As a fan of the stealth genre, Thief was always one of those franchises that I had interest in. However, I never played the games because I didn’t have a gaming PC or a console that any of the previous titles were on. When I heard that a revamped Thief that was coming out for most of the major consoles, I got excited to finally play a game in the series. Now that I have, I understand why people have so much reverence for the franchise.
Thief is about as pure of a stealth game as you can find. This title emphasizes and rewards staying hidden and undetected. It uses light as a functional game mechanic which you must utilize to keep yourself concealed. Though you can play the game in a more aggressive manner, it works best when you stay out of sight and as silent as death.
This is a fantasy game that takes place within “The City.” You play as a master thief named Garrett who is thrust into the middle of events that he, quite frankly, doesn’t want to be a part of. He must overcome foes that are both human and supernatural in order to save a girl that he cares about. The story isn’t all that complicated but it was intriguing enough to keep me interested in it and its characters.
Thief uses shadows to great effect. I liked that a good deal of the light sources in the game can be eliminated to help keep you concealed. Fire from torches can be quenched, lights can be switched off and candles can be blown out. Finding ways to keep yourself in the darkness is a challenge in and of itself but it makes things go a lot smoother when your enemies can’t see you. You can engage foes in very clunky combat but it’s best to avoid battles altogether by staying in the shadows.
Garrett has a whole assortment of specialty arrows at his disposal. Water arrows can extinguish flames, rope arrows allow you to climb to inaccessible areas and blunt arrows create noises which can distract guards. You can use lethal arrows against guards as well but if you prefer to not do so, then a nice choke arrow is there to incapacitate them. Certain archers from the DC and Marvel Comics universes would be very impressed by Garrett’s arsenal of unique arrows.
Garrett is more than just an ordinary thief. Early in the game, he receives something called “Focus Sense,” an ability that heightens his senses. He’s able to notice items and pieces of the environment which then can be interacted with. Focus Sense also allows him to move more swiftly and gives him quicker reaction times. I found this to be a pretty useful tool to use and I always used it whenever I could to help me find objects or to give me a clue as what to do next.
I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about the first person platforming aspect of Thief. FP games which have platforming typically feel awkward since you can’t see where your character is in relation to the world. For the most part, the platforming mechanics worked well. I didn’t feel stifled by the camera angle and I felt a sense of freedom when moving around the world. There were a few times where I wasn’t able to run up a wall that was clearly scaleable but this didn’t happen often enough for it to become frustrating. Although not perfect, platforming was smooth and precise.
One thing that helped the platforming work well was the fact that you can see Garrett’s arms and legs. It sounds like a small thing but seeing the character’s limbs on screen gave me much needed orientation, which is typically lacking in most FP games where your character is essentially a floating weapon. Seeing Garrett’s hands as he picked up loot or watching his feet as he walked along pillars actually made me feel like I was the character. This is something to be commended since first person games usually make me feel disconnected from the character I’m controlling.
I loved the presentation of Thief. The City is cloaked in perpetual darkness, giving it an appropriately oppressive atmosphere, while the textures and lighting made me feel as if I was actually in the game. This was one of the few games that made me glad that we don’t have smell-o-vision TVs because The City looks absolutely filthy. I don’t want to imagine what this place looks like under sunlight.
While on the subject of lighting, this was another one of the game’s aspects that really impressed me. The gritty textures help to ground the world but the lighting is what truly gave it the moody atmosphere the developers were no doubt trying to capture. Colors that came from light sources, either man-made or otherworldly, perfectly matched the surrounding darkness. The mix of shadows and light was excellent. The visual elements made The City actually feel like its own proper character. You could practically feel its anger and hostility.
Although I loved the ambiance, that’s not to say that all was great on the visual front. While The City itself was a sight to behold, the same can’t be said about its denizens. A lot of the character models and animations looked a tad “last gen” to me and felt somewhat lifeless and stiff. I wasn’t looking for realism but the animations and characters were a bit cartoonish for me and I’m usually the guy who wants a more stylized art design. The repetitious banter from NPCs also didn’t make them feel more believable.
While the story is at the heart of Thief, there are plenty of side missions to complete as well. Most of the side missions involve you (obviously) stealing things from people. While some sidequests are simplistic, others are like short substories. Some of the sidequests were actually kind of funny, which was a good way to contrast the constant dour nature of the game.
Besides sidequests, the game has a couple of other ways to extend the playtime. There is a Challenge Mode that has you stealing items under a time limit. You can upload the results of these and your score for completing the single player missions to an online leaderboard. While I appreciate the developers wanting to have extra content for players, I felt that these modes were vestigial at best and didn’t add much to my personal enjoyment of the game.
The best thing I can say about Thief is that it succeeds at creating a solid stealth game experience that made me feel like a master of the burgling arts. Successfully skulking around in the shadows and stealing things from under people’s noses was just as satisfying as blowing someone’s head off in other games. Using the shadows to my advantage and figuring out ways to move undetected was easily my favorite part of the game.
This is a great restart for the franchise and should hopefully bring in a new set of fans (like myself). While some of the platforming can be a bit cumbersome and the A.I can be downright moronic at times, this game is a good starting point for future titles that will no doubt refine the mechanics and add to the game’s lore. Fans and non fans of the stealth genre should find a lot to enjoy in Thief.