It is a time of degradation (insert smoky, movie-preview voice here). With a strange illness known as “the gloom” spreading through the city, with corrupt officials feeding on the plundered livelihood of the ill-fated townsfolk, with “Brothers of the Awakening” having called forth strange occult forces, it is up to you, a master thief, to use your skills as a silent shadow to reclaim the bounties lost and rebalance the scales of power. There’s just one problem: you died, and through supernatural intervention, you’ve just awoken a year after your own death.
Sounds good, hey? Well that’s about as good as it gets in Thief. Sure the setting is such a deliciously-rendered cesspool of Dickensian-level poverty it makes you want to skitter along rooftops. Sure the mystery of Garrett’s past, his strange connection to unnatural forces, and his incredible skill leaves you shaking with a rich anticipation. But no matter what is done well in Thief, it doesn’t allow the game to rise up from the epic disappointment of a game teeming with tantalizing potential.
For me, this journey began with gaping holes in the writing during the prologue, as I was battered with such inane, obvious references to stealing and thievery. I read the title; I get the idea. Instead of treating me like an intelligent human being, the writing seemed to take me by the hand and lull me into the obvious and mundane.
After playing through the painfully mediocre prologue – I will admit the final scene of the prologue was quite impressive – the story continued to fizzle out, being played out in such piecemeal moments that I lost interest.
With answers to inherent questions – Who am I? What happened to me? – being spaced excruciatingly far apart, you have little motivation to care for the characters in the early phases of the game. I kept waiting for the twists, but the story didn’t unravel fast enough for any twists to seem of consequence. By the time I could see the whole picture, by the time the twists did emerge, I was emotionally derailed with any hope of connection to the story or characters long since past. The disappointing ending to the game was greeted by a defeated, “figures,” by yours truly.
Don’t get me wrong, the game does some things well, but it falls victim to its own unrealized potential. Straight out of Hard Times, the setting is clustered, dank, and brooding with gothic elements. And yet there is a decided lack of diversity in the cramped, confined design of the city so you never feel connected to any one locale. The random barrage of loading screens further disconnects you from the setting.
As you stare across rooftops and darkened vistas, the promise of open exploration comes crashing down in a deluge of disappointment and you realize just how limiting the setting is going to be. I hoped for more of a parkour, go anywhere, death-from-above kind of feel. With a name like Thief, the game should be set in a town where you can been free and open – the glorious steampunk game Dishonored was able to accomplish this nicely. Tragically, rooftops are only available to you at certain locations and the game soon descends into an insultingly narrow path with few true strategic choices.
Then there are the doors with no handles – including stairs that actually lead to some of these handleless doors – so numerous they’re hard to ignore. They beg the question: why would a designer build a door with no handle in a house?
The nail in the coffin of design is your inability to leap from one ledge to the next. That’s right, folks, in Thief you can’t jump. You’re the world’s greatest thief, a master of shadows, a silent predator from high or low … but you can’t jump. And though Garrett can somehow scale 10-foot walls at certain points, when it comes to a waist-high rope fence or some crates with sacks piled on it, suddenly you’re stopped dead in your tracks.
The non-player characters look great. Well, their clothing does at least, but their faces remain stony and lifeless. Equally stony is the AI with guards rarely being able to catch up with you, let alone find you. This leaves the game without any true sense of immediacy or danger. On top of everything, both the soundtrack and the voice acting are second-rate, the former never truly finding a spark of personality while the latter is a horrid mashing of English and American accents.
To be honest, I felt more deadly as Sam Fischer in Blacklist, I felt more connected to the hunted-man archetype in Dishonored, and I had more fun thieving in Fable.
The only thing that you’ll find stolen playing Thief is your time.
When he’s not teaching high school, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell can be found attached to a video game console.
Rating: M (needless nudity and sexuality, language, violence)
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS4
+ beautiful setting yields tense stealth gameplay at times
+ Canadian developer
- story is too drawn out to be effective
- little emotional connect to plot or character
- pros in presentation and plagued by disappointing cons