Cab: PC / PS4 / XBO / PS3 / X360
Coin: Eidos Montreal
We owe a lot to the Thief franchise. More than we probably realise.
Whilst many would point to the Metal Gear Solid series as a forefather of the stealth genre, it was Thief: The Dark Project that was first to attempt it in first-person perspective. The results were sublime. Were the mechanics not intoxicating enough, the story and setting were equally impressive. Master thief Garret’s moral ambivalence set to the gritty backdrop of a steam-punk interpretation of Victorian squalor was a perfect mix. The occult overtones were simply the icing on the cake. It’s a formula that was successfully carried through the next two titles in the series before Thief skulked back into the shadows for an unnervingly long period of time. Yet the voices clamoured for more, with Thief attaining near Half-Life-3-like status – amongst those in the shadows, at least. Their voices were finally heard.
With series newbies Eidos Montreal at the helm, development began with a small team that spent a great deal of time doing their homework and thinking carefully about every step that they would take. The effort shows in spades. For series familiars, every element that you could hope to have been re-imagined has. From the trusty water arrows to the dank and inviting atmosphere to the twisted plot and unnerving settings: Thief strikes all of the right chords in all of the right places. Much has been said about the loss of the original voice actor, but to be fair to his replacement, nothing feels tremendously out of place. Garret’s not what you would call the life and soul of a party at the best of times, so the slightly flat delivery actually suits the character to a tee. Garret’s uncomfortable bromance with his fence Basso is suitably re-kindled with an altogether new dimension to the series coming in the form of his lover / master / father / brother / friend / enemy / messed up relationship with Erin – the unwitting antagonist of the plot. Throw in a spot of civil uprising and some hardcore pagan worshipping and you’ve got a backdrop that’s suitably interesting and engaging.
Why are you hanging around? Buy. This. Game.
Levels remain largely linear (for better or worse) although a reasonably-sized open-world offers up plenty of side-quests and dark alleys to explore at your own leisure and discretion. New additions to the game mechanics are thin but meaningful. Perhaps in response to Dishonored’s overpowered ‘blink’ move, Thief has introduced a more nuanced and realistic ‘swoop’, whereby Garret can dash low and fast in any direction and alter course as he goes. It feels subtle yet meaningful and creates a sense of intimacy with the environment that Dishonored never quite managed – although I can see how many will see it as a poor man’s ‘blink’, which is a real shame. Once you become familiar with the mechanic, it feels blissfully natural and swooping around and behind enemies before knocking them out is a genuine pleasure. Indeed, it’s rare that you actually feel compelled to make a kill in Thief – bar the odd arrow to the face. In hand-to-hand scenarios you are desperately out-gunned by even regular guards. Some may see this as a weakness but, again, I felt it was a real strength and absolutely in keeping with the character. It’s clear from cut scenes and the occasional third-person sections that Garret is built like a nimble jockey, not a judo master – so being encouraged to avoid combat with rough, burly, heavily armoured enemies feels entirely appropriate.
As you’ve probably gathered, I’m rather fond of Thief. What’s ironic is that I’d almost passed it up given the many muted reviews floating around. For me, it’s the most underrated game of recent times – and it’s a great shame to think that it may not return thanks to the response it’s had. There are imperfections, granted, but none are anywhere near as serious as you’ve been lead to believe.
Given the price you can now pick it up for, it’s a complete steal – if you’ll forgive the intentional pun.
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