Here it finally is! My positive review of Eidos Montreals THIEF, already available for PC, Xbox 360/One, PS3 and PS4.
What does the game right and what wrong?
Majority of gamers and reviewers named already the many flaws the game suffers from. If you wish to know about this countless minor flaws then go read some of the devastating Thief reviews on Cocktaku or Sneaky_Bastards. In most Thief reviews it almost sounds like as if the flaws are somewhat game breaking. But that is just not the case! People are just overreacting or they are too emotionally attached to the original trilogy when it comes to rate the game. The games mechanics work, for the most part, very well. At least I didn’t had any endlessly spinning or wall-hugging guards.
Should the new Thief be compared to the old Trilogy or rated on its own merit? Let’s be honest here, it can’t be compared to the first two entries of the series, since it looks like most inspiration can be found in the third game. It feels more like a recreation of the last entry of the series, Deadly Shadows than Dark Project or Metal Age. DS and Thief share many similarities.
One example is the return of the city hub in which Garrett sells loot and buys equipment for the next mission. The new hub is even more filled with interactive windows and doors and features much acrobatic jumping, climbing on roofs, bars and ladders. The by series-veterans well known Thieves-Highway makes a return too, but this time it is much more present and reachable. The downside to the new hub is that instead of eavesdropping on conversations or gathering information from documents to learn about hidden stashes, Garrett now receives small, how I call them “city-missions” from his only fence Basso. Every valuable Garrett picks up will magically transform into gold right away.
As result, backtracking and selling loot to the different fences of the City is removed and that one special amulet locked away into a safe on the first floor of a house how described in a conversation almost never exists. Don’t get me wrong, the hub is still a place full of fun, exploration and thievery but many areas I found and ransacked by free roaming; get their level architecture changed once accepting Basso’s corresponding “city-mission”.
Instead of “city-missions”, why didn’t they create more of the most to the old titles upliving client-jobs? These client-jobs throw you into a, from the hub separated small area, where you have to steal something from an engineer’s house or to solve a maze of puzzles to snatch the big loot and even reward you with a statistics screen. This could be a sign of rushed development to make the game arrive on next-gen consoles as soon as possible. What if they wouldn’t have rushed development for the sake of next-generation and gave the designers more time to finish what they wanted to achieve? We might never know.
Having these two things from Deadly Shadows and more client-jobs back into the Hub, might have elevated the overall hub experience in the new title. Summa sumarum: I never got bored and still need to find out for what the in the city build obelisks are for.
The other example why Thief 4 reminds me on Deadly Shadows is the way how stealth mechanics work. So what mechanics do we got here? The use of shadows, sound and line-of-sight. The three phases of visibility, named pitch black, bright light and maybe-maybe-mot-visibility in between, exploited in an blue-yellow colored environment are back. Then there is advanced line-of-sight and dynamic shadows. Garrett can now pick the pockets behind a guard having a conversation faced to another as well as stay hidden in a shadow created by other moving living beings or objects. This grants the, from Deadly Shadows familiar feel of moving through the city hub in a good way by learning and soon knowing patrol-routes and what shadows have the best effect on the way.
What about sound, now? I can’t say that the sound design of Deadly Shadows, and even previous titles had a comeback. Thief 4’s sound design is a mess. Not only did they remove any different sound creating surfaces, they even taffed up the rules of physic itself. It doesn’t matter how many walls are between you and the next person. Sometimes you hear someone talking, almost screaming directly into your ear, even though the sound-source stands in a house, countless meters away on the other side of the hub. Some other times you have someone talking to you while you think the person speaks to you through three or more walls between you.
Surfaces… well I accept the mechanic of modern stealth games that walking crouched all the time eliminates making noise equal on which surface the player moves on, since line of sight became a bigger factor nowadays. But Thief should live from that kind of stealth-mechanic and the new game just doesn’t have enough surfaces that need to be taken care of. There is only broken glass and less than 2 pools of water. But there are much more surfaces and even objects already in the game that have no effect, but easily could have attached a fitting sound source to them: Clanky metal gratings, countless pools of water, piles of leaves and floor tiles, lose standing vases, brooms and buckets.
I often passed a guard and mistakenly pushed a broom, which then fell down straight in the guard’s direction without to attract him. So why aren’t they used? Because of budged problems or the developers didn’t found a way to make them work properly? Didn’t they want the AI to be even more confused as it already is?
What does the game right, now?
Stealth! Hiding in the shadows and avoiding threats is the most fun part of Thief 4 IF you put all your dislikes, emotional attachement and humble opinions aside and give the taffing game a chance!
I like playing ghostly. And maybe it is exactly this playstyle the game supports and makes me feel home and accepting Thief 4 as true Thief experience. This brings me to the level design. It’s true, the levels don’t feel like places but overall they are good designed levels. Equal which kind of playstyle you choose, the levels are built, so any of it can flawlessly be achieved.
Sadly guards only consist of guards/thugs with swords or crossbows, long gone are the Hammerits with their gigantic hammers or the tree-loving Pagans with their magic wands, the most consistent enemies in the old trilogy. The lore of the old trilogy is no longer existent, even though there are many references and connections to the old lore. More about that later.
There are no giant spiders, monkey-men, bugbeasts, security-robots, walking threes, Burricks or even zombies.. well okay there are zombies, but they could be stolen right out of movies like The Descent or I Am Legend.
These critters are used to the dark and force the player later on to rethink his strategy. Light becomes his friend and shadow becomes a far more dangerous place for the player to be. Once these Freaks appeared I had the greatest thrilling stealthy moments of the entire game. It was more about staying out of their sight, learn their patrol patterns and the excessive use of the Crouch-Slowly-Key.
What about the AI of guards? Well, I wouldn’t say the AI is bad, at least the AI is not better than in the original trilogy. This fact very appealed to me and I can’t name it as negative thing. If I consider, that in Dark Project and Metal Age, I could stand in the shadows in front of a guard and blackjack him in the face while he was staring at me. The new AI, lets you relive this feeling of power and agility. Swooping past them with only some centimeters to spare before you would’ve touched them is what I was hoping the game to achieve and it did. Now you can say it’s because the AI is stupid, and yes it is, but it’s how I wished it to be and more of a personal preference than a negative point. So again, no negative points here.
Story & Lore
Well, A3D? You said the lore of the old trilogy is gone? What exactly does it mean?
It means that the old lore is no longer present. Thief 4’s lore feels like as if it plays 300 years into the future, with all new Garrett and Basso. The Baron returned from the war with a different kingdom or City (yes, there is a parchment in the old series that mentions this, even though it couldn’t find footage of it.) But as far as I know, it might not even be the old Baron, following the plot, he and his brother could be descendants of the old Baron. Same goes with Erin that could be the little girl from Deadly Shadows, but might be a descendant of the girls family instead.
The old gods and cults of Hammers and Pagans are gone. What’s left are broken ruins of hammer cathedrals and keeper libraries. Most of the places can be found in the underground below the city, so it could even be that this new city was built upon the city of the old trilogy. The new created lore seems not to be defined as if his goal was to keep as many references in there as possible but denying to name any famous historical remnants.
The new lore got no drive, no deep insights and feels so generic and uninspired. This also affects the story and plot that unfolds while playing the game until it’s not satisfying finale. Cutscenes feel out of place, dialogs have no meaning. Garrett himself could be any generic superhero like Batman, waiting in his cave (in Garretts case the old clocktower) for a job from a trusted friend.
Well should you play the game? Yes you should, because the gameplay is solid, even though it sometimes feels unfinished. Especially if you’re a stealth purist, then I certainly say yes. If you are a story purist, then you won’t find a good story here. The story is right out shit. How much money should you pay for Thief? Well, I’d say don’t buy it full prize, buy a budged version or wait for any special edition or directors cut if there will be any. But how I know SquareEnix, they will find a way to sell the same game twice.