Thief Is Making A Muted And Stealthy Comeback
It’s been a full decade since last we saw a Thief game release but the fourth game in the series, simply titled Thief to signify itself as a moderate reboot, promises to reboot the series. The question is, do we want the series to leap out of the shadows or would it be better off fading away gracefully? The game has had an slightly uneven development, with plenty of backtracking on decisions and features but it has also failed to look all too great. Oh dear.
Let’s see what’s what and you can decide for yourself whether this game intrigues you.
Platforms: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Developers: Eidos Montreal
Publishers: Square Enix
Release Date: 28 February
Price: R699 (PS3, Xbox 360), R799 (PS4, Xbox One), R499 (PC)
So here we have another franchise that’s been resurrected by Square Enix because that’s what they do, right? Revive franchises, spend exorbitant amounts of money on game development, release a good-to-great game and declare it a financial failure. Rinse and repeat until you can file for bankruptcy. Then again, maybe I’m just a jaded cynic. Let’s look at what’s good about Thief, not what’s bad about its publisher.
Once again players follow the game through the eyes of Garrett, master thief, who has appropriately been away from home for a long time and returns to his hometown of The City to find it ruled by the tyrannical Baron. The City is suffering from a plague while the rich continue to swim in luxury which Garrett intends to exploit to his own ends, stealing whatever he wills from the opulent upper-class.
A trailer shown at the VGX Awards suggests Garrett’s secondary objective aside from overthrowing The Baron will be avenging the death of a mystery woman.
It’s curious, the cyclic nature of life. Tomb Raider inspired Uncharted which inspired the Tomb Raider reboot and it’s no different with Thief. Dishonored was certainly inspired by Thief with its first-person stealth and now the Thief reboot looks very much like Dishonored in some respects. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.
The game retains the heavy emphasis on being a silent and deadly master thief. This reboot is not geared to be played as an action or stealth title. You have to be as stealthy as possible to successfully make your way through the game however the way in which you do that is somewhat open-ended.
There are a number of ways to approach each scenario and mission. Only some will work for those who wish to take the non-lethal approach and be a complete ghost. Eidos Montreal didn’t simply want a game that lets you take the action route so taking on more than four guards will likely result in death. Garrett is not a fighter.
The trick is to move quickly and stay hidden but the enemy AI has been designed to be aware of the most likely hiding spots in a level so if they suspect anything they will check those places. Unlike a lot of other games, enemies will also have peripheral vision so if they notice movement out the corner of their eye, they will investigate. At least, that’s what the developer claims.
The AI is also designed to be varied so different NPCs will look for Garrett in different ways and simply staying in the shadows does not guarantee you safety. Remaining hidden is analogue in this game and depends on how much you’re moving, whether you’re standing or crouching and even whether you’re in a high traffic area.
As has almost become a staple in stealth games, there is something called Focus which is upgradeable and shows Garrett elements in the environment which are climbable or can be extinguished to create more darkness. It can also be used in combat to highlight specific strike point on an enemy.
What would a master thief be without the ability to pickpocket and ransack every draw and cupboard imaginable? Probably not a master thief that’s for sure. There is also a fingerprint system in place which allows Garrett to deduce which draws will likely be the most worthwhile to ransack if pressed for time.
As you go through the game you’ll collect money which can be used to upgrade abilities and supplies at the end of each mission. There was initially an XP system in place but this was scrapped after fan feedback.
It makes more sense for a thief to steal in order to upgrade their supplies than earn XP because let’s be frank, what master thief needs more experience? This is a good form of developers using constructive criticism and improving the game with it.
The game’s magical elements have been toned down while Garrett will wield a blackjack, bow and claw for grappling. The bow can be equipped with special arrows capable of snuffing out flames or causing a distracting smoke screen.
Eidos Montreal believes that the core of any great stealth game is to “force players into a series of impossible situations and then give them the tools to escape.” That’s about as sound a focus as any but the team spent a lot of time in the concept phase of development in order to get there and make sure they had the right vision for the game. How closely they’ll stick to the Thief mythology and the mechanics of the original games is still up in the air.
Plenty of inspiration was drawn from Assassin’s Creed for the movement and parkour, BioShock for atmosphere and Dishonored for obvious reasons.
Purists will have the option to play without Focus and rely solely on their own insights and abilities. Those of you who love a pure stealth experience will be glad to hear that the game can be completed without ever triggering an alarm or killing a single enemy.
In designing The City, the developers opted for a somewhat different, more grungy and mechanical steampunk aesthetic overlayed on a mix between Victorian and medieval architecture. It’s a more industrial and dark visual style than perhaps what we got in Dishonored. A big part of making the game look right is the way it handles light and shadow as well as the use of fog to add atmosphere .
It sounds pretty good, right? The only problem is that there doesn’t seem to be much setting Thief apart from any other stealth title even though such games are hardly a common occurrence.
Then there’s the numerous times during development where developers have scrapped features or changed things of their own accord or due to fan feedback. While it’s good to take heed of what fans are saying throughout development, one can’t help but wonder whether these changes may result in the final game being a little choppier and less polished. Every game goes through changes throughout development, nothing is set in concrete but this much tinkering could go one of two ways – either they really do improve the game and it shows that Eidos Montreal are doing development right or it muddles the final game somewhat. It’s something to be wary of but certainly not something to discourage you from the game.
Suspected Selling Points
- The game has a lovely and uniquely dark aesthetic
- Enemy AI is designed to make it difficult to stay hidden in one spot for too long adding to the challenge
- The game is designed to be a stealth experience catering specifically to purists which is rare in gaming these days
- An open-ended mission structure leaves it entirely up to the player on how to approach a level
- The degree to which this reboot retains the original Thief DNA is unknown and may be a worry for series fans
- A number of significant changes during the final year of development may cause the final game to be less polished
- There appears to be nothing truly distinguishing about Thief when compared to other stealth games at the moment
- There doesn’t appear to be much motivation for Garrett’s actions nor purpose to the narrative
Usually, as stealth fans we’re giddy about any game that promises a focused stealth experience but approach the Thief reboot with some caution. It’s developmental backtracks and changes may result in a less polished product and while the game looks good it hasn’t shown us anything to truly set itself apart from other stealth titles such as Dishonored.