In 1998, Thief: The Dark Project helped create the stealth genre as we know it. Now, a decade after the third game, Thief: Deadly Shadows, Thief has returned. The series has had a bit of a rocky path. The first two games were developed by Looking Glass Studios, while Deadly Shadows was made by the original Deus Ex developer, Ion Storm. Now Thief has been resurrected by Eidos Montreal, the studio that brought us Deus Ex Human Revolution. But unlike Human Revolution, Thief is not a sequel or a prequel to its predecessors; it is a reboot through and through. That being such, it has as much in common with Dishonored and Assassin's Creed as it does other games in the series. So the question is, does Thief abandon its roots in favor of more a modern aesthetic?
The short answer to that question is yes. Thief does abandons much of what made the Thief series recognizably Thief. But it does not leave behind what made the franchise good. The gameplay centers on what its title suggests, thievery. As a master thief, your missions generally revolve around breaking and entering facilities and subsequently stealing something. Or many things if you keep your eyes open. Virtually every small object in the game can be stolen and fenced for gold.
Being that Garrett is a thief and not an assassin, you don’t have many offensive measures at your disposal. Garrett's main tools are his bow, blackjack and a device called the claw. The bow operates much as you would expect but is made special because of the myriad arrows you can fire from it. Much like previous games in the series, there are water arrows that allow you to douse torches, fire arrows to ignite them, rope arrows to reach inaccessible areas and of course normal arrows that excel at impaling enemies. New to the series is the blunt arrow, which is used for triggering switches, traps and pulleys from afar without wasting one of the more expensive arrows.
Although the bow is Garrett’s main tool, it’s completely useless if it is out of arrows or if you’re engaging in close quarters combat. For those situations he has the blackjack, a small baseball bat-shaped club. While not great for battling multiple foes at once, from behind it can knock out a foe with a single hit. The last device in the arsenal is the claw, a large retractable grappling hook that lets Garrett latch on metal grates through the world as well as rappel from them. The only staple missing from Garrett’s old arsenal is his mechanical eye. In its stead is a magic eye. In previous games, Garrett could zoom in to see further and aim more accurately. Garrett’s magic eye offers many news abilities instead of that zoom, all of which stem from a new mechanic called Focus.
Focus allows Garrett to see enemies more clearly. It also reveals hidden traps, switches and anything else that can be interacted with. In addition to these, Focus also gives Garrett the ability to see inner workings of locks, which lets him pick them faster. Normally lock picking operate much like it does in Splinter Cell games and Thief: Deadly Shadows, by rotating the mouse or thumb-stick until the sweet spot is found. But with Focus activated, you can see the individual pins, not too dissimilar from The Elder Scrolls series. Enabling Focus can also cause Garrett’s attacks to do more damage and allow pickpocketing to take less time but Focus is constantly draining when activated and must be replenished with poppy flowers.
These Focus abilities are upgraded by spending Focus Points. Focus Points are earned through completing story missions and by donating money to a woman known as the Queen of Beggars (Granny Rags much?). Focus Points also enhance Garrett’s natural abilities, such as speed and marksmanship. These natural abilities can be then further increased through buying upgrades for Garrett’s equipment. Which you pay for with the money earned from fencing stolen goods. Since stealing goods is the name of the game, you have many options and avenues to do so. In addition to the game’s story driven chapters, there are also a number of side missions to take on. These side missions exist in roughly two tiers. The lower tier of missions include simple jobs given to you by Basso, Garrett’s fence. They involve Garrett entering one of the many shops or houses within the game’s world. The higher tier of missions come from other characters and require Garrett to enter areas outside of the central city. These jobs also pay more and are more difficult to complete.
The biggest source of revenue and most interesting jobs to complete are found in the game’s story missions. Though Thief’s level design and overall structure are quite good, the story itself rather bland and unwieldy. Being that this is a reboot of the franchise, this world is very different than it once was. There are no more Keepers, Hammerites or Pagans. Instead Thief revolves around Garrett’s pursuit to discover what happened to his protégé, Erin. Wrapped in that are a tyrannical Barron, a revolution to overthrow him, and the potential unshackling of an ancient evil. Honestly, much of the story feels like bits and pieces of several recent popular games stitched together. Unfortunately the stitching is not tight, making the journey more than a little disjointed. And to make matters worse, the city within which it take place feels dead. There are never more than a few citizens on the streets or in taverns and they are not in the houses you burgle either. They just don’t exist. Even in scenes where you would expect to find mobs of people rioting, there are only ever two or three.
All the issues with the narrative aside, the locations and events through which you get to traverse are fantastic. Two levels in particular stand out, one of which begins in a brothel and ends in a catacomb temple while the other starts with breaking into a large manor and ends with escaping across a large burning bridge as it breaks apart. And these levels are not only grand visual spectacles, but structurally and navigationally interesting as well. It’s easy to waste hours roam through the city, finding new buildings to break into, items to steal as well as alleys and rooftops to traverse. But the most interesting levels in the world would be useless if it were not fun to play through. Thankfully, this is where Thief shines most brightly.
Thief employs a running mechanic similar to the one found in the Assassin’s Creed series. By holding a button, Garrett not only runs but scales walls and vaults over crates. This gives you an incredible amount of maneuverability, a skill much needed due to the lack of straightforward fighting weapons. It is often not only more feasible to run away from a fight, but more enjoyable as well. So much so that Thief has three challenge modes outside of the main game the revolve solely around evasion and burglary.
Thief has no multiplayer mode and rightly so, this is a singleplayer experience and should remain such. But the game does have a series of challenge modes that allow you to revisit three locations from the game and try to steal as much loot as possible within a given time limit. Each mode is a slight variation on the others, but all center on you stealing items in quick succession to keep the clock going. These modes alone are a testament to the quality of Thief’s core mechanics. They strip away the problematic portion of the game and simply let your do what the title implies.
It’s impossible to look at Thief and not compare it to Dishonored (which is heavily inspired by the original Thief games), Deus Ex Human Revolution, and of course the original series. As reboot, it does everything it needs to, to bring the core mechanics to 2014. As Eidos Montreal’s second game, it shows that the studio learned much in the process of making Human Revolution (especially in regards to boss battles). But as a game on its own, Thief a fantastic ride and great game in which to merely be a thief in. It’s just a shame that it exists in such an uninteresting and disjointed world.
PC Specs: AMD FX-8350 Vishera, AMD Radeon 7950, 16GB DDR3 RAM, Win8 OS
Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.