'Thief' review: sneaky business
Thief screenshot. (Square Enix / March 5, 2014)
Long before Corvo shook up the landscape with Dishonored, Garrett was showing how stealth was done in the "Thief" series. Capable of pickpocketing people like a pro and finding ways into houses and castles to steal valuable goods -- under the noses of guards, no less -- Garrett got the job done with ease through multiple games. Now, "Thief" has returned, attempting to reclaim the video game realm with a new adventure. Does it succeed? For the most part, yes.
Like the original "Thief" games before it, this new reboot focuses primarily on Garrett's thieving abilities. His main advantage is stealth, as he's capable of hiding nearly completely from enemies by staying in the dark. He can peer around corners to see what patrolling guards are up to, and either avoid them like the plague or knock them out and hide their body before others are alerted. He can also engage with them in close combat scenarios, but given the high amount of guards that are usually on patrol, this isn't always the best situation.
Garrett, nimble as he is, also has several abilities that are useful when it comes to reaching his objective. The guy can practically find a number of routes into a location -- a hole in the roof, a window that can be pried open, even lock-picking his way into the basement. He can also "swoop" should the situation call for it, quickly darting from one part of a stage to another without those pesky footstep noises getting in the way. This is also ideal if you're trying to get past a guard who turns his back for only a few precious seconds. His "focus" ability is also quite exceptional, letting him look around the environment for items he can use, such as grates to grapple onto to reach higher areas.
Finally, Garrett's tools of the trade really define just what a thief can do. His billy club is ideal for knocking out an enemy, although it's hardly the equivalent of a sword in a battle with guards. Regardless, a couple of well-timed hits and guards will be down for the count long enough to deliver a knock-out blow, even though you have to hold down a button to do it. He's also quite good with a bow and arrows, and can even equip them with elements for greater effect. The water arrow, for instance, can extinguish flames, while the fire arrow can easily burn up an intended target -- even guards.
Lock-picking is a mini-game unto itself in "Thief." Throughout the game, Garrett will need to pull out his kit and eventually work his way through doors, safes and traps using a "feel" method with the controller's rumble feature. Put your pin in the right place and move on to the next. This can be a bit tiring as the game goes on, but you can fortunately improve your tools by purchasing upgrades, making the experience a little easier to go by.
Overall, Eidos Montreal has done a fairly good job with "Thief's" mechanics, making the game feel decidedly old-school and not so "dishonored-like" as a few people may think. This is a much tougher experience, mainly because of the whole "will I get caught?" vibe on certain missions. The most vital mistake can be dire, although you can restart from a checkpoint if you do manage to stumble. So there's that.
The combat is slightly problematic. It probably could've been a bit more stylish here. The fact that Garrett only has access to one style of attack -- without much ability to expand outside of upgrading his primary weapon -- is a slight bummer. Sure, he is a thief, and not primarily a fighter, but clearly he can find better ways to knock out guards, like perhaps knocking them out from afar. The bow and arrow set is a saving grace, at least. It's interesting shooting a guard with a fire arrow, only to freak out and wonder just where the hell it came from -- unless he spots you, of course.
At times, the mission layouts can be frustrating, as objectives aren't clearly pointed out. Invading a castle early on in the game, there's a point where Garrett has to grab onto a hook on a conveyor belt to make his way to another part of the level. However, you have to be in the exactly right spot to grab it -- you can't just jump up and snag on. You have to wait for the highlighted "X" or "square" icon o appear and then grab on. It's a slight headache, especially when all you want to do is keep going. Long loading times can be a burden as well- it takes about a minute or so for some levels to load up.
Thankfully, "Thief" gives you more than enough to do to make up for this minor issue. Along with main missions that move the story along (which is average at best, and surrounds a secondary thief who Garrett doesn't even get along with in the first place- go figure), there are secondary missions to tackle for extra gold. And, of course, Garrett can break into other locations to steal particular treasures to add to his overall tally. These are good for both boosting your cash flow and overall experience -- and let's be honest, it's fun stealing a king's crown to call your own.
"Thief" isn't particularly a game for everyone, especially those who prefer straight-up action. This is a title that relies on utmost stealth so that guards won't sound off alarms and overwhelm you with forces you just aren't ready for. In addition, you're also given a rating at the end of each stage, and the sloppier your thieving tactics, the worse it is. At the very least, you can always play through a stage again for a better rating, which, again, adds to your experience.
If you can accept its somewhat strict stealth nature and minor technical shortcomings, "Thief" can be a rewarding experience. Garrett continues to prove he's quite able at stealing the goods, even after all these years, and Eidos Montreal have built a very solid world for him to play around in. The story may not be the greatest, but it's the rewards that will hook you. And for a master thief, that's really all that matters, right?
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