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Thief Review

3 Mar 2014  by   Peter Parrish
Game Details
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Reviewed on: PC
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As a long-time fan of the Thief series, I’ve spent the last couple of years watching Eidos Montreal handling the license with all the apparent grace and judgment of a drunken juggler. Those balls have now spilled into the audience’s lap, revealing this reboot to be a disjointed affair that manages to bungle just as many of the series fundamentals as it gets right, and one which struggles against the constraints of its own design.

I don’t hate the new Thief, I’m just sad and disappointed that a series as vital as this one has been mismanaged so grievously.

thief (7)

As well as lurking in the dark, Garrett now appears to get dressed in it too.

In Eidos’ clean-slate version of the City, Garrett finds himself paired up with Lost Girl cosplayer Erin who, throughout the course of a tutorial Prologue mission, reveals herself to be an arrogant murderer. Rather than rejoice when the job goes wrong and Erin tumbles into a big blue portal, Garrett gets crushed by some masonry and wakes up one year later with a headache and the burning desire to slope off back to his new clock-tower hideout.

Thief’s story only goes downhill from there, featuring ill-defined characters who flit in and out of the narrative like moths drawn to terrible dialogue, and cut-scenes that appear to have been produced long before the levels they’re supposed to accompany were actually completed. At one point I read a collectible newspaper and learned about a fairly substantial plot point before I’d even played the chapter in which it takes place. In addition, parts of that plot seem to have been designed by just cutting out key phrases from Dishonored and BioShock Infinite, putting them in a hat, and drawing out some winners. “Mystery plague” and “violent revolution leading to more oppression” took the honours here.

Eidos don’t quite seem what to know what do with their version of Garrett. He’s either a guilt-ridden father figure, a swaggering, cocksure thief, or a kleptomaniac with obsessive hoarding issues. In a better written game he could probably be all three, but here he just comes across as the product of multiple writing teams failing (or refusing) to communicate with one another.

New voice actor Romano Orzari doesn’t do a bad job, even raising the odd smile with a classic Garrett quip or two, but too often he’s left working with over-written lines and embarrassing clichés. Stephen Russell is missed as a vocal talent (not least because of his ability to put a voice to multiple characters,) but even he couldn’t save some of this material from sounding like over-eager fan-fiction. By the end of the game I was thankful that he wasn’t involved with this project.

thief (6)

Okay, who had “just like old times” on their bingo sheet?

Since Thief has provided a wealth of welcome customisation options for players to tweak and alter their experience of the game, it makes sense for me to mention how I played for the majority of my time with the title. I aimed for a HUD and mechanics as close to the original Thief series as possible, which meant disabling Garrett’s magical Focus power (this game’s eagle vision/detective vision/instinct equivalent) as well as all the navigational and waypoint marker aids. I also switched off threat meters, health bars, interaction prompts and basically anything else that clutters up the screen with hand-holding rubbish. Loot glint seemed quite aggressively bright, so that was ditched too. I left object highlighting on, and would say that distinguishing between theft items and clutter, not to mention wall textures and switches, would be rather tedious without it.

Thief is quite playable with those settings and mostly steers clear of the problem that I’d feared prior to release; that certain sections would be designed with Focus usage heavily in mind. Without interaction prompts it can take a short while to recognise when a pile of crates is actually a loading zone for Garrett to push through rather than a dead end, but otherwise I didn’t meet too many issues with my options set-up. I do wish there was a toggle for the white flashes that occur at the peripheries of the screen when Garrett leaves the shadows, because these are pretty irritating and aren’t really necessary if the player is already using the light gem.

thief (5)

This shot’s a keeper.

Thief: The Dark Project and Thief II: The Metal Age are referenced as classics of first-person stealth thanks to exemplary level design that emphasised player freedom, an engine designed around effective sound propagation and a pair of pretty tight stories. This Thief is hopeless when it comes to consistent narrative, and feels constrained by design choices that prevent any truly memorable missions.

At their worst, Thief’s main missions are little more than cinematic corridor stealth sections in which Garrett has to make his way from point A to point B. It isn’t always a straight line, sometimes it’s a semi-circle or a zig-zagging climb. But the outcome is the same; linear progression with the occasional binary deviation at points where the designers felt generous enough to give you a second path in order provide the illusion of freedom. The poorest missions are restrictive and, criminally, peppered with loading zones that will sometimes prevent back-tracking. Did you accidentally cross an unmarked loading zone before you were done exploring? Tough, you can’t go back.

As a result, too many of Thief’s locations feel like videogame levels rather than actual places. From outside, the second chapter’s Foundry looks like a huge building, akin to the storage warehouses in Thief II’s Shipping and Receiving mission. In reality it’s a compartmentalised sequence of blocks with six to ten rooms each, connected by loading zones that are literally on a rail.

During many of these outings Garrett, the ‘Master Thief,’ gets himself caught in unavoidable cinematic sequences. In fact, it happens in the Prologue (though that’s not really Garrett’s fault) Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4 (twice) and Chapter 6. This is a lovely slap in the face for people who took the painstaking time to ghost, unseen, through the mission, only to have that work undone in frustrating, scripted fashion. Contrast this approach with the climax of Thief II’s outstanding Life of the Party mission, where an apparently unavoidable alarm-triggering sequence can actually be disabled ahead of time.

thief

This is by far the largest section of the Foundry mission.

This is all the more maddening, because at times the Eidos team demonstrate that they know what makes a decent Thief mission and actually get quite close to constructing one. Chapter 4 opens with a decent mansion infiltration, complete with multiple points of entry and a building that actually feels functional and lived in, rather than a haphazard series of rooms connected by loading zones. Unfortunately, the conclusion of this section triggers an unskippable escape sequence during which the player barely interacts with the Dramatic Action™ exploding around their face. The second half of the mission looks as though it will take place in an imposing tower, but immediately devolves into funneling the player through smoke-filled corridors.

A shameless re-tread of Thief: Deadly Shadows’ Shalebridge Cradle mission threatens to be of interest, but relies too much on cheap jump-scares and suffers from the fact that the same kind of Haunted House level construction trick won’t really work on Thief fans twice.

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  1. +8

    “As a result, too many of Thief’s locations feel like videogame levels rather than actual places.”

    Yes! This was exactly my problem with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, an otherwise decent game. Somewhere along the way towards crafted narrative experiences, constrained partly by the limitations of console hardware, we’ve mostly lost that old idealistic notion of level design as world-building.

    Even in something as vast and open as Skyrim for example, the dungeons are an absurdity of linear design. Every single one.

    March 3, 2014 at 4:56 pm
    1. +5

      Yeah, Human Revolution had a bit of the “designer crafted” progress through levels issue, but overall I found that game’s levels far better. The buildings had a sense of place and functionality that the majority of Thief’s lack.

      The Thief/Hitman: Absolution approach of “get from point A to point B” LOADING ZONE “okay, now do point B to point C” LOADING ZONE “right, here’s point C to point D, you’re done” is fundamentally different in craft and feel to the open missions in those early Looking Glass/Irrational games.

      Even if the total surface area adds up to roughly the same amount (which it may in some cases,) the former feels like I’m being funneled by a developer and I can’t stand that in a game that kind of pretends to be open.

      March 3, 2014 at 8:48 pm
  2. +5

    Disappointed to hear this, it sounds incredibly tedious.

    March 3, 2014 at 5:00 pm
  3. +4

    Good review very brave score your not goona make many friends in the industry doing that though, Ive played a couple of hours of the game so far, and I INSTANTLY found the young thief uber irritating, and just skipped her CGI scenes, Perhaps Ive read too many fantasy books but I really don’t find the corny older wise man and young cocky apprentice thing at all interesting any more especially when the younger person has no sense of humour and is a stupid idiot who needs to to be left to die and not saved at all. After reading this review might wait for patch before I play it seriously

    March 3, 2014 at 9:40 pm
  4. 0

    Good review. I’ll save my money. I can’t justify spending it on a 3 game especially if I have been forewarned. :)

    March 4, 2014 at 5:06 pm

  5. Dreepa
    -10

    The reviewing objectivety goes down the drain. This is not game critic on an informal level anymore. This is madness.
    3/10 means a broken, bugged game that has an absolutely frustrating game play experience.

    How in the world can one give it a 3/10. Really, this is just madness.

    I played Thief 1, 2 and 3 and just finished the new Thief (4).
    And it resembles everything of the series, takes the lore and packs it into new clothes. It is annoyingly linear in the story missions, it has annoying sound glichted, and the controls at times suck.

    Beyond that it is an average game with a polished graphic and a good mood. I have been reviewing games since 20 years, and worked 5 years in QA, and trust me: This is not a 3/10.

    Well, the funny part is: Reviewers think they do something good by setting some examples of bad scoring, punishing the developer/publisher.

    Wrong thinking. Publisher will just see the bad score and drop the series entirely. So if the Thief series is canceled, it is due to amateurish reviews like this, that do not understand the impact of their naive view on things.

    So thanks in advance for destroying a series that I really enjoyed to play.

    March 10, 2014 at 4:05 pm
    1. +5

      NO 3 is not a completely broken game. It’s below average which is a 5. We have a proper 1-10 scale on this site for reviews.

      March 10, 2014 at 4:39 pm
    2. 0

      I’m sorry you enjoyed a terrible game.

      March 10, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      1. Dreepa
        -4

        You are sorry for other people enjoying their time spent? What’s next? Shooting people for laughing about a joke you think shouldn’t be funny?

        March 11, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    3. DavidTheSlayer
      +6

      Amerturish review?! I think not. A review is a personal experience, nothing more, even if you think it might be better.

      “I have been reviewing games since 20 years, and worked 5 years in QA,”

      IncGamers team cool because they don’t give out review scores just to get in bed with publshers and developers, it’s the only site that I know of that reviews honestly and wholeheartedly abiet boldly at times, they’re rather unique and can’t be bribed as other sites seem to be with their 9/10′s on everything.

      March 10, 2014 at 8:29 pm

      1. Dreepa
        -4

        This makes publishers be less experiemental. It does the OPPOSITE of what reviewers think they will achieve. It lessens the spectrum of games, it makes the people less risk-taking.

        And to adress your perspective of “a review is a personal experience” I disagree. Somewhere down the line, with the internet booming, reviews became a personal experience. But they started off as professional judgement on the craft of making games with the knowledge that is required to do so.
        When we started reviewing, in the 90s, we cared for how the craft of game development was executed.
        We jugded good craftsmanship. Stuff like bad or good use of technology, good use of graphics, good writing, good pacing, good rewards, good difficulty control, good staging, exciting moments etc.

        Today any idiot can write a review and he has no clue about how much sweat and blood went into making that game, wiping away everything that is not exactly how the reviewer wants it to be. Diminishing a game to its bare expectations instead of taking it for what it is.
        How can I and many of my collegues at work enjoy Thief? How is that even possible, with a 3/10? It is because those people like to get something else out of the game than you. And what we get out of the game seems to be a lot of fun.

        Take a look at the steam forums and the threads over there: A lot of people are pleasantly surprised that they checked out the game. The same happened for a friend asking me if he should buy it. He was like “Oh, look at those reviews, must be a shitty game”. I told him, use my family sharing on steam and check it out for yourself. The reviews are biased.

        One day later he said he spend half the night playing the game, cause the atmoshpere is so cool.

        For me a 3/10 is a game like Rambo. Old graphics, old gameplay, just badly done. But playable.
        Or “agricultural simulator”. That would be a 3/10.

        Thief? No way.

        March 11, 2014 at 2:10 pm

        1. DavidTheSlayer
          +1

          I agree with what Anbear said. Whilst reviews may have changed over the years, the general idea is to absorb what is meaningful to you and make a descision to buy the game or not – simple as that really.

          For me, Thief has lost what originally made it good for me, the suspense of that anything could happen, the elements of stealth free as possible. It’s not the Thief game I used to know anymore so that has put me off.

          If you say that Rambo is 3/10, that’s your personal experience, talk about how much time they may have spent making feature X or graphic Y but at the end of the day, the average consumer buys the game for the gameplay – to be entertained and have treasured memories of fun. If the game design itself immerses me in the game, then I know it’s achieved something and the design will speak for itself.

          As IncGamers play their games to completion I know they do appreaciate the efforts developers made from speaking with them personally. To the person wondering if they should buy it or not, esp’ if they their friends don’t have a copy to try before they buy, you don’t need a number to tell you to enjoy a game.

          March 11, 2014 at 3:00 pm
    4. +4

      Well, if you check out their review policy it could be considered three times better than The war Z :)

      Are you saying they should give it 8/10 to encourage the publishers to make the next game in the series completely different? that doesn’t make sense.
      Anyway, I hope people don’t base their purchases solely on score and actually read the reviews. The annoyances pointed out by you and the review are things that would make me quit the game after about one hour, unless it were exceptional otherwise, which it appears not to be. Thank you Peter, I just saved 50€.

      March 10, 2014 at 8:44 pm

  6. Leo
    +2

    The main problem with this game was heavily advertised support “Mantle”. Huge money has been spent on the destruction of the game in reviews.

    March 11, 2014 at 11:07 pm
  7. +5

    I just discovered this site and I must say that I absolutely love you. No bullshit, honest truth. And the reviews here feel like reviews and not giant commercials (like on most sites these days).

    March 30, 2014 at 10:30 pm

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