For a man living in a belfry, the aptly named Garrett is a cutpurse with lofty ambitions.
Five years in development and the introduction of a new generation can’t have been good for this latest stealth-em-up, and to be honest it shows. On the face of it the game delivers the premise intended, lots of thievery, a dash of skullduggery and a bucket load of avoiding combat. However there are cracks and once spotted they just break the immersion.
The narrative is travelling along well-trodden paths, a hero or antihero depending on your take returns home after a dramatic event, a ruthless Baron has the home in his clutches and a mysterious illness is sweeping the populace. It’s not long before Garrett is back in town, looking for ‘work’ and getting drawn into the conspiracy where chaos ensues.
There is a dark pleasure in gaming to be the bad guy and to play out otherwise frowned upon activities, when they are done well they can add to the satisfaction of the experience. Whether it is pulling off a GTA style bank raid or picking the lock on the biggest safe you ever saw guarded by a dragon, but Thief doesn’t deliver that satisfaction because of structure of the game. Many people unfairly compared the game to Dishonored, but it’s really not, the pseudo historical setting may have some similarities, but if anything the game has to be compared to a raft of titles we have seen in the last ten years. Oblivion, Bioshock, Fallout, Skyrim and yes Dishonored amongst many. They all throw you into an environment where to survive is to ransack every draw, cupboard, dustbin and ashtray you can find. Thief does exactly the same, there is little satisfaction in the guise of being a Master Thief if you spend your time whisking away trinkets like pens, scroll holders or odd spoons that have been left in a bird’s nest or singularly in an out of place cupboard like a deranged kleptomaniac.
Missions take place in structured maps with fairly open routes, obstacles, patrolling enemies and an ultimate target. Of course there are secrets to uncover and collectibles to be found. The maps are varied and reasonably long if you take the stealth and patience approach, however the bland night-time palette soon becomes incredibly, well, boring. The world is full of places to hide from pursuit or to wait out your next move, likewise being able to swoop amongst the shadows and peek out from behind obstacles also makes you near invisible. But then I wouldn’t have any guard on my staff that couldn’t see a six foot, pale faced man with a compound bow on his back crouching behind a dining chair across my kitchen.
Outside the missions there is a sizeable hub world to explore, but it soon becomes apparent that it’s claustrophobic paths and verticality are little more than window dressing. Buildings that can be entered are often dead ends serving only to offer an odd collectible or more loot for your habitual pilfering, the majority of the rooms are also so badly designed that the window is the only designated entry or exit, furniture stacked up against the door, traps frequent the floor and yet no sign of any inhabitants. Even Oblivion allowed me to sneaked around a house while the occupants slept looking for that prize bit of loot I dreamt of, in comparison Thief makes me jemmy a window, wait for a load sequence, look around a dogleg shaped room and steal an inkwell from a kitchen drawer. Also even for the middle of the night there are so few NPCs in play that the city feels like it is populated entirely by the Watch and nobody actually lives there, apart from the odd conversation you can eavesdrop on it just doesn’t ring true.
Another gripe about the environment is the ‘handy metal grates’ that adorn walls wherever you need to gain height along with the ‘handy claw-like tool’ for pulling yourself up said grates, it’s just lazy, repetitive design and irks me every time I have to use it. Speaking of tools Garrett is fairly heavily equipped with gadgets, different arrow types, smoke bombs, health and a refill for your ‘Focus’ or rather ‘Super Detective Thief Vision’ by eating white poppies. The array of gadgets are all well and good, but you can slip by most situations without actually using them.
The guards themselves are pretty handy and once you’ve been spotted, getting swamped will be quickly followed by a Game Over, sneaking is the order of the day and players that take it slow will be rewarded by the experience, but the Splinter Cell type rating that shows my style at the end of a level does not compel me to dip back in for a better run.
Overall Thief is a title that tried, but ultimately didn’t deliver and I think that is because of the range of first person experiences that have gone before it. There is a fine line between making Garrett a dark, brooding Raffles type anti-hero and a basic criminal. That line is just too blurry for me, I find no empathy with the character and care little for our journeys into his world. Maybe it’s time we stopped wanting to be bad and let the franchise rest.