It’s been ten years since last we saw Garrett roam the city in search of loot to line his pockets. In those days, it felt like the stealth genre was more of a subtle nuance, tailored to those with the will to wait and observe. In the time between then and now, the stealth genre, in a lot of cases, has evolved into something that attempts to cater to the majority instead of the few, for better or for worse. The new Thief, however, is a game that doesn’t sacrifice it’s core audience for accessibility. In many ways, this new Thief is the same Thief that many remember fondly. In other ways, it brings fresh ideas to the table that the Thief series has never explored before. So, after Garrett’s long hiatus of swiping coin purses from unsuspecting guards, have his thieving chops enhanced with the times, or have they dwindled with them?
Garrett is a master thief living in a city where the wealthy keep what little money exists to themselves, and the poor remain penniless and sick. He, and his somewhat reckless and impatient apprentice, are on a job to steal a high-value object. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go as planned, and Garrett is thrust into a chain of events that he must see to the end. Seeing this task through is a somewhat disjointed and bland one, but for the sake of progression, it gets the job done.
The player takes control of a much more nimble, but very familiar, Garrett for the latest installment of Thief. The goal in Thief, besides progressing through the plotline, is to steal everything worth stealing. This means golden goblets, silver candlesticks, forks, spoons, knives, coins, jewels, purses, and anything else with monetary value. Some things, however, are priceless, and Garrett -- maybe more than anyone -- can appreciate that. These special items are stored in Garrett’s hideout, to be displayed for his eyes alone. Garrett performs at his best by sticking to the shadows, moving silently, and using an arsenal of tools. Accompanying Garrett on his journey are his trusty blackjack, collapsible bow, “the claw,” a variety of arrows, and an ability called “Focus.” Focus is the standard “detective vision” that accompanies almost every stealth game that’s released now, and like all of those, it is completely optional. Focus highlights interactive objects and items within the game, and it allows Garrett to see enemies footsteps through walls. Focus can also be used to steal faster, and has various upgrades that can be accessed through the pause menu, ranging from faster lockpicking to quieter movement. The arrows range from rope arrows that allow access to new routes through stages, to water arrows, which snuff out any fire they’re shot at. All of these things are available right out of the gate, and are purchasable by finding loot around the world. The fact that these tools are available at the beginning of the game is a testament to the freedom Thief gives the player in choosing their own path. This freedom, however, often seems like an illusion. Thief has a central hub that connects the other sections of the game, similar to the likes of Dishonored and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. These connected levels are shockingly small, and separated by extensive loading screens. I would enter a new area, full of excitement at the idea of exploring and robbing it blind, only to find myself done with the chapter in twenty or thirty minutes. This wasn’t because the game was too easy; on the contrary, Master difficulty was actually quite challenging sometimes, and the AI was the “goldilocks” of perceptiveness. The areas are just too small to allow for any real sense of exploration, which is quite the letdown.
The game controls like a typical first-person game, or a typical Thief game for that matter. The biggest edition to the movement is an ability called “Swoop.” The Swoop ability lets Garrett move a considerable distance silently in a relatively short amount of time. Using Swoop is a blast, and is often crucial to stealthily navigating the world; despite the missions being extraordinarily small, moving from room to room, clearing out every valuable object and pickpocketing unsuspecting guards, is a delight. Even with the Swoop feature, Thief is still a slow, methodical stealth game; which is good for hardcore fans, but might be a little bit old-timey for more casual players. Thief isn’t only about shadows and silence anymore, it’s also got a touch of action about it now. Most of Garrett’s heists seem to be going perfectly, right up until the very end. Precious loot in-hand, Garrett has to make a daring, free-running escape. These scenes would be thrilling and intense were it not for Thief’s technical issues; unfortunately, the poor framerate doesn’t allow for the smoothest of exits when it comes to Garrett’s escapes. Upon escaping, the player is awarded a score based on how they played. It tracks whether they were spotted, if an alarm was sounded, how much loot was stolen, if NPC’s were killed or knocked out, and the difficulty -- which is highly customizable -- the player played at, among a few other variables. This mission score, along with a “challenge mode” on the main menu, are the only online components in the game, uploading the players score to the Internet to be ranked among other wannabe thieves. This system can be slightly addicting, giving incentive for the player to go back and try to complete the mission with a higher score than their friends.
Visually, Thief is a pretty pleasant experience. The City is superbly realized, inside and out. Everything is seen through the eyes of Garrett, whose graceful hands can be seen in almost every instance of the game. The streets are riddled with propaganda of the political nightmare going on in the government. Plague victims are lying dead or dying in the alleys, rats scurrying at their decaying feet. To contrast the death and disease that plague the streets, more lavish locales can been seen within the game as well, from a jewelry store to a promiscuous brothel. The collectable loot found around the world is beautifully detailed as well. The only real problem holding this games visuals back is the, frankly, poor framerate. It’s quite jarring watching the framerate drop during low-action sequences, but simply wandering the city can be an immersive experience when the framerate is cooperative. Concerning sound, Thief is very obviously a Victorian-esque game, so the decision to put high-energy techno beats into the game is puzzling. Stealthily wandering the streets and corridors is accompanied by somber melodies that fit the mood nicely, but this is often interrupted by obnoxious electronic music that doesn’t fit the scene at all. Ambient sound does play a pretty large role in Thief. Footsteps can be heard echoing down streets and through halls, objects are cleverly placed so that if they’re broken nearby guards will hear. Luckily, the voice acting is well done by both main and supporting characters. This is especially true for Garrett’s inner monologues, which add interesting insights into the plot and side activities. It’s a shame that the voice acting is done so well, but the lines are typically bland and uninteresting.
Thief had a huge legacy to live up to. The old games are considered to be some of the greatest stealth games of all time, and rightly so. One can only imagine that rebooting a series is not an easy task. Eidos Montreal probably knows that better than most, having successfully revamped Deus Ex for a modern audience. Getting their hands on Thief was a risk from the very beginning, but I had faith that they would restore this somewhat forgotten franchise and, to some extent, they have. While Thief has moments of pure, stealthy elation, regrettably, these are only brief moments surrounded and accentuated by technical and nontechnical foibles. It’s these unfortunate shortcomings that leave Thief in the shadows of bigger, and far better, modern stealth games.