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Thief Review

A Classic Stealth Series Returns From The Shadows
by Ben Reeves on Feb 24, 2014 at 02:00 AM

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Reviewed on PC
Also on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher Square Enix
Developer Eidos Montreal
Rating Mature

After a decade away, the Thief series’ hero Garrett has returned to steal from a sickly city. This time around, he’s joined by an accomplice named Erin, but their partnership is cut short when a routine mission to steal an artifact called the primal stone goes south. A mysterious, cosmic energy escapes from the stone, consumes Erin, and knocks out our hero. Garrett wakes up a year later with a magic hangover and a hunger for answers about his missing companion. The narrative features a cast of fairly interesting characters and pays homage to many of the beats in the original Thief, but mostly serves as an anchor for a string of spectacular heists.

The original Thief was a triumph that has continued to inspire stealth games over the last 15 years, so Eidos-Montreal’s reboot has some big shoes to fill. At times, the developer seems ill-fitted for the franchise, but the studio has padded out this selection of classic stealth challenges with crafty cat-and-mouse moments that help intensify Thief’s ­slow ­pacing.

None of Garrett’s capers feel like retreads of other missions. In one moment, I was sneaking through a mansion’s courtyard, diving for cover before bursts of lightning illuminated the shadows, and in the next I was barreling through a burning section of the city, dodging flames and falling girders. One heart-pounding mission had me exploring a haunted asylum in a sequence that reminded me more of survival horror games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent than a traditional stealth mission.

No matter what your objective, Thief is constantly changing up the pace. Optional objectives and a sprinkling of random jewels and rare artifacts give you plenty of reason to fully explore every level. A smattering of clever environmental puzzles force you think like a thief in order to unlock concealed safes or disable hidden traps. Missions usually feature multiple paths to success; in fact, I often stumbled upon hidden back doors while exploring the environment for loot. You’re also free to explore a small city hub where you can take on side missions, which are often fun as well as a great way to earn extra cash if you need to upgrade your equipment.

Thankfully, Garrett is more than capable of overcoming all of the challenges before him. A swoop ability allows Garrett to dive from one shadow to another in the blink of an eye, while his mystical focus vision lets him locate expensive objects and sense hidden switches. I loved using Garrett’s tools and talents to explore the world from the edges of every shadow before prying on the holes in guards’ patrols. Removing a satchel of gold from a mansion without setting off an alarm made me feel more capable than if I had fought off a dozen guards to earn ­my ­prize.

Armed with a quiver of arrows that do everything from extinguish flames to nail ropes into high perches, Garrett is better equipped to avoid combat than dish out pain. Thief’s combat system is fairly elementary; you have one attack and a dodge, but there are no combos or counter systems to help round out the action. If you get spotted, it’s possible to take down a single guard, but if he alerts a few of his buddies (which is bound to happen), then you’re better off fleeing. However, even when you run, it is often hard to lose your pursuers and find a safe hiding spot, which results in the dreaded trial-and-error pattern that has plagued stealth games since the original Thief hit PCs back in 1998.

If you’re content to save your game every couple minutes and enjoy a slower-paced stealth game, then Thief rewards you with plenty of moments so tense you might catch yourself holding your breath. Eidos-Montreal may have adhered too closely to the series’ roots, resulting in a reboot that suffers from classic problems like simplistic combat and trial-and-error sneaking missions. However, locked behind this old-school game design is a gem that stealth fans should eye up for their collection.

The Edge
All versions of Thief play identically. The Xbox One version requires a longer installation and packs a resolution of 900p (compared to the PS4’s 1080p), but the difference is not significant. Both new gen console versions have a bit of texture popup and longer load times, so the PC version gets the edge here. However, if you haven't yet upgraded your system, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions are also fully featured. The graphics of these version are far less detailed than the new-gen version; some textures take a while to load and the lighting and shadow effects are less lifelike. Still, the gameplay is unhindered by the graphical differences, and the environments don't appear to have changed in any meaningful way. If you're just looking to play the game, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions get the job done.
Reboot the classic PC franchise by sticking close to its old-school stealth gameplay and medieval urban fantasy backdrop
One of the better-looking games for the new consoles, even if the environments are relatively tiny
Garrett’s new voice actor does a solid job bringing the character back to life, but the modern synth soundtrack feels out of place
Zipping between shadows using Garrett’s swoop ability is a blast, and the feedback is generally tight enough that if you get caught, it’s your fault
Thief’s sneaking challenges are highly rewarding when you ghost through the world undetected, but will send you to the loading screen repeatedly if you’re not careful

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