I wholeheartedly admit I went into Thief expecting the same high standards brought forth by last year’s stellar reboot of Tomb Raider, which was an exceptionally well-done rebirth of the franchise. While my expectations were certainly high already, there was no doubt that Thief would still present itself as a quality game in the ever-growing stealth genre. How sorely I was mistaken. Thief does nothing to showcase just how far it has come since the very first game from nearly fifteen years ago. It’s a boring, uninspired mess that fails to find a literary path, often leading you to run around in circles in the dark for much of the game.
What Is It?
Thief is a reboot of the homonymous series which first spawned back on the PC and gave rise to the stealth genre. Garrett makes his return as the main star alongside his new protégé Erin, whose hubris causes her to fall into a pit of light during a bizarre cult ritual, knocking Garrett out and awakening him one year later, unaware of what has happened since. On top of that, a mysterious plague has ravaged the city, and the guards and citizens are on the brink of all–out war. This is an interesting premise which never really takes off, since the story is ripe with boring characters that do nothing more but tell you to go to a set location, steal an item and bring it back to them.
While there are some interesting locations to travel to, such as fancy brothels, a meat-packing plant (filled with corpses on hooks) and underground caves, every one of these locations is extremely dark. It seems as if all of these missions take place after the sun sets (because as a thief, Garrett sticks to the shadows), but it really adds nothing creatively. The artists’ color palettes consist of black, covered with dark black, and topped off with dark gray.
The campaign’s main story doesn’t really do anything special in terms of explaining the mysterious light Erin falls into, the plague, or the war that is erupting around The City. There are a weird number of pauses between characters’ sentences so it is almost impossible to follow along during some dialogue sequences, and it was often confusing to me as to why everyone in the game speaks with a European accent except for Garrett. In any case, the side missions in the game are undoubtedly more fun than the main quest. Side missions allow Garrett to voyage to new locations and engage in scenarios that are a lot more original than anything else you do in the game (that is, is stealing stuff). Looting trinkets of fine China and roaming around dark corridors and houses grabbing loot remains the highlight of my journey playing Thief. Its always a blast to enter a house unnoticed, rob the bedroom of everything valuable, and then sneak out unnoticed.
Why Should I Care?
As a thief, Garrett must stick to the shadows, so naturally avoiding combat is essential to survival. On the happenstance you encounter someone, you are engaged in a really clumsy button-mashing fight for survival. The control mechanics for taking out enemies in hand-to-hand combat are downright unwieldy and irritating to pull off correctly, especially in a tight corridor or alley. Hitting an enemy requires the need to almost entirely dodge attacks first, which is nearly impossible, making combat feel like a broken, glitchy mess. To top it off, fighting two or more guards at once without the slightest targeting system or helpful on-screen indicators always results in death, 100% of the time. I found myself annoyed at the constant saving the game did throughout the game, but now I see it was done mercifully for the sake of my sanity when I died so often.
To add insult to injury, the loading times are unbearable and they force you to stare at a loading screen whenever you enter a new area on the map, and new areas are usually accessed by going through windows or doors. Just imagine sitting at a loading screen to start a new mission, and then having to stare at that screen again and again just by opening doors and windows. It gets frustrating real fast.
Garrett has a wide assortment of abilities and gadgets to handle various situations, and these are a bright spot in such a dull game. Swoop allows Garrett to glide across the ground quietly to quickly move past enemies or travel areas faster. It’s a great ability to fully master because it lets you escape back into the shadows when an enemy spots you. The Focus ability allows Garrett to activate a sort-of night vision that lights up key items in the dark, whether they be lootable items or access points that can be grabbed or interacted with. I loved using the Focus ability as often as I could since it helped me locate items in hard to see places or new ways to traverse the map, but there seemed to be no reason at all to upgrade the skill or use Poppy flowers to recharge the longevity I could stay in Focus mode for. There is no penalty for running out of energy to use such an important skill, so I found myself often spamming it nonstop to fulfill my needs, which seems like a poorly executed design choice.
There are some neat weapons and tools at your disposal, such as water arrows that can extinguish flames, but I found myself often disregarding everything in my inventory since the game’s dark settings are more than enough for roaming freely in the shadows to complete missions without needing to interact with the anything at all. With there being no penalty for using the Focus ability coupled with combat being so unresponsive, the need to upgrade Garrett’s abilities seemed unnecessary.
Once The City opens up for full exploration, you’ll finally feel a sense of freedom. Using the claw, Garrett is able to scale buildings with ease, open windows, and more. Exploring the different locations and looting everything inside is always a fun side activity to engage in, and sometimes you never quite know just how rare some of the valuables you wander across are.
Picking locks on doors, disarming traps and infiltrating secret areas using grates are all part of Garrett’s knack to remain unseen and as quiet as possible. In a sort of odd variance, just doing nothing but entering random buildings, looting everything in sight and leaving without making a sound were more fun than many of the missions in the game. There is a challenge mode that lets you complete certain objectives and beat a set clock, but this added incentive did nothing to help me enjoy the missions that already felt repetitive.
What Makes It Worth My Time and Money?
It has its moments, but Thief fails to deliver any quality improvements for the series or the stealth genre as a whole. The fact that doing nothing is more fun than doing anything else is testament to just how broken Thief truly feels. There are far too many negative experiences that outweigh the small bouts of happiness I rarely found. Thief easily could have been great but unfortunately its dull story, broken fighting system and darkened scenery made this long-awaited reboot feel more like a boot to the pants.
There is nothing here worth suggesting to anyone, and players who are looking for a fun, frolicking adventure as a master of the shadows will surely be disappointed by the overbearing problems that cripple Thief. Hopefully Garrett’s next adventure is easier to enjoy (and see) than this one.