it will never be your saving grace and you’ll often find knocking them out / killing them / hiding them in the right order is often the solution.
Unfortunately, this approach of removing them from the equation (as opposed to slipping by unnoticed) goes for most missions, especially later in the game and on the harder difficulty… Don’t play on the harder difficulty, by the way. You’ll regret it, not because its hard. No, because you’re not allowed to knock out innocents. This is a big deal because the game will auto-fail you as soon as you do, depriving you of sometimes large lootings and even optional objectives! Yet again – dumb decision, developers!
Thief Now Takes A Step Back, Depriving The Player Of Variation Found In Previous Titles
Continuing on the theme of stealth mechanics, these can be upgraded with very mild RPG elements. As you can probably gather, this aspect of the game was botched too. Swoop is useful, allowing you to whizz quickly from one spot to the other and it’s mostly all you’ll need to get around. The RPG elements come in two forms. You can visit vendors in the city to upgrade your gear (more health, faster lockpicking etc) as well as the queen of beggars for character attribute upgrades.
If you decide visiting one of these is the next thing you’re going to do, you’ll have a nightmare with it. They are marked on the map but you may as well try to divine how to get there in tea leaves as the map is about just as useful.
Garrett’s many different arrows are back. You’ll have your moss arrows, broadheads, blunts, fire arrows and rope arrows. Noisemakers aren’t around anymore as, fairly enough, the blunt arrows double up as doing just that when you shoot them into a wall. However, the final rant of this paragraph is about the goddamn rope arrows…<sigh>. Ok so in one of the pre-release videos for this game, I remember one of the developers proudly stating ‘Yup, the rope arrows are back!’. Some of you may remember that the last Thief that allowed you to use them was The Metal Age which came out in 2000! You could shoot them into any wood surface you wanted, allowing for some real free-reign. But no. More than a decade later, after countless progressions in gaming technology, the developers have placed rope arrow points for us to use, completely removing any choice in the matter! Ugh.
All Along The Watchtower
Lastly, you’ll have your Watchtower. This is Garrett’s dingy depressing home. It is here where you can visit your collection of stolen paintings and jewelry and stash certain items for another time. However, you’ll never have enough money or resources to bother stashing anything… you may as well just take it all with you. As for the special stolen items, well…they serve no purpose whatsoever.
You don’t get trophies for them, or gold in game. They’re just lifeless, pointless collectibles that reward you with absolutely nothing at all. You’ll be asking yourself ‘Why am I playing this game?’. I’ll tell you why – just to get to the next cool set piece. That was the only reason I continued to play – in the hope that soon, something cool would happen but it rarely did.
Thief Tried To Be Something It Couldn’t
I get the feeling with Thief that the team were very ambitious about the game they wanted to make. I do believe they had a vision for a truly next gen experience. That shines through on occasion with Shroud technology. Or very little camera jump when interacting with items… I can’t help feeling they’d bitten off more than they could chew.
Then, when the game’s development was in full swing, their vision became too large a beast to handle. There are some good aspects to this game where you can see the developers had some great ideas but never quite fulfilled them to their true potential. The Thief fan that I am really hopes this franchise continues at some point in the future. There is plenty of juicy content still to extract from Garrett’s world. If it happens, however, it’ll be straight back to the drawing board for the devs…they can keep the graphics engine though.