Before Batman was hanging upside down from gargoyles and Sam Fisher was strapping custom night vision goggles to his head, the king of the shadows was a thief in the night. It’s been a decade since we last saw Garrett and his City, but this year he finally steps out of the shadows. It might have been better if he had just remained in the darkness, and in fonder memories of a classic series.
It’s not a good time to be a citizen in the City. Baron Northcrest rules with an iron fist, a mysterious illness is decimating the populace, the City Watch enforces their own twisted brand of law and somewhere out there the makers of Dishonored are pissed off that several story elements were lifted from their game.
Enter Garrett, the master thief. There’s a city full of treasures to lift, and he’s just the man to do it. Thrust into a mission with his former protégé, Erin, Garrett once again becomes entangled in a new plot, that moves from run of the mill breaking and entering and into a decidedly more supernatural realm.
Stealth as always, is the best way to play the game. There are plenty of shadows, with an icon in the bottom left showing just how much darkness you’re cloaked in, while the environments work against you and your efforts to remain concealed. Light sources, noisy surfaces and guard dogs/budgies are just some of the obstacles present.
Chapters are pretty much house-breaking exercises divided into two possible ways of intrusion, with players given the option to bash a few skulls in and go through the front door, or sneak their way past guards and find an alternate entrance.
Much like in previous games, combat is something to be avoided in this reboot. Guards may not possess any keen senses for spotting would-be thieves in the dark, but the AI jumps up a few college degrees when they do spot you and decide to introduce you to the pointy-end of their combat degree.
One guard on his own can be a challenge for the unprepared, but several of them at once? Better throw down a flash of escape smoke, or you’ll soon find yourself dead. However, combat isn’t a must, as he who runs away lives to pilfer another day. It’s a nice touch, and running away from a fight while guards are in hot pursuit gives the game at least one chance to get your blood pumping.
This is all reflected in the control scheme, where subterfuge is emphasised in the variety of skills that Garrett possesses. Crouching, hiding and swooping quickly from corner to corner make up the bulk of these talents, with Garrett also wielding flash-bombs, various arrows and a trusty bludgeoning tool in order to help him lift treasures.
Pulling a page from several other parkour-centric games, holding in the left trigger allows Garrett to move more fluidly, leaping across gaps and scaling highlighted grips and ventilation shafts. It’s a fluid control scheme, and it works well enough with the action of Thief and the handful of fight or flight scenarios that players will find themselves in.
Early on in the game, Garrett also gains access to a Focus ability. A finite resource, activating Focus allows Garrett to quickly scan his environment for treasures, traversable terrain and enemies. At that basic level, it’s a decent tool in his arsenal, but one that can be upgraded to allow players better stealth abilities, lock-picking skills and deadlier combat skills.
Thief is as difficult as you want it to be. On the most basic of settings, enemies have a lack of intelligence so borderline stupid, that you’d swear you’re watching a session of parliament. On higher settings, foes pose an actual threat, while an option to tailor your challenge can result in going toe to toe with a security force that has been augmented with spider-senses. AI is one area where the game does not fail, provided that you’re tough enough to handle the obstacles in your way.
From the sound of things then, Thief comes equipped with a decent set of tools then, doesn’t it? Well not exactly.
Where Thief truly fails mid-heist however, is that it has no identity of its own. The entire game feels like a generic template, made from ideas lifted from several other big name games and put together into one project that is devoid of any personality whatsoever.
It’s a sound template that works mind you, but one where it’s almost impossible to become emotionally connected and tied to the story. Garrett has the personality of a wall with freshly dried paint, leaving his nemesis the Thief Taker General and his closest ally Basso to carry the weight of memorable digital performances.
But for every other main player in this story, they’re all upstaged by background characters and noises. It’s a damn shame, because the Thief franchise always had some great characters, with Garrett being an appealing and enigmatic character. In the reboot, he’s merely a few dry jokes with the attitude of someone recovering from a hangover.
A lot has been said about this Thief game being more accessible in order to draw in more fans, but really, the clear problem here is that the game lacks any real direction. It falls for the same old tired trap of being a Jack of all trades and a master of none, resulting in a lacklustre and boring game. Thief has no conviction to blaze one distinct path, at all.
The visual style of the game reflects this generic approach as well, as everything feels drab and depressing. Unlike similar games such as Dishonored, the City has even less character than Garrett, with most of the populace conveniently locked away thanks to a curfew in place that robs Thief of any life whatsoever.
What levels there are that do have a more exciting and unique design, are few and far between. There’s an asylum that Garrett has to investigate halfway through the game that will make your hair stand up thanks to shifting shadows and screams in the night, while Madame Xiao Xiao’s house of blossoms hides quite a few secrets and valuables.
Exploring the various suburbs and looking for homes to burgle however, carries very little risk or reward as most homes are empty shells with its patrons oblivious to your rummaging around upstairs, save for in a few side-missions. It’s not the prettiest game either on new-gen platforms, with the current-gen graphics receiving only a slight boost in textures and materials, while hair and physical effects remained uniform.
If you’re rocking a current and new-gen console, there’s honestly no reason to pay extra for the PS4/Xbox One version of the game. “Unique touches on the PlayStation 4 controller come in the form of accessing your inventory via touch pad, which allows you to touch for arrows by tapping on a context-sensitive bit of the pad. . In the options, you can select to use a radial menu though, which is nice.
Playing through the core storyline will task gamers with around 6-8 hours of narrative of play, but let it not be said that Thief isn’t generous. Core missions can be replayed once completed, allowing players to master either the Ghost, Opportunist or Predator styles of gameplay as well as complete extra challenges.
Basso has plenty of jobs that pay good coin for the thief that needs extra funds, while chatting to other denizens of the City can unlock more missions and upgrades. A challenge mode is also present, tasking players with achieving certain goals and keeping score-chains as high as possible before time runs out. As far as single-player games go, Thief packs quite a bit of content into the product available.
But as mentioned above, there’s not a damn thing that makes Thief an exciting game. It’s boring, filled with forgettable moments and characters with the bad outweighing the good. It’s not a rushed or an incomplete game, but something that feels like more of an obligation, something to justify having spent cash on a license, despite its publisher and development studio not knowing what to do with the cult favourite franchise.