Platform: Playstation 3 (reviewed), Playstation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Developed by Eidos Montreal
Published by Square Enix
Directed by Nicolas Cantin
Starring: Romano Orzari, Daniel Kash, Vanessa Matsui
As a console gamer throughout my life I’ve had very little experience with the Thief franchise despite actually really wanting to give it a go. It’s with this hope and eagerness that I purchased Thief, the latest title from Eidos Montreal and it’s this hope and eagerness that also left a rather empty and also bewildered feeling.
Once upon a time there was a master thief named Garret, this is where the story stops making sense. Ok so the prologue shows how Garret and a girl called Erin stumble upon a magical, mystical ancient ritual in a cathedral while skulking around the rooftops. After getting into a bit of an argument the couple accidentally gate-crash this ceremony causing all sorts of ruckus. A little while later Garret wakes up with Erin missing and lots of unanswered questions. The rest of the story is made up of Garrett meeting a guy called Orion who believes he can cure the dying population of a horrible plague known as the Gloom while Garret breaks into different places and steals a bunch of seemingly unrelated items and uncovers the mystery beneath an unknown presence called Primal.
You’d think with such a simple premise that the story would be very straight forward; well you’d be incredibly wrong! Most of the times the story barely explains itself, sending you off on a mission only to have the game forget about it when you’ve finished and never mention it again. Talking about never mentioning again, Thief actually introduces quite a few characters to you during your journey with Garret. Erin shows up out of nowhere in the prologue with no explanation of who she actually is or how she knows Garret, a major figure in Orion is only seen twice or three times in the game and is not developed at all and the major villain of the piece happens to be just a normal guy doing his job, hell I don’t even think he had a name. There is a guy called Basso who you get introduced to in the game who appears to be a friend of Garrett’s, not that he ever treats him in a friendly manner. Basso is just about the only likeable character in the game because he acts like a genuine human being, not only that but he also turns up more than once and has a genuine impact on the story as well as giving you missions.
Maybe it gets better at the end? Well, don’t hold out hope, the end makes about as much sense as a lion on a unicycle juggling geese and eating ice cream. It really is that bizarre.
The gameplay in Thief is incredibly important, for the most part because it’s actually quite fun. The missions are an intoxicating mix of atmosphere and strategy, creeping around the guards is incredible fun and yet often paranoia inducing and even scary. There are puzzles in the game too but they tend to be either very easy or obnoxiously hard, hiding the solution in a completely random place just to pan out the length, the game at times even forces you into Mirror’s Edge style chase sequences and forces action upon you, which the game doesn’t do well at all.
You’d have hoped Eidos would have learned their lesson about boss fights after Deus Ex: Human Revolution, well it seems they’ve taken some things on board but we still have 2 rather needless boss fights. One of these boss fights makes you stealth around a small arena to try and open the door blocking your way, or you could just hide behind a pillar and shoot arrows into the guy for an easy win. The other boss sets you the challenge of avoiding shockwaves of light that do an immense amount of damage while you run around an arena picking up 3 magical items. The two of these boss fights are unnecessary and only present to try and add some form of drama to the story, which doesn’t work as, I’ve already mentioned, the story makes no sense in the first place.
The stealth in this game so much fun though, the way the shadows mix into the strategy of stealth is genius, it really is. Every movement counts as you sneak around turning off the lights and hoping to god no one sees you. Thing is the guards are really inconsistent, you can be wandering around directly in front of them, hidden in the shadows and the guards will completely pass you by but at other times a guard will be able to see you from four rooms away, this often makes the game unforgiving and really rather frustrating at times. What makes the game somewhat more frustrating is that it is insanely dark, and not in a gritty way but in a pitch black way, there are times, especially late game, where you can’t see a single thing and get punished for not having the brightness setting turned way up high and ruining that good atmosphere.
Speaking of how dark the game is, there are other things that make it hard to keep your eyes on the screen. The game is ugly, the environments look alright really but that’s only because the entire game is smothered in a pitch black hue that prevents you from studying the environments too much, while the character models really show how poor the textures can get, especially in cutscene. At the start of every map you can still see the textures rendering on the screen, often for a minute before it looks relatively decent. Even when the map is fully rendered the camera suffers from such atrocious screen tearing that you can’t move the characters head too quickly or it’s just all lines, this is particular a problem in the forced chase scenes as it seems the game runs to quickly for the poor Unreal 3 engine. In CGI sequences the frame rate is all over the place, the character models are all poorly rendered, the lip synching is worse than some old anime that I’ve seen and the soundtrack often gets so loud that you can’t hear the dialogue.
The way the guards talk to each other in this game is actually really cool. Many times will I catch a conversation and just listen in because of how amusing or insightful it is but on top of that many a time I’ve heard lots of problems. There are times when two guards will have the same voice and not only that but say a line that interrupts the other guard saying exactly the same line. The sound level is all over the place too, one moment it’s really rather quiet the next I’m listening to some sort of weird techno music through two giant speakers taped to my ears.
Thief has so many issues with its polish and identity that even when the game is good it’s hard to recommend to anyone but the most avid stealth fan. Turn up the difficulty to max and if you’re a real stealth aficionado you should find a lot of fun here but for anyone playing on the normal difficulty and prefer their games to be finished and have a story that makes sense this title is average at best and at worst a frustrating mess of a game. Thief is rendered playable only by its core gameplay and the scope of its stealth. You can find enjoyment here; you just have to wade through the darkness to get there.
Next week is either South Park: The Stick of Truth, Pac-Man and The Ghostly Adventures or Atelier Escha & Logy: The Alchemist of Dust. Comment on which game you want to see me take on next!