Thursday, 3 April 2014

Thief review

In recent years, Square Enix has brought us a number of series revivals, with Tomb Raider last year, and Deus Ex seeing a comeback after being dormant for 8 years. Now, thanks to Eidos Montreal, Thief joins that list, and has even been released on the new-generation consoles. Master thief Garrett returns in an all new adventure, but is that a reboot worth buying, or has its reputation as one of the greatest stealth franchises been tarnished? Read the full review below to find out...

Players take on the role of Garrett, a thief in a Victorian style city, who makes his living by stealing from the rich and keeping it. After a heist gone wrong, Garrett loses his apprentice Erin, a year of his life and his memory, but gains a glowing eye allowing him heightened focus, to ease the task of grand larceny.

This power is a new addition to the series that may frustrate veteran players as much as it may help others. When activated, items that can be interacted with glow blue, which makes finding items that can be stolen much easier, paths that can be traversed more obvious, and lights up traps without having to look for them. While this can hinder the experience, focus is not vital to the game, and can either be unused, or turned off altogether.

The city acts as a hub, in which you can take on side missions, explore, break into people's houses, or pickpocket them as they walk the streets. To be honest these side missions are the most enjoyable part of the game, and often require a bit more thought than the main story. The plentiful supply of guards always on the lookout for you can be frustrating and limit movement however, as well as the civilians who are more than happy to report you acting suspiciously. Overall it's designed fairly well, with a decent selection of paths you can takealthough it is split up into a few districts, and changing area does feel a little disjointed.

Garrett must infiltrate all manner of locations

The main story is fairly short, with only 8 chapters available.The plot is nothing special, with Garrett trying to work out what happened to Erin, by stealing things. It isn't very well fleshed out in honesty, and is largely forgettable. The missions themselves are entertaining enough, although the level design is a bit lacking. You often feel like you're being pushed down a particular route, rather than having a choice of which route to take. Any path variety comes down to a slight shortcut round a corner, or requires having specific tools for the job which are inaccessible without them.

Movement is very fluid, so traversing the maps isn't an issue. Falling from a high ledge is much easier said than done which allows a lot more confidence when crossing a high beam, allowing the game to flow quicker. Garrett can also "swoop" around, which allows him to quickly move through exposed areas. As running is a sure fire way to be noticed, swooping becomes very useful. The controls are simple as a whole, which lets you go about your business with a great sense of ease befitting a master thief.

Being a stealth game, there is unsurprisingly a large focus on staying hidden. Shadows seem to be much darker than they appear, and you can be only a metre or two in front of an enemy, with no risk of being spotted by him. Should you be spotted, guards will come running, and while the barebones combat allows you to easily take down one guard, you can easily be overwhelmed by multiple enemies. The easier way to deal with them are stealthy takedowns, either from above or behind. Guards have very predictable routing, so getting in a place to do this is easy.

Taking down enemies quietly or from afar is the key to success

Once knocked out, they don't wake up either, so they can mostly be forgotten about. Bodies may need to be hidden if there is any risk of them being found however. The AI in general is pretty lacking, and can easily be distracted to allow you to pass unnoticed. There are some redeeming qualities however, as a nearby noise will only draw one guard, rather than an entire group at the same time. Should you be spotted however, running is an option, and simply requires finding a little bit of terrain that enemies can't cross, be it a low beam you need to crouch under, or jumping over a few rooftops or high ledges.

Garrett has access to a number of tools in his inventory, being able to pick locks, disarm traps, or cut paintings from their frames. Most of these require a purchase at a shop and can be upgraded to be more effective. On top of that he has a wide selection of arrows to do different jobs, be it push a switch at a distance, extinguish fire, or knock out a guard or dog from a safe distance. While they can be found around the maps as you explore, these too can be purchased.

As you linger in the shadows, you will hear interesting conversations between NPCs, and the majority of these are very entertaining, at least the first time, as they are often repeated. Garrett has a slightly worse script and a lot of lines feels very forced. Sound is of course an important aspect of a stealth game, but as a whole it is incredibly disappointing. It can be hard to know where enemies are before you see them, as enemies 3 rooms away sound like they're right next to you.

Stealth is a thief's best friend

Graphically, Thief is impressive. The lighting is important to this kind of game, and is one of the best parts of the game. The city looks beautiful, both outside and inside, so it is a shame that the sound didn't receive the same love and affection. The player's HUD is minimal, and can be turned off, or put on a fade timer. The tool selection screen is clear, the mini-map is simple, and there is a useful light meter to tell you how hidden you are. Objective markers can be disrupting, but these can also be turned off.

The customisation of the game is a joy to behold. Most features can be turned on or off, and extra difficulty can be tweaked to allow for as challenging an experience as you want. Options range from not being allowed to be spotted by a guard or not having access to focus, to having to restart your game if you die once. It truly allows for players to tailor the game to themselves.

There are definitely some positives here, but not quite enough to distract from the negatives. The story is forgettable, the AI is lacking, levels often feel linear, and the sound design is laughable for a stealth game. Overall it feels like a missed opportunity to bring a whole new generation of fans to the series, but it could have been much worse.


by Mike Aitchison

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