I have a passion for playing bad games. Like watching bad movies, you can get a fair amount of entertainment out of games that are laughably designed and executed. What I can’t stand playing are mediocre games, titles that aren’t decent enough to enjoy honestly and aren’t shoddy enough to poke fun at. These games trot happily along the middle of the road, standing on the fact that they’re not bad. Sadly, new consoles tend to be plagued by games that follow this path. Enter Thief, released on the Xbox One, PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. While I normally wouldn’t have jumped at playing this game on my Xbone based on what I’ve seen from it, I’m faced with a question that many next-gen gamers are facing: What the hell else am I going to play on this thing?
Thief takes place in a dark, steampunk-influenced Victorian city, called The City. You play as Garrett, a master thief and recreational pacifist, who ends up suffering a magical accident with his protégé, Erin. Suddenly, Garrett is waking up in a cart and finds that it’s a year later, without any memories of what happened. You begin hunting down clues to explain the lapse in your memories and attempting to find Erin, while continuing to pursue your nefarious thieving. I mean, did they expect you to put your career on hold just because of some mystical, world-ending plot involving your (seemingly) one and only friend? I didn’t think so. Honestly, the story of Thief starts out in the right direction, but becomes a jumbled mess by the end of the game. Mixing up supernatural power, a citywide plague, a corrupt government, personal vendettas, and cerebral hallucinations became more than they could process and lay out into a coherent plot. You travel through a stunning variety of dreary cityscapes, sewers, and ratty looking houses. Believe it or not, all of the settings and missions tend to blur together, because it all looks the same. Each of the homes have the same furnishings, wallpapers, flooring, and items. Except for a single mission taking place in a whorehouse (which then becomes a dreary sewer), nothing really stands out while playing through the entire campaign.
The actual gameplay of Thief depends on how you like to play, with an obvious intention of stealth. Very similar (strikingly similar, in fact) to Splinter Cell: Blacklist, you can complete each mission in one of three play styles: Predator, Opportunist, and Ghost. Predators tend to use violence and aggression to complete their objectives, Opportunists tend to use their environment to complete the mission, and Ghosts tend to exclusively use stealth without violence. Naturally, you’re not always going stick to one play style, so your actions are tallied at the end of each mission and you’re given a title depending on what you did the most. The game handles fairly well, except for a few odd choices in controller layout. Your left trigger makes Garrett free-run, hurdling obstacles and climbing any possible walls. This doesn’t work too well when trying to do simple actions, like jumping or climbing a rope. I spent way too much time trying to jump to a rope, then having Garrett jump across a nearby gap or start climbing the walls. That being said, you do adjust to the controls easily. Garrett has a “Focus” ability that you can activate, which is similar to the Arkham games’ Detective Mode, highlighting important items, enemies, and secrets. While the stealth plays very well, everything else isn’t quite as smooth.
The combat is clunky and poorly designed, with using the right bumper to repeatedly bonk people with your blackjack. You have a dodge move assigned to the left bumper, which you’d better master because there’s no other way to avoid damage in actual combat. For a game that emphasizes (and encourages through in-mission challenges) the option to play each mission using open combat against guards, it is absolutely the least developed aspect of the gameplay. Thank God for Garrett’s bow, because combat would have been completely useless. The bow allows you to eliminate guards from the shadows, easily clearing out whole sections of enemies before one can discover they’re being hunted down. The bow also comes with a variety of arrows, including tips for setting fires, putting fires out, and blowing people to Hell. Unfortunately, the bow is the only thing that makes combat fun and is overpowered from the get go.
For being a game that is being cut up and served to five different platforms, the graphics look pretty solid on the Xbox One. They’re not the best, but there is an undeniable leap forward from the Xbox 360. Thankfully, as with all games released early in the life of a new console, Thief isn’t anywhere near the pinnacle of graphics, so we’ve got even better looking games in store. The Focus vision does help break up the faded gray and black that comprises the entire game’s visuals, by adding in bright blue and red highlights. The sounds design is one facet where Thief excels. Each step that Garrett takes produces a different sound, depending on what he’s standing on. Each little nudge against a cup or bottle creates loud and satisfying clinking sounds, which can alert enemies of your location. Even the enemy characters have dialogue and mannerisms that are outside of what other games use. Enemy dialogue is believable and well voiced, which allows players to sink further into the environment that they have created.
The achievement list for Thief is a terribly unbalanced mix, riddled with collectibles and secret areas. I beat the game in about 14 hours, including all the side missions, and ended up with 325/1,000. The achievements tied to beating the main campaign are only 5 Gamerscore a piece, with a 15 point achievement for beating the game. If you’re looking for an easy game to complete and boost your score, you probably want to look elsewhere. Thief isn’t going to do you any favors. If you love collecting items, finding every secret in every mission, then you’ll probably love wandering The City for hours on end. Personally, Thief wasn’t fun enough to justify wasting more time looking for hidden doors and love letters.
Thief is one of the first releases for next-gen consoles that wasn’t a launch title and it’s bringing in the new era of gaming with a resounding, “Meh”. It’s not the worst game I’ve played during this dry spell of releases, but it’s certainly not anything I would buy and replay. Thief toes the line between interesting ideas and poor execution, forcing me to strain myself in attempting to focus on playing it. It can be pretty fun running through the city picking pockets, stealing citizens’ scissors, and shooting guards with arrows, but it also gets tedious and boring. Nothing really shines while playing Thief, but nothing really stood out as being terrible. While I don’t recommend running out and buying this game, what else were you doing with your next-gen console?
I give Thief 3 “Poppy Flowers” out of 5
By Blake Edwards