Thief review: Square Enix’s reboot comes out of the shadows

Thief_02In 1998, Looking Glass Studios created Thief: The Dark Project, the highly-praised first-person stealth game released under Eidos. Thief 2: The Metal Age continued the tradition and the story. The third game, Thief: Deadly Shadows, emphasized the first-person stealth game tradition and was created using the Unreal engine. It was a vast improvement over its predecessors and was developed by Ion Storm in 2004 (a lot of the same personnel from Looking Glass Studios) for the Xbox and PC. All prior incarnations of Thief have been praised by the gaming community and have maintained itself as a AAA title.

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The new Thief reboot is similar to Thief: Deadly Shadows, in that it’s a departure from the previous games. Developed by Eidos Montreal, the game continues on with an almost open-world game where you travel through the various districts of The City, where all the politics and deceptions lie.

For those new to the franchise, what is The City? Since the end of the original Thief: The Dark Project, The City is a kind of low-tech steampunk dystopia that has the rich in power and the poor as the majority; where magic exists in small but powerful quantities, and corruption is rampant. There are some nudity and sexual acts inferred in one chapter in the high-end brothel house and the use of drugs in the form of opium. In The City, the shadows are your only true friend.

Thief_06The benefit of maintaining The City as its setting, since the first Thief game, allows you to place this location in any region in the world. It contains itself well within its political schema of the rich and impoverished. With plenty of depth and dimension of humanity within the various notes and dialog scattered throughout, The City comes to life in a manner that doesn’t bog you down with volumes of text like in Elder Scroll games. Whether it’s a dissatisfied wife of a watchman who couldn’t find his secret treasure cache (thus leaving you clues to finding it yourself), a peeping Tom who has caught wind of an affair across the street, or propaganda on a lockdown due to a spreading plague. Although the environment is muted in color, it has such detailed filth and disarray that comes from the human decay of people. They make the best of very little and get harassed by the Baron’s watchmen who have The City on lockdown.

Thief_01The lighting is incredible, and the polygon count, lights and textures create such an amazing atmosphere that leaves an impression on my senses. While the playground is set, the tools of the trade are accessible from either discovery or purchasing from a vendor. No need to sell items, any material of value you snatch is immediately liquidated to gold. More efficient than worrying about your inventory. All that’s itemized is a cap to your arrow quantities, while all other tools are reactive to the action you’re trying to portray, whether unscrewing a grate open with a wrench, bludgeoning a guard with a blackjack, or scaling a wall with a claw tool developed by a fellow thief, Erin. Garrett’s got a variety of arrows including the Broadhead, water, fire and rope arrows.

Thief_04You are Garrett, a master thief and wanted for being purely a badass. Garrett isn’t Robin Hood. He doesn’t steal from the rich and give to the poor; he just steals EVERYTHING. Commissioned by his long-time friend, Basso, Garrett steals less for the gold and more for the fact that it’s his life and craft… he’s a bit of a workaholic who works for passion rather than finances. A trust artist! And you are Garrett! So aside from the tools at Garrett’s disposal, he gains a new Focus ability which allows him to determine the various items of importance around him, like rope for coming, accessible grates, peepholes, switches, items to be stolen and chests to be opened. It’s similar to the Eagle Vision in Assassin’s Creed and the Detective Mode in the Batman Arkham series. This Focus ability does deplete, so it is wise to use it sparingly.

Thief_05Let’s clear some things first…

Although it has been recognized as Thief 4, it is a reboot. You are not required to play the previous games to appreciate this one. There are some shared attributes with its predecessors, but even the Mechanical-Eye from Thief 2 is not present in this game. Instead of the Mechanical-Eye, you have the Focus mode.

Thief_10While several of the Eidos Montreal team who worked on Thief came from Assassin’s Creed, the styling and ideas do not bear similarities. If anything, the intricacies within the gameplay and environment details carried over into Thief. No, you aren’t going to jump off a ledge into a wagon of hay, and while the world is detailed, your interface is designed with the trend of simplicity that is becoming more common in contemporary games. But you can choose the way you play. You are tracked per chapter, whether you are purely using Stealth to achieve your goal, using Environment, and/or knocking out all opposing personnel. It’s a nice way to notice that you’re playing a chapter a particular way. Beyond the gameplay and environment, players are able to upgrade a variety of skills to tailor towards their style.

Thief_11And beyond the basic Thief gameplay, players can engage a Challenge Mode which allows you to compete on a leaderboard with other players online. Chain & Gain is a mode which increases your time to loot items on a challenge map whenever you loot a new item. Special Loot Hunt is a mode which has a specific hidden item in each map that is hunted down through the use of Hot and Cold indicators, while a new one pops up after each one is snagged all within the time limit.

What it’s not…

  • Assassin’s Creed – Make no mistake, although developers will take some ideas from their arsenal of experience, they won’t directly translate ideas over if it doesn’t fit the setting or the style they are emphasizing.
  • Hero’s Quest – You aren’t the hero. Although there may be some inclination towards a moral high ground, The City is ruled by a corrupt aristocracy and you don’t have to worry about leveling up to achieve badassery – you’re already experienced enough to be master thief.
  • Screwed if you missed out! While having experience in previous Thief games is nice, this version is quick, well-designed and maintains a narrative where it’s hard to really get lost, since you have an objectives tracker.
  • Action Stealth Shooter – Although previous Thief games had Garrett wielding a sword, you only possess a Blackjack. Stealth is the primary aspect of this game, and if you find yourself having to melee, there are usually numerous places to lose your enemies and reclaim the shadows. Besides, if you have to melee early on, you’ll probably be dead within seconds.

What it does well..

  • Stealth game – It’s pretty obvious. I’ts a stealth game, so Garrett’s classic Light Gem is still being employed to determine how much light is being cast on you, which determines your likelihood of being noticed when sneaking around. You can also slow yourself down to minimize the sound of your footsteps.
  • Animal AI – In contrast, animals could detect you and alert nearby patrols. Whether they’re birds or dogs in cages, the nearby AI (artificial intelligence) will react if their animals start becoming loud. And sometimes, you don’t even realize where these cages are until they’re right in front of you.
  • Movement Fluidity – The flow between dashing, run-jumping, lockpicking, and other actions have a flourish that present the small details that define Garrett as a man of experience. Well, unless you’re bumbling around running into guards constantly – then you’re Garrett the Master Klutz.
  • UI Design – Reminiscent to the simple User Interface architecture in Skyrim, the benefit of having a super simplistic design layout is that you aren’t too distracted by your options. You’re more concerned about the action and the moment. Plus, as a graphics designer, I do appreciate the nice little lines and circles that frame items, menus and loading icons. (I don’t know, I’m strange.)
  • Narrative – Within the first 10 minutes of your experience of the game, you get to know Erin, your protegé, and everything that sets the story up for the adventure in shadows. The main objectives are illustrated through well voice-acted cutscenes or interactive events, while other aspects of The City are expressed through richly crafted notes and newspapers scattered around to describe the condition of The City and the livelihood of its people.
  • Puzzles – You will be finding clues to unlock a safe combination, picklocking doors, deciphering complex puzzles, reading about the struggles of someone that leads to a hidden button to a safe, finding the right bookshelf switch, and searching a painting to unlock its secrets. Exploring the world to find these options and doing it discretely can appeal to the little Loki within you. (Y’know, God of Mischief?)

Thief is definitely worth experiencing, especially if you’re into stealth games, the Thief franchise, and/or enjoyed Eidos Montreal’s rendition of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Grade: A

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Thief arrives February 25, 2014 and will be available on PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360. It is developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix.

And check out this video to get a video rundown of the game

About author

Jaynesis Ong
Jaynesis Ong 162 posts

He is currently a graphics designer by trade, illustrator for indie games, fashionisto, film production assistant, socialite, sampler of fine music, and taster of various new MMO games. JB likes destructive walks on the beach, visceral plot points, maniacal villains, and collapsing galactic empires.

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