Thief is the fourth title in the Thief series, developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix. In case you’ve never heard of the series, they are stealth video games in which the player takes the role of Garrett, a master thief in a fantasy/steampunk world resembling a cross between the late Middle Ages and the Victorian era, with more advanced technologies interspersed. The story within the latest reboot is set several hundreds of years after the events of the original series in the same universe. Clues to the backstory are hidden among documents, plaques, and letters. Don’t be confused, this particular titles protagonist is also called Garrett.
I’ve been a fan of the Thief series since 1998 when Thief: The Dark Project was released by Looking Glass Studios. The games contain a hidden a joy, sneaking into a building and tracking down your target loot whether a painting, vase, piece of jewellery or a letter. The Thief games have always made shadows your friend, and in many ways they were a pioneer when it came to experimenting with lighting in games. As a player, you use the shadows to hide from the guards and as such, hoping they don’t see you. The series from the start has always been about stealth and not confrontation, and this is no different in Eidos Montreal’s take on the game.
So, you the player take the role of Garrett, a master thief who has been hired to steal the Primal Stone. On route to the Primal Stone’s locations, you run into Erin, a female thief of whom Garrett is already acquainted, and discover that stealing the stone is a two person job. Once you reach the location of the stone not all goes to plan and things turn sour leading to the death of Erin. This is the opening mission, and it’s a good one. Throughout it you’ll given very easy to follow and understand tutorials, helping you to understand how the game mechanics work. It’s just the basics, additional mechanics will be introduced later in the game as they unlock. Once this mission is over, you’ll need to steer Garrett to his hideout, the clock tower, and there the game then truly begins.
Thief is set in an epic fantasy world, fully imagined with no detail left out. It takes fantasy as we know it, blends it with a touch of classic Victorian England and finally adds a dash of some steampunk industrial revolution. The City is dark and compact which makes traversing the roofs fairly easy and fun, making you feel like an actual thief. Garrett’s handler, Basso, sends the master thief out to steal various objects around the city. At this point Garrett can make his way to the mission point in the city any way he wants or you can go your own way for a while, break into a random house to steal some trinkets – just be careful to make sure the watch isn’t around. Once you make it to the starting point of each mission, they’ll be a brief cut scene and then it’s down to business. This is formula throughout the game.
Of course, being a Master Thief means more than just being great at climbing rooftops, picking locks and knowing how to hide amongst the shadows. A thief needs tools and Garrett has many tools at his disposal to use while sneaking around. You’ll have tools for making distractions, putting out light sources, stunning guards, etc. Aside from his hands, he can use items like his bow with water arrows to put out light sources from a distance, or rope arrows to help him climb. His blackjack is used to knock out guards; the claw is used to hook onto ledges and help pull him up out of range of guards or just to grab those hard to reach ledges. As you progress through the game stealing a variety of common items, these will automatically be turned into gold, this is then used to upgrade or buy new tools. Mission items and unique loot will be stored in the Clock Tower.
Games like Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid make sneaking around seem fun, but sneaking around in Thief feels satisfying and with it an immense sense of achievement. There’s nothing like the high that comes with sneaking up on a guard as he’s on his rounds, relieving him of his wallet, keys or whatever else happens to be in his pockets and then fading back into the shadows as silently as you came. If you’ve managed to negotiate your way round a particularly tricky level with some well-placed guards, the sense of achievement and satisfaction from avoiding them using all the tools in your arsenal is great.
When guards think they see you an eye appears over their heads, the eye slowly fills up as long as you are in their field of view. Once it fills, the guard has seen you and he alerts other guards around him. Once guards are alerted, you can run and try to hide, or fight the guards. Combat in Thief is extremely clumsy and difficult control. Garrett is a Master Thief, not a Master Swordsman. If you engage and fight the guards, try to separate them, more than one at a time will prove tricky. Complete a mission without raising the guard’s suspicions, or engaging in any combat and you’ll be rewarded richly.
One of the tools that Garrett has in his arsenal will help with this; empty bottles. They can be found in the environment and then thrown to distract guards. Pairs will split up to search creating opportunities to slip past them. Be warned, if you try this trick too many times, they’ll be alerted to your presence and call in reinforcements. You can only carry one empty bottle at a time, use it wisely and plan your route.
Any RPG or fantasy title needs a good back story and intertwining side missions and story arcs. A nice touch within Thief is the well placed notes, journals and letters that help keep the player up to speed. They aren’t overly long and detailed, just enough to push the story along at a good pace whilst introducing players to the history and lore of the Thief universe. Other notes can be used to find loot. For example, early in the game players come across a note written by a voyeur detailing where a safe in a house is. Within the safe is a good amount of gold. You’ll also overhear conversations detailing the locations of valuables in the city. For instance, guards outside a jewellery store discussing their rotation patterns etc. To get the most out of Thief, you’ll need to use your eyes and ears in a way many common games don’t require.
Talking of using your ears, I stumbled across a couple of irritating bugs in the audio. For example during the prologue it is raining when players are trying to make their way to the clock tower. When ducking out of the rain, such as breaking into a jeweller’s store to relieve them of a few trinkets and jewels, the noise of the rain gets dulled just like it should. The annoyance comes from if there is a window open there is no gradual increase in the sound of the rain the closer you get to the window. The sound of the rain is either there or not depending on how close to the window you are. Similarly, when eavesdropping outside a window, the conversation happening on the other side of the glass is heard clear as day, even across the street. This can become off putting when you are making your way through a residential building, but the guards from outside, across the street, can be heard as if they were stood just around the corridors bend. Here’s to hoping an update or future DLC will put this right.
The music in Thief works well and adds to an already tense atmosphere. When spotted, music starts playing to create a sense of urgency to get out of sight and hide. A stealth game like this should be quiet with no music unless spotted, as a thief’s ears are one of his best assets. Thief does this well.
Overall Thief is an enjoyable experience that deserves to be played and explored if you are a fan of stealth games. Trying to figure out a creative way past the guards can be very fun and satisfying, and replaying missions to find all of the collectibles can be quite challenging and rewarding.
Thank you to Xbox for providing the review code