The Thief series has always been about shadows and continues to be a satisfying stealth game with the newest installment in the franchise. Just as I remember from the previous Thief games, there’s nothing as satisfying as swooping through shadows, stalking guards, and pulling the coin purses right off their belts before disappearing back into the shadows. These are things that Thief continues to do well in this franchise rebirth.
During a seemingly standard heist job, Garrett’s protege, Erin, falls to her death in the middle of a mysterious cult ritual. When Garrett finally returns to The City, he finds that it’s being ravaged by a sickness called The Gloom and has been taken over by The Baron, a ruthless tyrant.
Following mysterious visions and messages from Erin, Garrett loots and sneaks his way through The City he calls home to save the citizens from both The Gloom and The Tyrant.
From afar, The City is dark and hauntingly beautiful. The first time Garrett climbs through the window of his clock-tower hideout to look out over The City is one of my favorite moments of the game. This is the same city I loved sneaking around in ten years ago in a modern game engine with high-definition graphics. The City is dark and gritty, with architecture inspired by the Gothic and Victorian eras.
Up close, The City loses some of its appeal. Textures are occasionally slow to load in both the PC and Xbox One versions (which are the only two platforms I tried). The City acts as an open-world hub to explore between missions, and while you can pry open windows, pick locks, and crawl through building vents, the number of buildings where this is possible are limited. The City is also plagued by intermittent load screens, which shatter the illusion that it is a living, sprawling open-world ready for exploration.
Make no mistake: this is a stealth game. Since Garrett isn’t particularly strong or adept at combat, there’s no way around being stealthy. It’s possible to kill one or maybe two guards in face-to-face combat, but any more than that and Garrett is dead. To balance Garrett’s lack of combat abilities, he has an arsenal of helpful tools, such as water and noisemaker arrows, and a club to knock out guards from behind. He also has the “swoop” and aerial take-down abilities, which are new to this installment of the series. While the aerial take-downs of guards are awesome to watch, the swoop ability is my favorite new addition and allows Garrett to invisibly and silently pass quickly through patches of light to reach the next shadowy area.
While it may sound daunting that Garrett is unable to fight alerted guards, the levels and AI are designed very forgivingly, allowing Garrett to run away or climb to a roof and hide until the guards return to their normal patrols. In this way, the stealth is highly approachable and accessible with enough patience.
Pick-pocketing and stealing are just as fun as the previous games. The game even adds some new looting options, such as feeling around paintings for hidden switches to reveal a safe or treasures behind. The game will certainly satisfy all the virtual kleptomaniacs out there (like me!) with treasures that glint in the darkness and tons of locks and safes to crack.
Though the levels do tend to be more linear than previous Thief titles, new abilities such as prying open windows or using a wrench to open sewer grates provide new options and paths to take through the levels and add a certain amount of re-playability to the game.
While stealth and stealing are what Thief does well, there are some frustrating elements to the gameplay mechanics. Guards will occasionally get caught on corners. Sometimes Garrett can just walk off a ledge and other, seemingly arbitrary times, you need to press the action key to get him to vault off. Just as arbitrarily, some corners or crates Garrett is able to duck behind, while for other identical crates or corners it isn’t an option.
Few video game series hold as dear a place in my childhood memories as the Thief franchise. I was probably the most excited person in the world when Eidos-Montréal officially announced that the fourth installment of the series would be released this year, nearly five years after the project was originally teased in 2009 and ten years after the third installment was released in 2004.
Now that I’ve finished the game, I’m still not sure how much I liked it, which has made this review very difficult. It’s hard to tell which parts of my opinion come from a fierce loyalty to the Thief franchise and an understanding that the original three games were also pretty broken but charming in their own right.
Thief continues to excel in stealth and stealing, but the game remains frustrating with arbitrary load screens and inconsistent mechanics (such as ducking behind crates or vaulting off ledges). The story begins interestingly enough, but seems to lose its narrative focus about halfway through the game, which is a shame since the story of Thief: Deadly Shadows gripped me from start to finish.
Despite some shortcomings and a story that falls flat, Thief is still a fun, entertaining stealth game that will appeal to all of the virtual kleptomaniacs out there (you know who you are!)