The original Thief was always about one thing: freedom. While some may argue that it was about the sneaking, the stealing, or even the story and lore, player freedom rested at the heart of it. You were free to accomplish objectives in almost any way with a diverse set of tools, and no two players would likely play through the same level twice.
1998 and the years surrounding it were a golden age for gaming, where developers built games for people with intelligence. Hands were not held in the least, and you either learned, adapted and survived or you failed. How you wanted to beat any level in Thief was up to you, not the developer. It was this sort of rhetoric that made the first two games in the series a pair of classics.
Fast forward to 2014, and developers build games for the lowest common denominator, so that even those gamers with negative brain cells can still play through a game. Freedom is replaced with linearity, objectives are marked at all times, and control is often yanked away from the player to highlight story elements. You will play through the game the way the developer intended and no other way, freedom be damned. You're not smart enough to play through the game the “right” way.
It's only fitting that Thief, released in 2014 for the PlayStation 4, shares its name with Thief from 1998, because there is no clearer example of two contrasting schools of design than this very game. I'll sum up this review in the fourth paragraph: if you're a fan of classic Thief, if you prayed that this game was like the classic Thief games, it's not. Avoid it. The game strays so far from its roots that it might as well not be called Thief at all. There are some redeemable elements to Thief but only if you go in with the mindset that this isn't a Thief game and is just stealing the name and main character. How fitting.
Too Bad The Game Didn't Steal a Better Story
Thief spends a lot of time crafting a tale, often at the expense of the gameplay, which makes it all the more upsetting that the story is awful, nonsensical and something that at the completion of the game you're not going to remember. It would have been better to not even include a story rather than the abomination present here. Time passes randomly between missions, motivations are never clearly explained and important plot elements are just glossed over. The unique visual settings and language of past Thief games are gone, leaving us with a generic fantasy style and an overuse on generic curse words: don't expect to hear the word “taffer” here. There isn't enough words in the English language to describe how bad the story and even the setting is and rather than just repeat that same thought over and over, we'll move on to what really counts: the gameplay. Good gameplay can overcome a bad story any day.
Thief is such a contrasting, polarizing game that this review will be a bit different in that what we'll point out the major high points of the game and then the major low points.
What Thief Does Right
The amount of content. In addition to the main story missions, Thief offers a large amount of side missions. Completing all of the content in the game can take up to 20 hours for an average gamer, so you'll definitely get your money's worth with this game.
The amount of options that you can disable. Pretty much everything in Thief can be turned off, such as waypoints and your health meter all the way to specific in-game features such as Focus and Swoop. Do yourself a favor and turn waypoint markers off, immediately. You don't need the game to be any more linear than it is.
Focus mode. While hardcore Thief fans will hate this new feature (and luckily, they can turn it off!), it is very reminiscent of the Arkham series x-ray vision or Dishonored's Dark Vision. Focus will let you see traps and how to disable them or spot hidden elements you might have missed. If you do turn it off, subtle changes in the environment will alert you to hidden routes and treasures, so the game doesn't force you to use Focus at any time if you don't want to.
The Swoop. Another controversial aspect, the Swoop technique allows Garrett to dash about 15 or so meters in front of him quickly. It's perfect for dashing into a hiding spot or “swooping” in on an unsuspecting guard, and is generally an awesome way to get around. It will definitely make you feel like you own the night as you swoop from location to location.
The difficulty options. In other games, raising the difficulty simply means giving you less health and giving your enemies more health. Thief circumvents this by using its difficulty options to change the way you play. On the hardest difficulty, you won't be able to kill the guards, for example. It's a game that encourages replayability in a way that very few games do.
Letting you live out your inner kleptomaniac. If you're the type of gamer who picked up everything that wasn't nailed down in Skyrim, you'll love this part of Thief. Rummaging through drawers for shiny objects never overstays its welcome.
The required scary level. Every Thief game includes one level that plays off more like horror than action and this game is no different. I don't want to spoil anything about what this level has to offer other than to say it's fun, it switches up the gameplay in an interesting way and it's a high point in an otherwise average game.
What Thief Gets Wrong
The framerate. The game will constantly dip in framrate, making the graphics appearing stuttery and jerky. What's worse is that these issues constantly happen during cutscenes, one area where a game should be able to consistently put out a steady FPS. This game runs in 1080p, but it also shows that 1080p might not be the best option for every game.
The AI. Simply put, the AI is awful. It will forget where you are only moments after losing sight of you, it will walk into walls, and it will repeat the same idiotic chatter over and over. For every clever thing the AI notices, like when you leave a drawer or door open, it will then stare blankly at a wall as you make as much noise as possible.
The loading. Good lord, the loading. The City, the area you navigate between missions, is billed as an “open world hub” but in actuality it's really a couple of large levels separated by loading screens. Get used to the loading screens because the game will load. Often. This feels like a PlayStation 2 game in terms of the loading. On the other hand, the loading screens are nice, so there's that, at least.
The rope arrow conundrum. Remember that paragraph at the beginning of the review about the difference in games between 1998 and now? The rope arrow encapsulates that perfectly. In the original Thief, the rope arrow could be fired on any wooden surface, letting the player make his own way through the levels and carve his own path. In this version, the rope arrow can only be fired at very specific spots and only when the game wants you to use it, effectively funneling you directly to where the developers want you to go. It's hand-holding to the extreme and ruins one of the best, most versatile instruments in Garrett's arsenal. This same philosophy, holding the player's hand, is applied to the entire rest of the game in various aspects and extremes as well. Whenever someone asks you what is wrong with modern gaming compared to twenty years ago, show them this paragraph.
Speaking of Garrett, he's awful, with awful characterization. Nothing more to be said here. Except the fact he can't jump.
The sound design. Not only does the sound frequently glitch, the audio levels almost seem... off. Noises from a few rooms away will sound just as clear as if they were right next to you. Stealth games rely on what you can hear as much as what you can see. Thief did this great in 1998, but struggles with this in 2014.
The PlayStation 4 Advantage
Thief uses the DualShock 4 in two unique ways on the PlayStation 4 that you won't find on any other system.
Let's start with the good: the DualShock 4's lightbar. The lightbar on top of the controller glows a bright white when you're in broad daylight and a guard can spot you, and is dim when you're hidden in the shadows. This is an awesome feature and a great use of the lightbar.
The touch pad is used for inventory management. It feels like the developers shoehorned this feature onto the touch pad just to say they made use of the controller. It's clunky, flawed, and a pain in the ass. It's an awful feature and not how the touch pad should be used.
It's interesting to see that even the PlayStation 4 specific features run parallel to the rest of the game: for every good thing, there is an equally bad thing.
The Final Verdict
When Dishonored first released, many compared it to Thief, with some even calling it the next stage of evolution for the stealth genre. With Thief, many gamers, myself included, expected the father of the stealth genre to reclaim its crown from the upstart Dishonored. This didn't happen. In many, many ways, Dishonored is more of a Thief 4 than Thief is. It's jarring just how much Thief got wrong when compared to not only the older games, but to newer contemporaries such as Dishonored.
If you just take Thief at face value, discarding the name of the game and the legacy it hails from, it still doesn't hold up based on its own merits. If the game wasn't called Thief, it would still be getting the same review, but perhaps some of its minor flaws could be forgiven since there would be no precedence. It does some good things and implements some good ideas, but at the same time it just has some unforgivable faults, most likely due to the game's tumultuous development cycle that went on for at least four years.
Thief isn't unplayable by any means and true stealth aficionados may find some value in it: just not those stealth lovers who are stalwart Thief fans. In a way, it's like another recent Eidos release, Hitman: Absolution. While new fans to the franchise enjoyed it, it turned off older fans in a major way. However, while Hitman: Absolution was solid in most aspects outside of the new features it added, Thief is riddled with some novice mistakes that shake the experience at its core.
One word came to mind as I played through Thief: Average. The game is just simply average. It's fun when it works and when it's not shoving you down a linear path, but just as soon as you start to have fun one of the game's many problems rears its ugly head. It's not so broken to be unplayable, but it stops it from being something amazing. Thief is lucky that at the current time, it's the only stealth game available for the PlayStation 4, so it fills a niche. In five years, it will be mostly forgotten, outside of a small group of gamers who loved it.
If you're waiting for the true Thief experience, pray that Bethesda and Arkane soon announce Dishonored 2. If you're looking for a stealth experience, the game is at least worth a rent.
Final Score: 5/10
Game Category: First Person Shooter
Article by - Joshua Phillips
Insert Date: 02/27/2014