Thief impressions

Another Square Enix reboot hit?

I have never played Thief before, in fact I’ve never even seen a trailer for a game in the series before I watched one of the Thief (4) trailers that Square Enix released a few months ago. On that note if you want someone to respond to the qualities of the originals I can’t do that but what I can do is give you an idea of what sort of game it is in 2014.

Set in “The City” Thief is a stealth game set in dark times, with a tyrannical Baron ruling with his Watch it’s a story set up during the prologue when Garrett meets up with an old friend Erin and she gets caught up in some ritual thing that begins the games dark plot. There is also a “gloom” plague-like disease coming over the city which is causing tensions between the Watch, Baron and the citizens of The City.

The game is based around using the shadows to creep around The City, steal loot, collectibles, paints and sneak around the guarded areas to find every nook and cranny that can be sought out.Guards can be fought with if you are detected – I wouldn’t personally recommend it as the combat is pretty terrible but in a stealth game I can forgive Eidos Montreal for it, I try to keep to the shadows and not get caught. Sneaking up to guards and pickpocketing them though is quite fun, you can do a take-down which will knock them out, you will probably need to hide the body though so that other patrolling guards don’t find them.

The City is split into lots of smaller over-world areas where you can go looting around in people’s houses whilst avoiding the Watch and this connects all the main chapters (of which there are 8 “levels”) as well as side missions together, this gives the game a nice exploration aspect that is fun to loot the world and see more of it, loot is automatically turned into gold with which to trade with merchants around the city for new abilities, items and tools etc which are useful in the missions.

Garrett has a focus ability, sort of like 47 does in coincidentally(!) another Square Enix owned series Hitman, the focus shows everything that Garrett can interacted with, whether its parts of buildings for climbing, loot-able items, doors, throw-able objects, traps, puzzles – you get the picture. The focus activates using Y and has a gauge that deteriorates when you use it, you can get flower heads to replenish the meter which are sold merchants or found around levels, if you want to do everything you’ll probably need it but for just traversing the levels it’s not really needed. It does make the game easier though which is up to the player, for me personally I didn’t use it much at first but its something I use to make sure I don’t get stuck, I’d rather work out pretty quickly where I should go then on my second playthrough play around with it.

Actions such as running, jumping and climbing are activated using the left trigger which is only done in specific situations (it will default to running unless there are jumping/climbing possible) which I understand caused a bit of outcry but with the way the game is played it makes sense to me. Clicking in the left stick crouches Garrett and pressing A performs a “swoop” which will allow him to move very quickly to avoid being seen by guards, you can do 3 or 4 of these before Garrett runs out of stamina for a moment and it recharges.

There are a few tools that you can buy from merchants which can make traversing The City easier as well as helping you to get collectibles, the wrench allows you to unscrew drains and collectible signs for places, wire clippers are used to disable traps (which show up as red objects in your focus) and there is a painting knife that allows Garrett to lift paintings from their frames as collectibles.

What I like about Thief is the atmosphere, being set entirely at night it and the art style it gives off a dark vibe of a city on the edge, you can be caught by the Watch and need to stick to the shadows and plan your moves carefully, there are some moments in the chapter levels which are great examples of that atmosphere and it feels very creepy at times (chapter 5 is a particularly good level for this) and I really feel that this is a place in trouble.

The AI isn’t particularly mind-blowing, in one of the earlier levels in which Garrett breaks into a brothel one of the girls got stuck on a wall which isn’t ideal but it didn’t affect my progress so I didn’t mind too much. There are things such as blackbirds/guard dogs in cages and glass shards on the floor which if you move quickly through them or near them can create noise which is noticed by guards and affecting the actions of the player. These can seem a bit manufactured but it did make me think more about how to approach parts of the game and birds are also something that I didn’t always see before I tried to swoop to takeout a guard, dogs are a bit more obvious but sudden movements are noticed by them too. I think it’s the second level where there is a guard dog in the first area of the level and to get past him as well as collect all the loot I wanted I had to go round the dog, put out all the fire light (which the guards didn’t seem to notice…) before I could get all my loot and move to the next area.

Each level has some challenges (which they tell you about at the end!) to complete such as getting all the items of loot, collectibles, pick pocket x amount of guards which give a bit of extra challenge to levels. On that note the achievement are on the higher end of time-consuming and difficult such as using custom difficulties of a certain rating, I will have a proper look at them when I’ve completed it to avoid spoilers but I’ve enjoyed the game enough to want to go back to it later.

The story is moving along at a steady pace, im not really sure whats going on, but the summary screens in each chapter give you a written explanation of the previous chapter and the documents that can be found all over The City give you a better idea of whats going on. Being made at the same studio (but not team) as Deus Ex Human Revolution which nailed the atmosphere, gameplay (stealth and combat) and have a great involving story even if it did drop off towards the end im surprised that the Thief team didn’t liaise with them to try and find a more compelling tale to tell. I’d like to hope it gets better towards the end but from what I’ve read the ending is fairly abrupt so I wont hold out for that too much.

The world is well put together, with several ways to approach levels and routes to take, lots to do in the city, a consistent art style that I think looks good on Xbox One. Being a cross-gen game it isn’t going to take full advantage of the new consoles or higher end PCs but it still feels like a good experience, I like the use of the impulse triggers on the controller too for lock picking and finding switches. Things like a low frame rate I can’t say I’ve particularly noticed but it might be there, I haven’t experienced any bad slowdown so I guess I’ve been able to ignore it.

When you go off and do side missions throughout The City they offer a nice bit of extra gameplay that I find is what I want from them, there isn’t much story involved it’s usually just tasking Garrett with stealing something (shock!) and being light on detail means its more about getting to the place and looking round the area you’re sneaking into.

I’ve seen Thief described as Dishonoured-lite which is an interesting way of describing it but not one I really find to be correct. Thief is certainly a much darker game in aesthetics and world – even if there are similarities, than Dishonoured, both games represented the worlds they’re in very well and I think that the latter has a lot in common with Bioshock (particularly Infinite) in its style and how it plays with both games feeling eerily similar.

Conclusion:

Thief is a game im enjoying a lot, it’s not perfect, aforementioned AI issues and generally a game can be good without having a reason why it’s not “great”. I think not having a better story hurts the experience which is a shame I really do like The City as an environment to look around and spend lots of time in, it’s certainly an interesting place with an atmosphere that I think Eidos Montreal have done very well to create. I am on Chapter 6 at the moment of the story, I will update the post with some last thoughts on the last few chapters of the game when I have played them, it’s a thumbs up from me so far though.

Played on Xbox One


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