With series ‘reboots’ being all the rage these days, it was only a matter of time before the original stealth action series was once again thrust into the spotlight. Or, more correctly, the ruddy light of a glowing torch. It’s been ten years since the last Thief game, and sixteen since we were first introduced to Garrett, but today we finally get to step back into the shadows with the simply titled, Thief.
Thief is builds its story on a simple foundation that finds Garrett returning to his nameless home city after being away for sometimes and finding it ruled over by a tyrannical Baron. From there the story unfolds in a few interesting directions but doesn’t take us to any place we haven’t been before and a few that may seem a little too familiar.
The Thief series was always one that forced players to avoid combat in favor of staying hidden, and not to lean on the crutch of being able to fight your way out of a jam if you’re careless in your sneaking. This same theme remains and, while players can easily kill guards from a distance with Garrett’s bow, taking on even one foe at a time can be a difficult proposition. Luckily you’ll have an interesting arsenal at your disposal that includes things like ‘water arrows’ that can be used to put out torches, or blunt arrows that can be used to trigger switches from afar.
Assisting you in figuring out your best course through each environment is the ‘Focus’ ability, which will highlight important objects and features. For purists, this can be turned off along with a number of options players can use to customize the difficulty of Thief. With such importance being placed on staying out of sight, players must rely on a number of contextual skills to move through the environments of Thief and bend its world to their will and this is where the problems start to arise.
Rather than being able to move freely through world, things like climbing up a high wall are only possible if there is a specific grate you can grab with your hook. The famous ‘rope arrows’ are also limited as they can only be attached to a very few specific surfaces. Actions like prying open a window or picking a lock are often slow to respond to your input, causing you to question whether or not the ‘press X’ message on the screen is a figment of your imagination.
Simply moving around can also frustrate players, like when you find that you, for some reason, aren’t allowed to stand on the ledge you’re trying to jump to, or simply aren’t allowed to jump off of the ledge you want to without fighting with the controller for a bit. Thief also suffers from a poorly laid out main map that can make getting to your next mission cumbersome, and finding the merchant so you can stock up on supplies between missions an even more daunting task. Not to mention that you are sometimes whisked directly to a new area when a mission begins.
When you aren’t encountering any of the many small issues that can crop up in Thief, you will run into some challenging puzzles and expertly designed levels that will have you holding your own breath while hoping Garrett isn’t spotted by the guard you didn’t see coming around the corner. Don’t, however, confuse the game’s layout issues with it’s level design. There are some fantastic levels and scenarios to be experience during your time in the shadows.
Thief is rough around the edges but can impress you if you’re able to look past some of its problems. We try to avoid direct comparisons to other games when writing reviews but the reality is that there are games out there that are already doing what Thief does and doing it better. Thief’s issues are partially technical and partially design based but they combine to leave us with a feeling that the past should sometimes be left in the past.