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Review of Thief (2014)

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Thief

Rating:
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Thief arrives on all consoles to deprive the City of its riches, including current and next gen as well as PC. This reboot of the long-standing Thief series comes from Eidos Montreal, who previously did an exemplary job on the Deus Ex reboot. If only more of that competency showed up here. Once again, the aesthetic of this game is dark and drippy, filled with shadows and intrigue. The culture of this world is a Victorian, steampunk throwback, having been ravaged by some sort of plague. Political unrest rules the plot, and there are shades of many influences here, chief among them Dishonored, the Bioshock series, Assassins Creed, and Deus Ex: HR.

Gameplay largely consists of a mission-based structure, with levels increasing in complexity as the player progresses. Controls have been streamlined, with the left trigger acting as an Assassin's Creed-like parkour button, allowing Garrett to run, climb structures, and jump when necessary. The player starts in a confusingly designed hub world based around various chokepoints, and the unfortunate decision to have the game load in-between almost every transition (thankfully load times are fairly quick). Garett has access to a full arsenal of thieving tools, chief among them a compound bow and with water and rope arrow types, the ability to put out candles, an intuitive lockpicking minigame, a blackjack for nonlethal takedowns (animations are reminiscent of Adam Jensen's takedowns), a hook claw used for climbing structures in the environment faster, a wrench for opening new paths, a special magical vision mode, and the ability to climb pipes in a platforming minigame. Skills and tool upgrades can be unlocked using focus points and money, such as time slowdown in focus mode.

The crux of the gameplay centers on the standard stealth game trope of clearing a level while being careful not to raise alarms and taking as much loot as Garett can carry. A few action based getaway setpieces try to liven up the experience but seem largely out of place. Strangely this franchise seems somewhat of an anachronism in a world where Skyrim exists, of which thieving is just a small subcomponent. The world seems open, but it isn't, and much of the freedom comes about within each mission. Mission levels are well designed, with lots of options as to how to approach them. The artificial intelligence for guards is decent, but can fairly easily be tricked. An example would be the welcome ability to duck into closets to quick save whenever the player wants, yet these closets can easily be used to escape pursuit. For maximum challenge, players should aim to be like a ghost, monitoring guard routines, looking out for animals such as canaries and dogs which can reveal their position, using all available rope arrow anchor points, and all other tools at the player's disposal to get around. There is a rhythm to getting around a level, and once it is found, levels are quite enjoyable.

Unfortunately, Thief isn't a very long game, consisting of only 8 levels which can be cleared in about an hour a piece. Some replay is added through special arcade challenge modes, time trials, and various ways to compete on the leaderboards. The writing also leaves a lot to be desired, with a vague mystical plot centering on unique magical artifacts. Still this is Thief, after all, and the most fun aspect of gameplay comes down to simply exploring environments and finding all the hidden treasures scattered around a level. Picking pockets is also something that never gets old. One level set in an asylum seems like a throwback to classic haunted house-style levels, another is set in a brothel, and there are various mansions to ransack. Strange visions involving Garrett's former protege, Erin, lead into a Poppy collecting based minigame that allows him to traverse time and space.

Additionally, there are 25 sidemissions, and 6 character missions, of varying complexity. Some are as simple as going to a location and taking what Garett finds, others involve tracking down a complete set of disturbing animal themed paintings, or following a bum to a specific location. A couple of boss fights round out the experience, and thankfully they do not betray the stealth based gameplay as Deus Ex did, allowing the player to bypass combat for nonlethal approaches.

Graphics on the Xbox 360 aren't very good, although they appear to be considerably better on next-gen consoles. The UI is clean and uncluttered, architecture is well designed, and character models have a high polygon count, but textures are muddy and simplistic, although the game boasts impressive lighting and shadow effects. Additionally, Thief is marred by a host of technical glitches, from extreme texture pop-in, to obvious tearing, and some frankly bizarre issues with lip syncing in the audio design. Audio is not too impressive, with some sparse unmemorable music, and frequently looped dialogue from non-playable characters. However, it is fun to overhear conversations from houses as Garett move through the city, and they do a lot to fill in the color of the world. The new voice of Garett is full of rye irony and does an admirable job of making his character charismatic and fun to travel with.

Eidos may have missed the mark with this entry, but they certainly did a lot of things right. Perhaps if they are able to incorporate all the complaints that have been leveled against this game they will be able to correct the series and deliver a more memorable part II.

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