Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: March 5, 2014
All that glitters is not gold; it may be silver or gemstones. Either way, you should probably take it. After all, we are in the game Thief, where you play as Garrett, the master thief. It begins with you going on a job, like any other, except fellow thief, Erin, is joining you on this one. With her more aggressive attitude toward the job, you are looking forward to completing it, but before long, things go bad. Very bad.
Thief is an action-adventure, stealth game with definite RPG elements set in a rich world, just waiting for someone to steal from it. As your primary interest in the world is thieving, you do not spend much time involving yourself with the political events occurring around you, unless someone pays you to be involved. Even then, you will be sticking to the shadows as best you can. That is not to say that Garrett cannot fight, but that combat is balanced (realistically) to swords over your light leather armor, so you will likely be avoiding direct confrontation as much as you can.
The game has a mature rating from the ESRB for blood, violence, strong language, nudity, strong sexual content, and use of drugs. Having completed the game, I can assure you that it has earned that rating, but for those surprised by the nudity, strong sexual content, and use of drugs points, those are largely confined to a single mission that takes place in a house of ill repute. The violence, blood, and strong language are just about everywhere in the game. If such content is inappropriate for you, then you likely should not be reading this review either.
With that covered, time to get to the review and see if this is a game worth stealing for (metaphorically speaking).
The graphics of Thief are a little bit of a mixed bag. The lighting and meshes are quite good everywhere I can remember, but shadows and textures can be of lesser quality. The textures, upon closer examination, will look like they have been compressed more than they should be, or upscaled just enough for the sharpness of details to suffer. That is not to say the textures look bad, but they do often look of lesser quality than the world around it.
The object detail is exquisite more often than not. It would seem the developers leveraged the power of tessellation very well, giving the stones of the streets and walls, as well as much of the wood bridging the stones, great detail. This is part of the reason the textures look of lesser quality, because the objects they cover look so detailed. Of course there are some examples of lower quality meshes, but these are not very common.
Shadows are a curiously mixed bag (though there may be a reason for that). Some objects cast well detailed shadows, but some cast very blocky shadows that really can ruin the look of a scene. I never noticed any reason for which objects cast good or bad shadows. Fortunately you always cast a good shadow on the environment, and if you have Contact Hardening Shadows enabled, it will respond to your distance from the light source. A neat effect, though it is something of a small touch.
Though shadows are inconsistent, the lighting from torches, fires, or the moon is always good looking. The moon will cast light rays in fog and mist, while torches and fires give a lifelike glow to the area. Thankfully the glow does have an obvious border, making it easy to walk around and avoid being spotted. It is not a hard border, but it is an obvious one, and one you may learn to run from if it approaches with a torch held by a guard.
As impressive as the glow of a fire may be, the fire itself is not particularly lively. It looks to be a pre-animated effect that repeats itself. The flames themselves are lacking in definition and depth, making them appear as unalive as any graphical element really is. Water is a little mixed as it looks pretty good when left alone. When you walk through it though, water does betray its inanimate state as its surface is not disturbed, though particles are thrown up around your feet. Walking through water does come with a realistic sound effect though, and while it does sound good, the sound will alert enemies around you to your presence.
Time to talk about performance, so here are my computer specs:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Cooling: Corsair H110
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 770 2 GB
- PhysX: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
Sadly, while I will do my best to describe the performance of the game, I am fairly confident nothing specific I say will be valid in (hopefully) the near future. The reason for this is that it appears either the game, or the NVIDIA drivers, version 334.89, have not been optimized for best performance on my hardware yet. That is not to say the game was not playable; it was, but suffered from stuttering relatively often. The experience did remind me of when I have played other games without the properly optimized drivers installed. At least that means the performance should only improve. Of course this only applies for those with NVIDIA GPUs. I have not an AMD GPU to properly test the game on, so I cannot speak to the performance for the red team.
Now then, I played the entire game at its maximum settings, and though the internal benchmark reported an average FPS of about 32, I would peg the gameplay experience at around 45 FPS, at minimum. I am sure it reached higher than that at times, but with the stuttering that is the number I am comfortable giving you. (If there is a new driver released soon that improves the performance, I will try to remember to post about its impact in the forum thread.)
By the way, this is the reason I parenthetically mentioned earlier for why the shadows may be as inconsistent as they are. Though I am not an expert in the matter, it would not surprise me if new drivers addressed the issue. I hope I am correct in that belief.
I have found and experienced some interesting issues in Thief, and as I normally do talk about them in this section, I shall do so now. One issue I encountered twice was bothered AI. In one case the AI was literally walking into a door frame; I suppose thinking it was in the nearby passage. The other (which was in the same level, coincidentally) had a guard sit down to sleep in a chair, but was not actually sitting in the chair. The guard was roughly perpendicular to the front of the chair, hovering in the air. I also found some candles floating in the air, because apparently they thought they were on top of a table that was not there.
One issue that I find somewhat humorous concerns the maps. There is the mini-map (which I will mention later as well) and the larger map available in your journal. I am not sure how it happened, but the two maps disagree on which way North is in certain regions. The overworld City is one of these regions. This is not a particularly serious issue, but I do hope it is addressed soon.
The most annoying issues I encountered concerned the audio. At times the audio mix went out of whack, causing the voice audio to drop in volume, relative to the music and sound effects. This made hearing conversation quite difficult (good thing I play with subtitles on). The other audio issue concerns the NPC chatter you can hear as you explore the world. Naturally this audio will repeat itself, to make sure you hear it, but in multiple cases it would start repeating itself before it had finished. This made it very difficult to understand what was being said, and it also disturbed the subtitles as apparently each instance of the conversation was trying to put up the subtitles corresponding to their placement in the script.
I do not relish having to say that things should improve in this or any game, but that is what I must do for Thief, at least in part. Visually the graphics are very good, though the textures could be better, and neither fire nor water are particularly impressive. (They do their job at least.) The performance is not where I want it to be, but where it is is satisfactory to play the game. Although, perhaps I should admit that the stuttering may detract from the experience, as it hampers immersion. Then there are the issues I mentioned, of which some are easily ignored or laughed at, but some, specifically the audio ones, must be dealt with. These are not major issues, but they do frustrate the experience.
Garrett is a Master Thief, and one does not obtain that title simply by nabbing whatever looks fancy. One must be dedicated to the goal and the contract. This understandably comes at the cost of a social life and interest in unrelated events. That is my somewhat roundabout way of saying Garrett does not really care about the political happenings in the city, even when he is in the middle of them, due to the contract he has at the moment.
The city is ruled by the Baron, who seeks to grow the city into a miracle of industry. An illness called the Gloom, however, has struck the city, and is causing great unrest as the dead must be collected and the Watch indiscriminately clears the streets. As you can expect, the unrest reaches a tipping point, but this does not reduce the danger Garrett is in as he walks the streets. That comes later in the game though.
In the beginning, Garrett and Erin, another thief, go to steal a special stone for someone. When they find it is being used in some kind of ritual by the Baron, Garrett decides to leave as the mission cannot be accomplished. Erin is not so willing to leave, and ultimately both thieves literally crash the ritual. The next thing Garrett remembers is being brought into the city in a cart, and soon he learns that last job took place a year before.
Garrett's reaction, or rather lack of reaction, to this information somewhat disappointed me. I can understand wanting to get back to work, as he does, but when you learn you have missed the past year, I would think you would ask more questions than he does. Eventually the questions are answered, but the answers do not really start coming until about Chapter 5. Before that you are focused almost exclusively on what contracts you are given. Personally I do wish the answers started coming sooner than that, but I have to say that Chapter 5, which takes place in an abandoned psychiatric hospital, was very well constructed. I should not say more, lest I spoil anything, but just understand that it will be worth taking your time to explore the hospital to take in all the events and occurrences created just for the gamer.
Though it was delayed, in my opinion, this plot of the story does a pretty good job on delivering everything that can be expected of it and more. Ultimately all of the plots do wrap up together into a nice, complex story, with answers for your questions.
By the way, as can be expected the story has a pivotal twist in it. While I knew to expect one, what actually happened is different than what I had anticipated. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by that.
Altogether the story of Thief is solid and complicated, making for an interesting and intriguing experience. It may be a little slow in providing answers, but it does not fail to give them. Also reading the various writings and listening to the many conversations will reveal to you a deeper world than you may at first expect.
Something I should mention was that at times it felt to me like the thieving and side-missions in the game can actually impair the story. The reason is because completing them after each mission adds a buffer between the events of the missions. That can hurt the sense of a continuous story. If that is something important to you, then bear that in mind as you play. If not, then play however you wish.
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.
Additional Gameplay Images:
Is Thief a game worth picking up from a locked desk drawer (metaphorically speaking)? That is a tricky question to answer. As it sits right now, it is worth getting if you enjoy stealth-based, action-adventure games, only if you can forgive some of its issues. I am thinking mostly of the stuttering performance, though I did list others. I do have faith that it will improve, but just as I cannot guess when that will happen, I also cannot give a compelling recommendation for the game in its current state (for NVIDIA GPU users at least).
In this state, if you enjoy games of this genre and can overlook the technical problems it has, I am very comfortable recommending the game. I cannot recommend Thief to anyone else at this time, though. If you cannot overlook the problems, then of course you should consider waiting to make a purchase. If you do not greatly enjoy this genre, but are willing to give it a try, this is not at the quality I would require to say you should give it a shot. I truly do hope this will change, just I cannot and should not speak to the future of a game, but to how it is now.