One half of you can take down the ticker tape. The other half can call off the firing squad. Against all odds, Eidos Montreal’s Thief reboot has managed to slink between nostalgia-flavoured excellence on one side and forumite-death-threat-incurring disaster on the other, dodging both to arrive safely at, “yeah, quite good.”
If Thief’s final quality – following a prolonged and controversy-courting development – seems anticlimactic, the experience it offers is not. Garrett now finds himself in a pretty hardcore stealth game, rich with optional pathways and, occasionally, glimmering with touches of the original games’ brooding atmosphere.
In case the rebooted name means nothing to you, Thief continues a series tradition of sneaking past NPCs and nabbing loot from rich people’s mansions – before a daft supernatural plot inevitably takes hold and your nefarious skills are tested in a different, less engaging way. There’s an open-world element now, too. Between the more linear chapters you’re free to explore a central hub and complete side-missions, then trade in your loot for equipment and upgrades. Interestingly, weaponised gear such as the broadhead arrow is prohibitively expensive, so when you’re rumbled by a guard you’re forced to pose the question: can I afford to kill this guy?
With a handful of bold design calls and some carefully crafted locales, Thief manages some moments of brilliance – botching a near-perfect pick-pocketing manoeuvre only to be rumbled by upsetting a nearby vase is a personal highlight; likewise diving into a cupboard just in time for a cook to peek inside the cupboard next to me – and asserts its own identity.
Thief takes a free running approach to getting around using L2 to clear obstacles at speed.
But what you’re really wondering is this: how does this leather-clad pretender compare to his three chief adversaries – Corvo Attano, Adam Jensen and his own, younger self? The Dishonored parity is startling, and well-documented. I’d love to know how the two came to exist in parallel, but I digress. The TL;DR version: Thief’s levels aren’t quite as intricate, and its toolset isn’t anywhere near as interesting. But Corvo is an assassin, after all, and Garrett’s a tea-leaf who’s wholly averse to shedding blood.
And what about Mr Jensen, figurehead of Eidos Montreal’s other significant output, Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Well, the two find themselves in similarly clandestine worlds where a secret passageway is never too far away – but where Jensen had the option to bring out the big guns, Garrett has only the shadows to skulk back to. The game’s commitment to stealth is brave but misguided, because there’s a crucial ingredient missing from Thief’s formula. You don’t have an interesting toolset.
The game’s commitment to stealth is brave
but misguided, because there’s a crucial ingredient missing from Thief’s formula.
You don’t have an interesting toolset
Previously your arsenal could be used to create pathways that bypassed huge chunks of a level, letting you feel like you were getting one over on the game. Some vintage items return here, but they’re next to redundant. You simply don’t feel the master of your surroundings like you ought to. Most homes your burglarise are empty, or occupied by people so determined to stay asleep you can literally jump up and down beside their bed. Perhaps fearful of stifling the game with too many modern systems, Eidos Montreal’s gone so far the other way that the vast majority of your time is spent rifling through drawers or swooping past guards with X.
Thief’s open stealth lets you steal how you want: leaving no trace or a pile of unconscious bodies.
That sensation’s worsened by Thief’s AI, which is neatly communicated via alert meters above people’s heads but often reveals itself to be outright moronic. At one point I flummox a jeweller, whose shop I’m busy ransacking, simply by blocking his progress up some stairs. After a few minutes, he stops and declares, “He’s vanished!” From this moment on, I can’t shake the feeling I’m robbing a cardboard cut-out movie set.
Let these shortcomings slide and there’s still pleasure to be had skulking around the City and being swept up in moments of both scripted and spontaneous excellence, but Thief’s stripped-back gameplay and dumb AI leave it in the shadows where it’ll be neither reviled nor remembered. Neither the disaster some anticipated nor a reinvigorated reboot akin to Deus Ex: HR. Thief is worth it for the setting and hardcore stealth, but it’s marred by some poor AI and passive gameplay.
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