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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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Deadly Shadows is also the inspiration for Thief’s central City hub, in which Garrett can skulk down side-alleys and across roof-tops to reach his next mission destination, complete short side-quests or just hunt around unprotected bedrooms for loot items. The latter tends to involve jimmying windows open with some boring button mashing, hunting through drawers and performing a lockpicking mini-game to reach more valuable trinkets. While not the greatest mini-game, it can lead to moments of proper stealth tension. Either because a guard is about to return to the scene, or because you know that screwing up will make a noise that can alert people.

thief (1)

Stealing the very light from my own eyes.

The City hub occupies a large area and provides further tantalising glimpses of half-decent Thief levels through secondary quests and creative interiors (though one of the best ones, the bank, was cruelly restricted to pre-orders.) But it lacks the flavour of the prior games’ Hammerite and Pagan factions and is populated only by patrolling guards and a handful of blank-eyed NPCs who will barely react to your presence. It’s also punctuated by endless loading zones and constructed in such a way that, once again, there tends to only be a few, designer-approved ways to reach your destination.

This is a symptom of the new context-sensitive jumping/action system: a solution in search of a problem. In previous Thief titles, Garrett could jump about as he pleased (sometimes as an intentional method of alerting guards) and interact with stackable items like crates to reach goals in unlikely ways. Now, he can only jump at pre-designated moments. This prevents the City hub from reaching its potential as a large playground like area and reduces it to a type of puzzle game where you have to spot the places the developers will allow you to put rope arrows.

While the older Thief games admittedly turned ladder navigation into a special type of hell, this new system has major issues of its own. The inconsistency in where Garrett is allowed and able to jump can lead to him blundering into trouble just as often as the previous titles, and can often leave him in a position where he should clearly be able to grab a dangling rope or crate-top but the game won’t let him. Most ridiculous of all, it creates situations where he’s unable to hop over a simple pressure plate trap because his feet are mysteriously glued to the ground.

thief (12)

Garrett, just step over it. Just STEP OVE … oh forget it.

Looking Glass Studios baked fantastic sound propagation into their Dark Engine for Thief: The Dark Project (and later Thief II,) because they knew that sending dependable aural information to the player is crucial to a stealth game. While this Thief just about manages to convey the visual side of stealth (shadows are good, lights are bad,) the sound design is all over the place.

Ambient conversations and guard chats will sometimes sound as though they’re taking place right by you, when in fact they’re either behind walls, below you, or some distance away. Meanwhile, dialogues taking place in the open air will sometimes have a muffled “I’m behind a wall right now” effect on them. During an early brothel-based mission, one man’s amorous preferences followed me around through several solid surfaces. Just as entertaining, cut-scenes that take place in areas populated by NPCs are often punctuated by their scripted barks. A couple of missions feature lightning flashes but no thunder. And don’t think you can rely on the subtitles, because these often miss lines of ambient dialogue and at one point went completely out of sync with cut-scene.

The more glitchy audio errors can be shrugged off or laughed at, but for a Thief game to be released with misfiring sound propagation is a disaster.

Different floor surfaces do at least still make different noises when you walk across them, but aside from crossing running water and trampling over the liberal scatterings of broken glass that cover some of the levels the AI seems more bothered by proximity than whatever surface Garrett is crossing. Caged birds and dogs (quite why the dogs are never allowed out of the cages is a sad mystery) will also alert guards to your position. The addition of precarious objects like vases and brooms is a welcome one too, encouraging some extra spacial awareness to prevent things clattering over.

thief (13)

Oh yeah, sometimes you do these third person climbing bits for 30 seconds or so.

The AI doesn’t do anything spectacular, but it’s fairly predictable (in a positive sense) and follows the kind of rules you’d expect from a stealth title. Guards will follow basic patrol routes and react to loud sounds, open doors, extinguished torches and other obvious signs that something isn’t quite right. They’re able to re-light any flame-based sources, but it’s worth noting that I’ve never seen one operate a light switch. Patrol routes sometimes seem to just break, leaving guards standing in place (which can be either helpful or awkward, depending where it happens) and sometimes they become afflicted by a bizarre Jacob’s Ladder style spasm.

For the most part though, the AI does its basic job and forces the player to avoid direct confrontation or conflict. Picking people off with arrows is still a viable tactic, as it was in the original games, but attracting the up-front attention of more than a lone guard will most likely result in death unless you retreat and lose your pursuers. Eidos’ addition of a “swoop” ability to dart quickly between points actually proves to be quite useful and entertaining, if a little over-powered in terms of trivialising certain sections.

It’s one of few highlights in a Thief reboot that doesn’t come close to touching the kind of craft found in the mission design of the earlier titles. The warren-like City hub and its myriad of side-missions come closest to presenting a re-invented version of Thief in a positive light, but even this area is blighted by too many loading zones and traversal which is restricted by a system of context-sensitive movement. Whenever any of the primary story missions open with an indication that the design team knew how to put together an interesting building, you can guarantee some scripted corridor idiocy will be lurking right around the corner.

thief (10)

Garrett gets his jollies by tapping dozy guards on the leg and then running away giggling.

Games like Thief: The Dark Project, System Shock 2 and the original Deus Ex appeared to give us glimpses of a future where player agency could be paramount in first-person titles, but that promise has ended up being realised by a precious few.

This game cannot count itself among them. Even in its efforts to just be a functional stealth game Thief is let down by awful sound design, too many uninspiring mission layouts, and a plot which looks every bit the work of fragmented teams over the course of several turbulent years. It might be a passable experience for some, but for those of us who’ve seen and played much better, Thief is a tragic missed opportunity and a categorical failure.

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3/10
The three major strengths of past Thief titles - wide open mission design, sound propagation and narrative - are this game’s biggest weaknesses. That is a fundamental problem it cannot hope to overcome.
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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
    -12

    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. +6

      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
        -5

        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
        -5

        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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