Thief Review

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Thief is the reboot of a classic series credited with bringing stealth to the world of gaming. That’s a pretty big deal. Without Thief, we wouldn’t have our Skyrim rogue-style gameplay, our Batman Arkham series, or our Assassin’s Creed’s. So I suppose it’s fitting then that the new Thief is just a mishmash of Skyrim, Batman, and Assassin’s Creed.

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Do you see it?

As a friend of mine once put it, the new Thief is just a triple-A title. You, my hypothetical readership, may think that sounds like a good thing, and you may be able to justify that opinion with such straw man arguments as, “If it’s a legendary series then it’s about time it received a proper budget.” Except that’s not how this industry works. According to business logic, a big investment requires a big return or else the company employees will find themselves out on the street and somehow instantly addicted to hard drugs. So the developers behind Thief took one look at their veins, another at their wallets, and decided that the world didn’t need innovative stealth gameplay all that badly.

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“It’s a big-name reboot. Most people will buy it out of curiosity, as long as it’s sort of ok.”

“Damn, and here I just bought all these syringes…”

Here’s what we got instead: Thief follows series’ protagonist Garrett, a brooding loner desperately trying not to sound like Christian Bale’s Batman. Garrett is the best thief OMG EVA with an almost creepy love of birds and the inability to develop as a character. During a heist, a magic rock explodes, causing Garrett’s obnoxious female counterpart to die (or something vaguely similar to dying, but with magic), and Garrett is knocked unconscious. He wakes up a year later with amnesia, everyone’s favorite plot device, and then just brushes off the whole event so he can keep on stealing from the horribly incompetent citizens of “The City.”

When Garrett does finally start moving the plot along, it’s only because the above-stated dead(?) girl starts haunting him. Garrett tries to act like he’s driven by guilt surrounding her death, but if these two people ever cared about each other it would have been great to show that in the game before one of them dies and the other goes back to the same thing he was already doing. Garrett is so one-dimensional he’s almost like an obsessive anime character: it doesn’t matter what’s going on, as long as he gets to steal something. Avenging deaths or deciphering his own past is secondary to his love of petty larceny.

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Most of his income is generated through scissors and pens.

Of course, Garrett isn’t the story’s only problem. As a knock-off of other triple-A games, Thief manages to combine every video game story hot button of the last few years into a single, uninteresting tale. This includes: a mysterious city with an evil ruling class, a girl with amazing powers, zombies, and climbing sections with ledges.

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Mirror’s Edge makes an appearance, too, but with all of the gameplay reduced to a single button.

The gameplay most closely resembles Dishonored due to the first-person stealth play and because original thoughts can be scary. Basic gameplay involves moving from shadow to shadow while stealing shiny things from drawers or hitting guards on the back of the head, which seems to be Garrett’s primary means of communication. Arkham Asylum’s detective mode makes an appearance, here called focus mode, but I have to admit I hardly used it. At its basic level it just makes clickable things blue, which is handy for finding secret switches, but nothing else. After upgrading it, I found about half of the upgrades were about saving the player time, not making me a better thief. The biggest example was the upgrade that marked when items were in drawers, which meant I didn’t have to open every single drawer in every desk when I crept into a room. Of course, this was only partially useful because the focus mode is locked to a mana bar that only regenerates when eating from a limited store of poppy flowers. This gave me a condition known as “Giant Enemy Crab Syndrome” wherein I never wanted to use my limited supply of focus in case I needed it later, so most of my upgrades went unused.

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Also, if I’m powered by poppy flowers, does that mean my superpower is opium?

There’s actually less to say about the general stealth gameplay. If you’re behind someone, moving slowly, and no one else can see you, then you score a free blow to the head just like every other game with stealth gameplay. All Thief does differently is add shadows (which work sometimes and other times get you caught for no discernible reason) and punish the player severely when sighted. Garrett’s combat ability sits around “magicarp” levels, so when the shadows randomly don’t hide you or an NPC JUST FRIGGIN’ PATHS INTO YOU, you’re going to die. It’s not that being caught is the absolute end-all , but learning how to re-stealth so the guards go back to being near-sighted robots takes hours of in-game practice and usually some power-ups or items that are not available until maybe half way into the game. At a certain point I was so fed up with failing to re-stealth that I just let the guards kill me. For that reason, let me stress that the PC version is easily the superior version of this game because the PS4 doesn’t have a traditional start button anymore, which means no menu screen, which means no quick load button.

Now some of you may be saying aloud, “But at least the graphics are nice.” Actually, that doesn’t count right now. We’re settling into a new console generation. If I’m $400 bucks in the hole then my games better be at least pretty. Sadly, Thief can’t even get that right. Most of this game is gray and covered in shadows like high school poetry. During cutscenes, I had voices cut out or get drowned out by the background music on multiple occasions, and for some reason everything is shot in a series of close-up shaky cam shots. Basically, cutscenes devolve into watching people scream internally. Not that I was missing anything. Garrett tends to speak in pseudo-puns that may as well all end with him screaming, “get it?! Cause I’m a thief! It’s my only personality trait!”

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 Actual dialogue:

Basso: try not to become a ghost yourself.

Garrett: I’ve been a ghost my whole life.

Me: oh god, I paid money for this.

As a rule, making a “popular” game by copying other popular games is a recipe for making a “terrible” game. Thief plays it safe by stealing mechanics from other games, but doesn’t expand on those mechanics. So let me ask you: if the other games do it better, why play this game? Thief just feels incomplete, unpolished, lazy, and not worth the hassle it instills upon players.

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Hypothetical devs: “It’s a game about stealing… so we stole game mechanics! Get it?!”

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