Thief- Sublime stealth, but so-so story and sloppy combat don’t exactly make this game a steal

thiefAt its best, Thief makes you feel like a master, as you move through shadows silently, evading guards and pilfering whatever shiny object you can get your hands on. The stealth aspect is done quite well, and a feature called swoop that enables you to move quickly from cover to cover can make you feel like a ninja. Had the game opened itself up and utilized its strong point this would’ve been great. Sadly, Eidos Montreal didn’t go that route. Too often you’re forced along a predetermined path. See something you should be able to climb? You can only do so when the game allows you too. And it rarely opens up optional paths, though you will find some over the game’s eight chapters. Exploration should be something you want to do in a game like this. Unfortunately, Thief puts the kibosh on that with long loading times (up to 30 seconds on the PS3) between areas. Those loading screens really take any momentum the game builds up and brings it to a grinding halt.

But even that could be forgiven if we had engaging characters and an involving story. Thief doesn’t have those, either. Garrett comes across as fairly flat, and most the loot he’s presented with to steal are little trinkets and odds and ends. You can indulge your inner kleptomaniac here, as everything you pilfer does translate into gold that you can use to purchase supplies and upgrades. The other main charthief2acters Garrett interacts with, and is supposed to be motivated by, are Basso and Erin. Erin serves as the story’s catalyst, which propels Garrett on a quest that involves a lot of supernatural mumbo-jumbo. Basso provides some aid as well as side quests to take on. These side quests are often more entertaining than the main story, but even getting to them is marred by a useless in-game map and those loading screens. The story never really grabs you, though it does have its interesting moments and locales (Moira Asylum is nicely creepy). Just when the story starts to get a little better, it’s over. The eight chapters will take you anywhere from 10-20 hours to complete, depending on your play-style. A more predatory approach where you kill everyone in sight will get you through quicker, while a stealthier approach will take you considerably longer.

You can make Thief as hard or easy as you wish. In addition to the standard difficulty settings, you can customize things  to your own liking, such as turning off Garrett’s Focus ability (which highlights objects, enemies, and traps, as well as ways to proceed) or turning off checkpoint saves. It’s a nice feature that lets players tailor the game to their own ability and desire for a challenge. Too bad, beyond the stealth aspects, the gameplay doesn’t lend much incentive to play through more than once. The story’s ending is unsatisfying, setting up a possible sequel, and at times controls decide to become unresponsive, leading to cheap deaths. The long loading screens just exacerbate this problem, and lead to far more frustration than fun.

It’s good Thief has stealth down,thief3 because combat is a botched experience. Melee combat in particular is irksome, having you engage in a repetitive dance between evading and striking, and feels weak even with upgrades. It’s bad enough when you’re one on one- get surrounded by several enemies, some of them armed with crossbows, and you’re likely to be replaying sections over again. Thankfully, you can save your progress just about anywhere, meaning you never have to be set too far back should you meet your end. Ranged combat is a bit better, as your bow has multiple uses and a variety of arrows to use. Rope arrows allow you to reach higher places, water arrows help douse those torches and give you more shadow to sneak around in, and choke arrows can put an enemy down long enough for you to move in to strike a final blow. Thing is, you never seem to have enough arrows, so you need to be mindful of how and when you use your supplies. It adds a bit of strategy, but linear level design often renders any strategy moot, forcing you to use your items as the game sees fit, not as you might like to.

In all, Thief proves to be a disappointment. I’ve never played the other Thief games, so I came into this without any prejudices, the closest game to it I’ve played (and highly enjoyed) was 2012’s Dishonored. Arkane Studios took a great deal of inspiration from the original Thief, and as it turns out, at least in my opinion, they’ve crafted a far better and more engaging stealth/action title. This is not to say some won’t enjoy this game- some will. But for many, this is going to be more of a rental than an outright purchase, as the gameplay just doesn’t cut it. The stealth is sublime, but the story is only so-so, and sloppy combat and technical issues like long loading screens, choppy frame rate, and even the sound cutting out don’t make this game a steal at full price. It could have, should have, been great. Too bad Square Enix and Eidos Montreal gave us the experience of a petty thief rather than a master.

 

6/10

Thomas Juretus

Born in 1963. Enjoy videogames, movies, comics- anything that tells a story. Have written three novels (The Zarchler Chronicles Book One: The Cassandra Crisis, Shalgroth The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Two, Madman's War The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Three) all published and available through PublishAmerica. Currently working on my fourth book, a sci-fi/murder mystery.

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