It's been a full decade since we last saw Garrett sneaking through The City's back alleys. Eidos Montreal and Square Enix have tasked themselves with bringing the beloved Thief series of first-person stealth games to a new audience while still complementing the original trilogy. The finished product, while not necessarily a bad title, is definitely the product of a troubled development.
The game's plot revolves mainly around the political strife of The City. The Baron rules with absolute authority, his watchmen dealing cruel punishments at the slightest provocation. There's also a new sickness, simply called The Gloom, which has claimed hundreds of lives and continues to spread each passing day.
Story aside, the main draw of the Thief games has always been their stealth-based gameplay. Unfortunately, this is where the title immediately falls short due to the enemy AI. Even on the higher difficulties, guards will blankly stare directly at the player, even when Garrett aims a fire arrow at them from three feet away. It doesn't help that Garrett's ability to quickly swoop from shadow to shadow is incredibly overpowered. Enemies will occasionally spot you if you rush by them quickly enough, but without any restrictions on how often you can swoop to a new spot, players will find themselves yards away from where the nearest guard will continue their search. There were also times where the game indicated that we were shrouded in darkness when a nearby light source was still casting a huge Garrett-shaped shadow, which led to some hilarious moments.
Those seeking an extra challenge in order to make up for the poor AI will find several options in Custom Mode that can completely change the game. These include forcing permadeath, one hit kills (for the player), and no alert runs. While these do add to the game's replayability, it should be noted that these settings can not be changed once the campaign has begun. It isn't a major gripe, but we have to wonder why a game that boasts about its adjustable settings wouldn't let players change up the game on the fly.
Having been out of the spotlight for so long, it only makes sense that Thief would come back with a list of new features. Auto-saves, checkpoints and waypoint markers are some of the few modernizations. Beyond that, Garrett can now enter 'Focus mode', which allows players to clearly see any climbable object or potential trap. It also indicates nearby guards, their color changing to reflect their alert status. We couldn't help but think of Assassin's Creed's Eagle Vision, which looks and functions in almost exactly the same way. For those who don't approve of these new features, they can all be switched off at any time.
Beyond Garrett's Focus abilities, Thief takes further inspiration from Ubisoft's franchise with its third-person parkour sections. These bits have Garrett scaling walls and jumping across ledges to reach his goal. While Assassin's Creed was built around these mechanics, the parkour sections of Thief never felt like they belonged in the game. They gameplay itself is fine, but it makes us wonder why Garrett wouldn't just use this method more often when he's clearly capable of doing so.
Thief also finds uses for the unique aspects of the Xbox One and PS4. We used the PS4's touchpad to manage our inventory, and the controller's motion capabilities worked well for aiming a bow. Players can also use the Kinect and PS4 microphone to alert guards with their voice. While it's a nifty concept, we don't see many people opting to play silently in order to make their playthrough more authentic.
The ability to shout obscenities at guards aside, this game's use of sound is extremely disappointing. Thief has some major issues when it comes to background dialogue. There were numerous times when we were sneaking along and could hear an NPC speaking somewhere in the area. Problems arose when we had absolutely no idea whether they were right in front, above or behind us. The inability to pinpoint where they were coming from made trying to get by potential threats that much more frustrating. There was one instance where we tried to listen in on dialogue that was occurring directly in front of us, but couldn't understand it over a loop of a masochist begging to be slapped in the next room. Excellent sound mixing has always played a key part in Thief's success, and it was sad to see the reboot handle it so poorly.
In the end, Thief has some major issues, both in design and its overall focus. Even so, we can't call it a bad game, and we appreciate the attempt to bring this title into the new generation. We'd love to see Eidos Montreal take some of their ideas that worked for this game and refine the experience in a sequel. Thief will be available for the PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4 on February 25th.