Thief Review: A Tragic Example of the Necessity of Game Delays
I had fairly high hopes for the new reboot of the Thief franchise. I never played any of the original Thief games (the final sequel, Thief: Deadly Shadows, came out when I was 13 – when I was firmly trapped in the Halo series), but I am a big fan of stealth games. Rather than relying on arthritis-inducing button mashing, stealth games involve a heavy reliance on the mind. Your biggest tool in a stealth adventure is your brain, not a strategically placed rocket launcher. There has also been a drought of AAA titles so far in 2014, so I figured Thief could occupy some of the time before the release of one of my most-anticipated games of the year, Infamous: Second Son. In reality, Thief is one of the most disappointing missed opportunities in recent gaming memory.
The framework for an excellent game is absolutely present in Thief, which is the main reason why it is so maddening.
The glum, isolationist main character, Garrett, is one of my favorite protagonists in recent memory. Garrett is colloquially known as “The Master Thief” to outsiders. He dons black leather, lurks in the shadows, and steals anything that isn’t chained down. His dialogue, which I found to be the only enjoyable part of the story, can be witty as well as empathy-inducing. I found that the depressed nature of Garrett was endearing (though some might disagree, which is fair), as it differentiates him from the “Rah Rah” action movie heroes of so many blockbuster games. Garrett will make quips about enjoying alone time, and not enjoying crowds, which I found easy to relate to, perhaps due to my similar personality type.
The highlight of Thief is the first person stealth gameplay, where one uses the shadows to hide from (admittedly spotty) AI.
While the environments are not perfect (the climbing is more like Uncharted in its linearity than Assassin’s Creed or Infamous), there are always multiple ways of getting from point A to point B. I found myself being aggressive in my secrecy; I would use stealth to get a drop on guards and take them out, only to flee to the shadows and repeat the process. Garrett’s signature movement technique, the “swoop” (a quick silent dash in whatever direction one pleases), made this a fluid process. My absolute favorite thing to do in this game was to
“swoop” from shadow to shadow, and see how fluidly I could link swoops and take-downs from behind.
The “swoop” quickly became one of my favorite movement techniques in years because it allowed the crouch to actually be usable. Too often in games, one will press the crouch button only to have the sudden feeling of being surrounded by quicksand. This is absolutely not a problem in Thief, as one can move quickly while minimizing their auditory presence with the crouch.
The custom difficulty settings are also a highlight.
I played the game on the hardest setting and was able to make items and upgrades more expensive, which forced me to conserve arrows and precious health-restoring food. If one wants to break away from the hand-holding that most modern games have in place, Thief sets a phenomenal precedent. Among the custom settings, the player can turn off the HUD, focus mode, button icons, and save points. If one wants to play non-violently, a setting causing the mission to reset when an enemy is attacked is available. Each custom difficulty setting has a point value, and this can be linked to an online leaderboard for bragging rights. It’s one of the best features of the game, and something I hope to see more in the future.
Unfortunately, the greatest parts of Thief have been overshadowed by technical issues and, what I perceive to be, developer laziness.
One of the most glaring technical problems in Thief is the multitude of obtrusive loading screens.
I can almost understand minute long loading screens when moving from one section of The City to the next, but what is unforgivable are the loading screens that pop up during some window opening sequences. I lost count of the times I opened a window only to have the framerate grind to a halt, leaving me to press the square button with no visual feedback from the game, followed by a minute long loading screen. Most times when this happened, I would enter a carbon copy room that only had one or two pieces of loot in it, and then have to endure the loading screen once more upon my exit.
While the loading screens were obnoxious, the lack of true sound localization was essentially game-breaking.
I played Thief with a high-quality pair of noise-canceling, non-surround sound headphones. I understand that I should not be able to tell whether or not someone was behind me due to the lack of surround sound, but that wasn’t my issue.
In a stealth game, usually one can tell the distance of their enemy through the volume of the noise they are outputting. Unfortunately in Thief, it seems as though there are two settings for enemy and NPC noise, on and off. An example of this immersion-breaking issue came about halfway into the game. As I was navigating towards the next story mission, I passed a mob of villagers discussing their feelings on the political climate of their city. I passed by them with two feet of clearance, and their voices were (naturally) quite audible. I then took a right, went 20 feet forward before taking a left and travelling another 20 feet. At this point, the volume level of these voices was exactly the same as when I was two feet away from them before abruptly stopping completely. Had I not seen the mob in the first place, I would have no idea where they were, something that is outrageously unforgivable in a game where knowing one’s surroundings is absolutely paramount to survival.
There were endless examples of laziness by the developer in the environment of Thief.
While I understand that there can only be a finite number of collectibles in the game, they were lacking in variety of placement.
After a certain point, I knew that if a desk had four drawers, there would be a collectible located in the top drawer on one side and the bottom drawer on the other. When I opened a cabinet that had a large upper section and two drawers below it, I knew I could find a collectible in the upper section and in one of the drawers. The lack of variety in collectible placement screamed formulaic laziness, and it was noticeable quite early in the game.
While a developer cannot customize every inch of texture in the game, they should make sure that when they do repeat textures, they are spaced far enough apart so the player does not notice.
Being that one way to save is to enter cabinets, the player should be in them quite frequently. If one takes a second to look around these cabinets, they will see that the paint chipping and wood rot detail is exactly mirrored on both sides of the majority of cabinets. I made a mental note where a few spots were in each type of cabinet, and I found that they were present in virtually every cabinet of the same type. When I went down brick hallways, I noticed that the scratches and stains on certain bricks were copied and pasted multiple times on each wall. Every time one has to squeeze through a narrow crevice, a large wooden beam is present (even if there is no wood anywhere in the surrounding environment).
After a certain point in the game, the enemy type is changed in accordance of the story. Shockingly, the placement, some of the dialogue, and the movement patterns of the new group of enemies is literally no different than their predecessors. It is almost like the developers changed the outfits of the previous enemies, inserted two new lines of dialogue, and thought the player wouldn’t catch it. The casual player may not notice some these things, but for someone who enjoys taking in the aesthetics of the environment, this will almost always break immersion (even if slightly). It indicates that time saving was more important than proper world-building, and it’s certainly disappointing. The setting is one of the highlights of the game, and to sell it short this way is a shame.
The narrative in Thief is an unmitigated disaster.
It takes a good amount of time before you realize “Oh it’s a year later.” There are times when the suspension of disbelief cannot possibly be present (and not due to the supernatural elements).
Without revealing too much, about halfway into the game Garrett realizes that part of his face is different. Now this wouldn’t be a big deal, except it’s been over a year since that part of his face has changed, and there are hand mirrors that you can steal everywhere in this game. I couldn’t help myself from yelling “Really?!” at the TV and completely discounting the rest of the story as nonsense. The ending was bizarre at best too, and not in a good way. I actually laughed out loud at the way the game culminated, as your efforts throughout the main missions seem to be completely pointless afterwards.
Overall, Thief has some fun gameplay and novel concepts scattered about in an unpolished, glitchy, immersion-breaking package.
This game is an absolutely perfect example why game-delays are necessary in the industry. It seems as thoughThief was rushed out so that money could be made during a game drought.
The custom difficulty settings and exciting stealth aspects are overshadowed by obtrusive technical errors, lazy development, and constant loading. This game is an absolutely perfect example why game-delays are necessary in the industry. It seems as thoughThief was rushed out so that money could be made during a game drought. If an extra six months to a year were given to smooth out some of the rough patches, you could be looking at a phenomenal game. It’s really a shame that such a great protagonist is trapped inside of a technically disappointing package.
If you need something to satisfy your big-budget title needs until Titanfall or Infamous: Second Son come out, then consider getting it as a time-suck. However, don’t expect to be blown away by anything but disappointment.