Thief ReviewGuest_Jim_* - March 5, 2014
» Discuss this article (21)
I am something of a conservative gamer. That means I tend to conserve ammunition, ration my use of consumables, and advance methodically in games and levels that allow me to. Thief allows me to indulge especially that last part to my satisfaction. Every mission offers multiple paths to move forward, some secret, and each has different advantages and disadvantages. One path may have fewer enemies while another may be riskier, but have more loot. By going methodically though, you can find almost everything in Thief, and never get bored.
For me, Thief hit a very good balance of stealth-action and adventure by allowing, and even encouraging, the player to explore, but maintaining a threat almost the entire time, unless you remove it. When you are lucky or good, removing that threat can be pretty easy with a blackjack to the back of the head, but sometimes the situation does not allow for that approach and you have to run or fight. I suggest running if possible, if for no other reason than that the controls are not exactly the best for fighting. Dodge and attack are mapped to V and R, which are just far enough from WASD that you will have to move your hand off of the movement keys. Fortunately in my entire playthrough I was only in an open fight maybe twice. I did get into more fights than that, but that is what quickloading is for. Seriously, you can win a fight, but it is not easy so leverage that function… unless you disabled it.
Typically when I review a game, I pick Normal difficulty, or whatever is the equivalent. I did do that for Thief, but when I was choosing I saw the option for a custom difficulty. Under this you are able to modify the challenge of the entire game, altering aspects of the game. Depending on what you select, the game will award you points that can be posted to a leaderboard and compared against other players. Such modifiers include Chapter Saves Only, Stealth Takedowns Only, No Alerts, and more. Looking through the list, I applaud the person that turns them all on and succeeds.
Thief also sports a fair number of options for the HUD. The different elements can be set to only come up contextually, to stay up permanently, or to never come up, with one curious exception. Looking through the list is useful if only to recognize just how much information is being presented to you. Turn it all off and you will not just be a playing a game, but experiencing what Garrett would, were this a real story.
What is that curious exception? The mini-map. I do not know why, but the only option for the mini-map is for the function to be allowed or disabled. Notice I say 'allowed' and not 'enabled.' That is because you have to manually turn it on with a key press each time you load. There is no option to just have it always present on the screen.
For some games I can understand not needing a mini-map, but this is not one of those games with its complicated levels and overworld. The City can be difficult to navigate with the mini-map, because ropes, ladders, windows, and doors are not shown on it, but to not have it at all will only make it that much harder.
Truly, and sadly, much of my displeasure from the gameplay experience is due to the map situation, mini-map and full-size map. I want to cover a few things before going into that though, so bear with me for a bit.
A mechanic I found very useful while plundering a room of its riches was that once you open a drawer, you could not reopen it. It is empty now, so why would you? The answer is because the cursor was over the drawer you just opened instead of the next drawer. You do not need to worry about that in Thief.
One thing you may have to worry about is that Garrett, unlike many other first-person avatars, has a body. If you look down, you will see he has feet. He also has hands and arms, so when you want to pick something up, he has to move in and reach to grab it. If that means he has to step on glass, loose paper, or into the light, that is what he will do. Even if you stand in one spot but rotate, he will move his feet. This means that if you are standing on some broken glass, paper, or water, and turn around to look at something, you will make noise that may alert an enemy.
Being a master thief, Garrett has a variety of tools at the ready, once you unlock and purchase them. These include a screwdriver for opening up vents, a razor for cutting out paintings, and wire cutters for disabling traps. Garrett is also armed with a bow and a variety of arrows to meet any situation. The two you will likely find the most useful are the blunt and rope arrows, but the choke and water arrows are also valuable. The rope arrows can be shot at special targets to drop a rope from them, which you can then climb on. The blunt arrows are meant for shooting triggers and breaking certain objects. These objects may include pulleys that are holding up crates, wooden platforms, a ladder, as well as switches. Water arrows are used for extinguishing open flames, which can be invaluable when you want to remain hidden. Choke arrows can do the same, but are designed to choke enemies. Human enemies they will just stun, giving you time to sneak up and knockout, but smaller enemies like dogs and birds will be knocked out by them. These animals are sensitive to noise and movement, so silencing them may be necessary to move past them.
After the incident in the game's prologue, Garrett has also gained the Focus ability. Without any upgrades, this ability will highlight important objects and items around you. This includes loot, drawers, doors, enemies, traps, and the wires that enable the traps. Upgrading it can unlock special abilities, such as the power to see sounds, to remain hidden after leaving shadows for a short time, and improved use of the bow.
Regaining Focus energy requires using a consumable. While it would have been nice to see it regenerate over time, you can eventually increase your energy reserve and make your use of Focus so efficient that any amount of meaningful regeneration would have made using Focus free by the end of the game.
The campaign is spread across a prologue and seven-and-a-half chapters. I say seven-and-a-half because you go from Chapter 7 directly to Chapter 8. The separation is appropriate, but there is no break in between. There is more to the game than that though, as you have short side-missions you can complete for two people, as well as contracts you can execute. The contracts send you around the city, breaking into different places and taking certain items, or leaving someone penny-less. The side-missions can be more involved as they actually require you to go to special areas, such as a house or shop located outside of the overworld, similar to the campaign missions. They are typically shorter and smaller missions, and have no bearing on the main campaign.
Now for the first issue I have with the maps, which directly relates to the missions. When a mission is available to you, a marker will appear on the map to help you get there. After you complete a mission though, there is no longer a marker, and no way to get it back. This makes replaying a mission tricky if you do not remember where you originally went to initiate it. I can understand not showing that information before completing the campaign to drive the player to complete the game before replaying missions, but replaying them should be more approachable than having to hunt through the map or the Internet to find the right place.
Another issue with the map is its lack of vertical information. You will find yourself in multi-level buildings, and even the overworld has multiple levels, yet you really cannot see what is on the other levels. You will have to go to that level and open up the map. That may sound silly, but it is a little annoying when you are standing on a roof, wondering if you can drop to the street to keep going, or if you need to continue in another direction.
Some more information the map could present you with is where the windows, doors, and tight passages are that transition you from one region to another. There can be multiple such connections between quarters of the City, and exploiting them can help keep you out of trouble, so knowing where they are would be nice.
Finally the map does not give you information about specific areas within a city. That does not matter most of the time, but when an NPC conversation mentions how somebody has hidden something in their house on a specific street, it would be nice to have a hint as to where the street is.
Being a stealth-action game, I should probably speak about the stealth of Thief. It is not this late in the section because I have any issues with it, but because I did not think of it until now. Though it may not sound like it, that is actually a good thing. If a mechanic is done badly, I will remember to talk about it. If a mechanic is done well or better I may forget to mention it because of it feeling that intuitive and natural.
There are different modes to your movement. You can walk, run, and crouch, which are to be expected. You also have the option to move slowly and minimize noise, which can be applied to both walking and crouching, even though crouching already reduces noise. I was actually able to use this mechanic to pass directly behind enemies in the dark, without alerting them, and come up behind them in the light, knocking them out before they knew I was there. I definitely enjoyed that, even if you do have to move really slow to pull it off.
It took me just shy of 19 hours to complete Thief, its side-missions, and its contracts, with my conservative play-style. According to the game at least, which records game time in the save. This is important because that means that every time I reloaded a save and lost progress, I also lost that time, making that number an underestimate. A more accurate game time, counting that lost to reloads, is closer to 24 hours, which is respectable, I believe.
By the way, because the game actually breaks down the stats like this, 8 hours and 20 minutes (of the 18 hours and 54 minutes the game reports) was spent in the overworld. That puts an underestimation of my time in missions, campaign, and side-missions at over ten hours. (The contracts you receive would contribute to the overworld time.)
Of course Thief also has a fair amount of replayability, with the custom difficulty I mentioned above, and repeating missions for loot, collectibles, or just a different play-style. You can be a Ghost, never alerting anyone to your presence; an Opportunist that takes advantage of situations and the environment; a Predator that eliminates enemies; or a hybrid of those three. You are rewarded for your different playstyle.
Overall the gameplay of Thief does have its flaws, but is largely a very entertaining and enjoyable experience. It balances its stealth, action, and adventure quite well, and does enable a player to play as they wish, again and again.