The long-dormant Thief franchise is considered by many to be a pioneer of the stealth genre. Eidos Montreal, the team behind the successful revival of the Deus Ex series, is back with their take on this classic. This new game, simply titled Thief, brings the genre back to its roots by attempting to focus on what made the original games so compelling, while also making it more approachable for newcomers.
Considered a reboot (or re-imagining) of the series, Thief follows Garrett, a so-called “master thief” who is caught in the middle of a large, city-wide conspiracy after the death of one of his closest allies. I would go on about the plot’s many intricacies, but those don’t exist. Thief’s story is incomprehensibly bad, complete with character motivations that make no sense and plot twists you’ll see coming miles away. Considering this is from the same team that brought us Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a game that provided a mostly excellent and compelling story, it’s disappointing to see just how awful Thief’s central plot is.
The main draw here, as with the previous games, is the gameplay. Thief attempts to take the fundamentals of the previous games, the core stealth mechanics that worked so well in the past, and combine them with elements designed to assist those unfamiliar with those games and the genre as a whole. Thankfully, the experience can be as easy or difficult as you want to make it, due to its full customization.
You have three base difficulty modes, but you also have options to customize it further. This allows you to turn on and off certain modifiers that will make the game more or less challenging. This includes losing the ability to fight enemies at all, whether the game is over when you’re caught by guards, or even forcing you to start over from the beginning when you lose. The game encourages you to mix and match these options right from the start, awarding you points based on each setting you enable or disable for leaderboard purposes. This kind of custom difficulty is perfect for allowing all people to approach Thief how they want to and gives series veterans a chance to put their stealth skills to the test.
The customization options are fantastic, sure, but whether or not you make the game harder for yourself won’t matter if the core mechanics aren’t sound. Thankfully, Thief has a solid stealth foundation that demonstrates the best the genre as to offer. The simple act of sneaking around, jumping from rooftop to rooftop and stealing a variety of random goods is entertaining. A new swooping mechanic helps keep things from slowing down too much, and makes you more mobile while sneaking around the game’s many environments. Plus, it’s just plain fun to swoop from place to place while picking locks or the pockets of guards.
You also have a variety of tools at your disposal, most of which are different arrow types for your trusty bow. Some types, such as the always-useful water arrows, allow you to put out light sources, while others provide distractions, like the fire arrows or blunt arrows. Then there are the arrows designed specifically to take down enemies, whether quietly with standard arrows, or with a literal bang using explosive arrows. The hand-to-hand combat is tedious, so sometimes it’s best to take your enemies out from afar if you are left with no other options.
The core of the game is solid and you have a diverse catalog of tools at your disposal, but outside of this, Thief is very barebones. This is due to the game’s crippling linearity, especially during main story missions. While you are given a hub world to explore between missions, full of buildings to break into with plenty of treasures to find, the heart of the game feels lacking.
Linearity isn’t always a bad thing, but when your main choices during story missions are “take out guards” or “sneak past them,” things get old quickly. It doesn’t help that the AI patterns are mind-numbingly dull and predictable, and the majority of the environments, barring a couple of relatively creative levels, are uninspired. The essence of Thief holds the potential to be exciting, but the game’s design rarely allows those mechanics to shine in a way they seemed designed to.
There are, fortunately enough, a large number of side jobs and other assorted tasks to complete outside of the main story, each requiring you to travel to different parts of the city. These jobs are surprisingly the best parts of the game as they focus less on funneling you down a specific pathway and more on, well, actual thievery. Finding locks to pick, discovering safe combinations and hidden passageways, and simply trying to make it in and out of a situation without being seen is the core of the Thief experience, and these small jobs do enough to showcase exactly what you want out of a stealth game.
Even if you do find yourself enjoying Thief despite its issues, you’ll unfortunately have to deal with a number of technical problems, especially on consoles. The game’s frame rate ranges from passable to horrible, depending on the situation, and I often found myself a victim of these technical hiccups during tough situations. Sometimes I would enter a large area, only to find the game unable to keep up with what was happening on screen. Cutscenes chug and skip, and occasionally stop working entirely by cutting right from an important story moment into gameplay for no real reason. These issues don’t kill the experience, but they greatly hinder it.
Thief is a game of unfulfilled potential. The central experience present here is solid, and there are a number of exciting side missions which best demonstrate the game’s mechanics, but everything else is lackluster at best. The technical issues and linearity bog down what could have otherwise been a successful revival of a beloved franchise. Whether you consider yourself a Thief fan or simply someone who enjoys stealth games, you’re bound to be disappointed by this one.
Pros: Solid stealth foundation, fully custom difficulty, excellent side missions
Cons: Awful story, disappointingly-linear main missions, lots of technical issues