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Review: Thief

“Instead of being another fine example of how reboots can awaken a sleeping giant, Thief is a miscue that compromises the future of the franchise.”

Reboots of popular franchises have become commonplace during the past few years. In most cases, these games are thoughtfully introduced games like Tomb Raider to the modern era of gaming. Eidos Montreal tackled one of these projects successfully with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Sure, some of the Deus Ex flavor was lost during translation, but it delivered enough of its own to substantiate itself.

Eidos Montreal thought it'd be a good idea to do the same for Thief, one of the stealth genre's most prestigious franchises. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but instead of showing what the series can be like on new hardware, it shows just how good the other games were.

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Much of the Thief experience is centered around finding a way to conquer sub-levels one at a time. You're presented with an area patrolled by enemies, and your route is blocked by one or more dangerous foes. Garrett's—the game's protagonist—combat abilities are close to non-existent, so it's emphasized early in the narrative that you should adhere to the game's mantra of stealth. If you decide to face off with another enemy, prepare to witness hilarity as you smash each other in the face with what might as well be foam noodles you stole from a nearby pool.

Garrett's greatest ability is to remain nearly undetectable when in the dark. Standing in the light is a death sentence in Thief, so you better get used to having zero visibility. Also, he's not too shabby at shooting a bow. Armed with more than eight different types of arrows, from water arrows to knock out torches to choke arrows that function like a gas grenade, there are options for how you choose to circumvent the many enemies who will just so happen to stand right in front of your destination.

Thankfully, you aren't only equipped with a small blackjack and bow. Focus is a coveted resource that allows you to highlight objects of interest in the game world. By tapping the button, you can easily find scaleable walls, hidden passages, and traps. It becomes particularly important if you become lost or are being chased by sword-wielding foes. Abusing it is rather easy, so if you're looking for a true stealth experience you may want to disable it with a custom difficulty scheme.

You'll also be able to strengthen your skills by acquiring skill up points that allow you to make important decisions on how to build your character. The options are extremely limited, but that's a consequence of fan feedback which blasted Eidos Montreal's original EXP system.  What's here is enough to let you accommodate your style of play with minor conveniences such as faster lockpicking or better handling of the bow.

Garrett's adventure isn't without reason. Thief is set in a city called… well… The City. The City has been infected with a plague that has decimated its starving population. Meanwhile, the big wigs hang out happily in nearby brothels sipping wine. This doesn't make Garrett very happy, so he decided to do something about it with his master thief skills. The story is presented in an easily consumable fashion with cinematics and brief dialog. 

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The presentation of the game is hit and miss. The City evokes a feeling of mystery with dark, medieval stone walls and a prevalent mist that shrouds the field of view. Unfortunately, repetition is commonplace. It's as if all the residents of The City came to the agreement to make it look as uniform as possible. Nonetheless, there are a couple of big moments in the game where the game world is given life with huge set pieces, even if only for a brief period of time.

Made worse, frequent loading times break up the flow of the game, especially in the case of side missions. It seems like every few minutes you're staring at a motionless loading screen, and it isn't fast, either. Loading times on the PS4 version are anywhere from 12 to 20 seconds. Did you just get past some enemies? Time to load. Did you get caught and die? Time to load. At least you'll have plenty of time to take snack and bathroom breaks.

One of the major problems with Thief is the level design isn't crafted in a way that either makes the world immersive or provides the options you've seen from past Thief games. Each of the eight chapters are linear, and even the game's main city hub is insignificant in size. This proves problematic, because much of the thrill of stealth games comes from deciding on a strategy, which requires a selection of valid options. It becomes clear early on that the only real decision you'll have to make is whether you want to launch an arrow through an enemy's skull or distract him so you maneuver carefully past him.

And therein lies where Thief crumbles apart. Seeing the artificial intelligence of the enemies in action is like watching a disoriented sloth wrought by dehydration. Their reactions are inconsistent making the thrill of perfect execution a matter of luck in some cases. You'll see enemies walk into a wall as if they're on ecstasy and think they're a ghost, and frantic citizens dart around screaming like their pants are on fire. Thief is a grade A example of how artificial intelligence is integral to a stealth experience. It's just a shame that it shows what not to do rather than being a positive role model.

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Side missions are where you'll derive the the best experiences from the game. Starting quests from the game's quest giver, you'll be given the task of breaking into homes to steal loot all around the city in order to earn some valuable currency. Currency can be spent to purchase a variety of tools, stat upgrades, and enhancements for your gear.

Playing through the campaign on the PS4 version, it was disheartening to see how unstable the framerate is. Eidos Montreal suggests that the game is locked at 30 frames per second on all versions. That simply isn't so. The PS4 version regularly drops to the 15-20 range, and during the game's larger set-pieces the image becomes a slideshow. Meanwhile, I found that the Xbox One version manages to remain much closer to the 30 frames per second mark, albeit with a 900p resolution instead of 1080p. If you purchase one of the console versions you'll learn very quickly how much you value a consistent framerate.

For those who happen to find Thief tasty enough to dive into more than once, or those who are veterans of the series, there is a custom difficulty option that's very welcomed. You can disable focus, only allow chapter saves, and more. Outside of that, there's only enough content to take up about 15 hours of your time. Strangely enough, there's an achievement/trophy for taking more than 15 hours to finish the game.

Thief isn't nearly as methodical as it should have been. Nostalgia is almost non-existent due to major changes to the formula. Meanwhile, technical problems break up any sort of rhythm the game manages to get going. Instead of being another fine example of how reboots can awaken a sleeping giant, Thief is a miscue that compromises the future of the franchise.

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Jonathan Leack is the Gaming Editor for CraveOnline. You can follow him on Twitter @jleack.


PS4 copy provided by publisher. The game is available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.