Thief presents a bit of a conundrum. There is a very good game lurking at the centre of Eidos Montreal's reboot of the Looking Glass's stealth series but there's also a lot of things that just don't feel right.
The backbone of Thief is some excellent stealth gameplay mechanics. Eidos Montreal has borrowed from a myriad of other popular series from Assassin's Creed to Metal Gear Solid to bring Garrett's kleptomaniacal escapades up to date with a bang.
These solid gameplay mechanics revolve around an intriguing evolution of the first-person control scheme. The tradional focus of first-person shooter control schemes has been tyhe shooting. Thief all but drops that in favour of adding mechanics that will allow players to avoid shooting and indeed combat until it is absolutely necessary.
Instead it borrows from the playbook of Ezio Auditore, Altair and Edward Kenway using the L2 trigger to accelerate Garrett into an almost free-running state although it doesn't go quite as far as Assassin's Creed or Mirror's Edge for that matter in terms of what Garrett can do.
Central to this is a claw which Garrett can use to hook on and gain leverage to climb up to ledges that might otherwise be out of reach.
Crouching and taking cover is more of a main focus of the gameplay. A simple push of the Square button next to a corner and Garret will snap to it and can lean out without being seen to check what's going on.
The usual jump function of the Cross button is now co-opted as part of the free-running system engaged by holding down L2. Now Cross performs a swoop move which allows Garrett to move quickly through a patch of light to the next shadow without arousing too much suspicion.
Lockpicking is pulled straight from Skyrim. Rotate the left thumbstick until the on-screen circle is filled in and then pull R2 and repeat again until all of the circles shown (this number can vary depending on the difficulty of the lock) are filled and then the lock opens.
A similar approach is taken to wall-safes and switches hidden behind paintings. Simply guide Garrett's fingers around the edge of the frame until the circle is filled and repeat for as many circles are shown. The painting will then move aside to click into place to reveal a safe or unlock something else in the room.
Garrett's theiving senses can gain a boost from using what is called Focus mode, something akin to Assassin's Creed's Eagle Vision but with added benefits in combat and stealth situations.
But Garrett has more at his disposal than just some acute senses and some lockpicks. His Blackjack is back for knocking guards unconsious and Eidos Montreal are to be applauded for building a non-lethal approach into Garrett's character.
His bow also makes a return with a wide selection of arrows from Blunt arrows for causing distractions and activating switches to Water arrows for extinguishing torches. The bow is Garrett's only means of performing a lethal attack with the Broadhead and Sawtooth arrows although the small number of each that he can carry again points to Eidos's reticance to turn Garrett into a stone-cold killer.
Finesse and invisibility are the key elements to the gameplay and, it the side-missions where Garrett just goes about his normal business of thieving, the game plays extremely well.
Where Thief starts to drop off is in the storytelling. Being a former Looking Glass property the series has a certain pedigree to maintain. Especially given that both Warren Spector and Ken Levine worked on the originals all those years ago.
Garrett himself has been designed to be anonymous, as a good thief should be. However, this extends beyond his outward appearance. His character feels flimsy and there's little to endear him to the player beyond his impressive skills in the world of larceny.
There's also little in the way of characterisation for his companions and indeed his enemies. Thief tells us that Basso the fence is Garrett's friend, for instance, and that's it. It makes now real attempt to show why they are friends in their interactions. It is a similar situation with Garrett's former apprentice Erin. Her characterisation is quite hollow and while it develops as the story goes on it still feels like the story is telling you that she and Garrett have an affinity rather than showing you that is the case.
Overall, the main storyline doesn't feel compelling enought to keep you playing. There's certainly nothing to make you grab the thread and see how the game unravels.
Visually it's a disappointment too. The PS4 version of Thief has the feel of a current-gen game that has been upscaled to fit onto next-gen consoles. It doesn't look bad per-se; it just doesn't look as good as it should in a world that has shown us treats like Ryse: Son Of Rome and Killzone: Shadow Fall. This probably stems from the fact that the game was developed using Unreal Engine 3 and not UE4.
The free-roaming elements are disappointing too. Thief offers a free-roaming city in a similar way to Thief: Deadly Shadows did segmenting he City into sections behind loading screens so that each section can be crammed with as much detail as possible. While this cretainly works, being constantly confronted wiuth loading screens is frustrating and tends to break up what atmosphere the game has managed to build up.
Thief is a game that holds much potential but it is dragged down by a lack of narrative direction and a lower standard of visuals than we have already come to expect from next-gen triple-A experiences. It's not a terrible game but Garrett deserved so much better.
Thief is out now on PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360.
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