Thief is the new-generation reboot of a franchise that already has three games in its arsenal. This "sequel-reboot" was highly anticipated by fans, and had a tough objective to meet: it had to please classic players, enchant newcomers, and impress experts with top-end graphics. To this end, the new Thief might not be the best in the series, but it does at least meet most of our expectations.
The feeling of being a thief
In Thief, you take on the role of a thief in a city inspired by a Victorian London, mixed with a steampunk theme. Your objective in each mission is to steal defined objects, according to the requests from Basso, your crime 'provider'. The game also has a main plot that unfolds over time, with plenty of intrigue and surprises; not everyone is as they seem. The truth is that although it's not exactly a marvel, Thief does do the job of keeping you glued to your screen so that you can find out what's going on in all the chaos.
Thief works from a very accomplished first person point of view that really outs the player in the shoes of Garrett (the protagonist). The level of realism is such that you see your hands interacting with the environment at all times; opening doors with picks, touching paintings and books in search of buttons, leaning on walls, or pulling curtains aside. The view has been developed with exceptional quality, the magic of which is only broken when the camera moves to third person when you climb walls (Tomb Raider-style).
If it seems like I'm going on about the view and realism in Thief, it's because the feeling of being a thief really is all-encompassing. The whole game revolves around putting the player into this experience, going beyond just the history and the goals of the game. In Thief, what matters is that you play quietly, hidden in the shadows, using gadgets accordingly, and stealing everything you can get your hands on: handbags, rings, boxes, safes– basically, whatever you can find. Stealing is important beacause it gets you money to buy upgrades for your tools and new skills.
The game is sufficiently balanced so as not to hinder your progress– anyone can play how they want, meaning it's not essential to boost your character to the max if you don't want to. Concentration will be your main concern: it's a temporary power that you use to see footprints, tracks, enemies, to slow down time, or even to become stronger. You'll use concentration the most, and the task of strengthening it is really interesting.
That balance when playing even applies to the levels of difficulty, which is extremely customizable. If you want, you can build a game that's 100% realistic, without help, without concentration and with a challenge that's only for the most skillful of players. This flexibility enhances replayability.
Although Thief has enough freedom to let you play in your own style, it's not the same when it comes to scenarios. Here, it's important to explain a couple of things. In Thief, there's a central city that connects everything. Within this central point, you can come and go, enter taverns, or steal from (some) houses, improve your skills, or buy and sell at the markets. In the city itself, there is freedom of movement to do what you please or to sign up to side missions. Missions, incidentally, are unlocked too late in the adventure, but when they do eventually unlock, they extend the life of the game significantly.
In the main missions, however, freedom is somewhat more vague. The goal is always marked on the screen with an arrow, and the scenarios seem ample and diverse, but in reality, it's extremely linear. You have to open that door, go down that corridor, get on that roof– you don't have much choice. When it comes to escaping from the police, on the other hand, you do have total freedom.
Analog control is essential
In Thief, you'll be handling many different types of motion, but each and every one of them are very well put together. The most interesting are your interactions with the stage, safes and locks, based on fast and well developed mini-games which get you totally involved.
When it comes to darting in and out of the shadows, Garrett has a style of unique movement that lets you move really quickly. It's essential to use this skill well to move among the shadows and avoid being detected, because at the end of the day, that's what really matters - not getting caught. Besides that, there's also a button to activate the run - jump - parkour mode that, although is a bit automated, is definitely fun to use.
The bow is one of Garret's essential tools and lets you shoot all kinds of arrows, either to kill or stun, turn off lights, activate buttons from a distance, or create a distraction, if need be.
It's really important to play with an analogue gamepad. Thief uses them extensively, not only because you have to control walking speed (there are situations where you're limited to taking small steps so that you don't get caught), but also because they're used to 'feel' the objects and locks when you steal.
Great lighting effects
Thief uses the Unreal Engine in its latest version. The display looks really good, with lots of nice graphical effects, good level design, high resolution textures and, above all, excellent lighting effects. In this game, taking advantage of light and shadow is essential because its the key to going undetected (or not). Both the light and the shadows in the scenes are realistic, but to encourage gameplay, there are some dark areas enforced in certain areas.
Another positive is the enemy AI. A lot of effort has gone into this element, and the enemies act reasonably well against threats. When they see something suspicious, they come to investigate, and they even discuss it with other officers so that everyone is alert to any potential threats. And, if you let them see you, rest assured that they'll chase you and look for you in a logical fashion. This AI is adapted to the difficulty, being very challenging if you configure it that way.
Thief is a precise game that's all about stealth and infiltration. Its greatest virtue is as much the setting as it is how to use the controls and the view– they all help really get you into Garret's skin. You feel like you are Garrett as you play, hiding in the shadows, picking pockets, looting homes and, getting away with it.
The biggest flaw, however, is a certain linearity in the main gameplay missions that leave you feeling caged and wanting more freedom. Luckily, the side missions offer you more flexibility in this regard. Technically correct and with ample room to set difficulty; Thief is a game to enjoy at your own pace.