It was a long time coming. The resurrection of the Thief brand demonstrated another stretch to appeal to a western market from a quintessentially Japanese publisher. Times were different, and Square Enix was keen to capture a wider audience with more westernised, action-orientated titles. Of course, with hindsight we all now know how that would turn out.
At the time of Thief’s launch back in 2014, Deus Ex and Tomb Raider each had done respectable jobs of bringing their unique experiences into the modern era, and so one would hope that Thief could compliment these previous Eidos success stories under the helm of Square Enix. While Thief never matches the lofty heights of either of those unashamedly progressive titles it does well to capture the spirit of its predecessors.
A Thief in the Night
The fourth game in the series, 2014’s title was positioned as a reboot. Despite being designed for a brand new audience Thief begins with an obvious flaw. Chit Hot has frequently lamented the assessment of difficulty settings in videogames and in this respect Thief is one of the biggest criminals in recent memory.
The player is offered three standard settings and a customisable difficulty, throwing a points system and all manner of advantages/disadvantages at you. However, none of this means much to anyone without first experiencing the videogame. Then, at the very moment you accept, the game flashes a warning to tell you that the difficulty cannot be changed after starting the campaign. Why make the player choose at this point then? Why not offer a brief test mission to see how the player feels about the difficulty before asking them to decide their own ability on an invisible scale established by a team hundreds, if not thousands of miles away.
You Stole My Heart
The core design of Thief is a very familiar experience. Players will venture along linear paths in which each subsequent area acts as a fresh and isolated challenge. The player has verticality on their side as well as a number of different tools, but unlike the videogame which arguably inspired the resurrection of the franchise – Bethesda Softworks’ critically acclaimed Dishonored – there really is very little gameplay open to interpretation. There may be a few different paths for the player to take in order to progress through each section. but in reality they all boil down to one thing. Avoiding detection.
Should you fail in this task and find yourself being pursued it’s generally fairly easy to loose your tail. Early on in the campaign, at least. The artificial opponents are not the smartest of fellows. Their reactions are so binary that it’s easy to see the strings being pulled. They change from actively hunting to cautious to passive to oblivious right before your eyes. This is where the hallmarks of Thief’s cross-generational development show most clearly, and in the visual design also.
Cross-Generation Development is Not a Modern Issue
While Thief isn’t a bad looking early Xbox One and PlayStation 4 release, it does wildly vary in quality. In cutscenes your friends and allies may look wonderful, but in-game their character models are noticeably more lo-fi. Many are presented with textured hair rather than animated strands, and some are animated almost as smoothly as if they were made out of bricks. The audio delivery also has massive imperfections. While this isn’t necessarily an obstacle during cutscenes, the volume of a conversation is totally unbalanced in-game. This can often causing you to unnecessarily flee, or catch you off-guard rather unfairly.
In addition to the campaign Thief also offers a series of bespoke challenges on specifically designed maps. These high-score chases see you attempt to gather loot as quickly as possible. Or grab specific, highly valuable loot, with bonus score accrued through chaining steals in quick succession. It’s an interesting aside, but hardly reason to suggest you’ll still be playing Thief for weeks after the campaign is completed. Only a couple are included in the base purchase with more inevitably offered as DLC. Indeed, a pre-order bonus was available for those who didn’t get it included with their initial purchase. For a price, of course.
Thief is an entertaining experience; a recreation of the thrill of the original titles as opposed to a modernisation. It will appeal to fans but, truth be told, it pales in comparison to the aforementioned Dishonored. If stealth centric videogames are your thing Thief won’t disappoint. However, the fact that we haven’t heard anything more from the franchise in nearly a decade may tell you about how well it performed.