Overview. Thief is the fourth in the Thief series of video games. It was developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix in late February 2014. It was released in North America, Europe, and Australia on the Xbox One, the PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, and the PlayStation 3. The North American version is rated for mature audience (ESRB M), the European version has a 16 PEGI age rating, and the Australian version is rated MA 15+--Mature Restricted. By genre, it is an action-adventure game and falls into the stealth sub-genre. It has a first person point of view.
Overall Impressions--an excellent game and one of the early stars of the next gen library. Exceptional stealth game play, atmosphere, and replayability more than compensate for adequate but unremarkable story and characters. The game immerses the player in an elaborate world. Exploration is not only horizontal but also vertical, as the protagonist Garrett, goes from street level to rooftops to avoid detection. In order to steal, Garrett breaks into windows on the various floors of buildings of varying height. Some of the game takes place underground. Although Garrett can fight, he would be outmatched in most face to face confrontations. He relies mostly on stealth and ambush to deal with his adversaries. Players who enjoy stealth games will find this to be one of the best games of its type. However, players who prefer direct action may not find the non-confrontational approach appealing to them.
Story. The game’s overarching story is interesting but not compelling. It is a simple quest motif that maintains the players’ attention but does not have them on the edge of their seats. Players do not have to have prior knowledge of the Thief series to gain a full understanding of the plot. Those who have played other games in the series often refer to Thief as a reboot in order to account for divergences from previous games in the series. On the positive side, the plot is well structured. It is broken up into a prologue and eight chapters. Each chapter is well designed. Players can either play the story straight through or divert themselves to missions and side quests between chapters. The cohesiveness of each chapter ensures that players do not find themselves disoriented when returning to the main story after a lengthy recess.
Characters. Like the story, the characters are interesting but not compelling. The protagonist, Garrett, is likable but players may tend not to identify with him as they might say with the protagonist of an Assassin’s Creed game or Adam Jensen, the protagonist of Eidos’s sister development, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Erin, who might be thought of as the heroine, is a bit underdeveloped. There is a lot of potential character development that goes untapped. We are also unsure of how Garrett views her. If this ambiguity was intended for dramatic device, it does not succeed. Instead, the players simply view their relationship as incoherent. The antagonists similarly lack impact. Although the city is confronted with great peril, the players do not get the sense that one or more of the antagonists is a diabolical villain against whom Garrett must struggle mightily. Whereas the main characters seem somewhat two dimensional, the many bit characters are extremely well done and keep us entertained with their zany quirks.
Atmosphere. This is where the game excels. The city seems very real. The different chapters have different settings each with its own special character. Although repetitious at times, the inhabitants make off-hand comments and carry on casual conversations that make them seem more real and provide some dark humor adding to the gothic feel of the game. Players of the third game in the series, Thief: Deadly Shadows will find the city familiar both in terms of the layout and its bleak ambience.
Graphics and Cinematics. The graphics are superbly done and provide great detail. As expected, a game entitled Thief has quite a bit of stealing and pilfering in it. The trinkets that are stolen or picked up where they are lying around are beautifully designed and rendered on screen. The contrast of the beauty of the stolen items to the dreary surroundings is one of the small touches that elevates the game. The camera angles move smoothly. They shift from focusing on small pieces of loot to a panoramic view of the city. The lighting and camera perspective immerse the players in an interactive story telling experience making up for much of the plot’s pedestrian qualities.
Resolution in next gen consoles has generated much discussion so I would be remiss if I did not address it. The XBox One version of Thief runs at 900p versus he PS4’s 1080p. Nevertheless, looking at the two games on side by side monitors, there is no discernable difference in quality. Moreover, it is not the resolution or the frame rate that provide the primary graphics impact. Rather, it is the texture and the shading that are responsible for the excellent graphics. The XBox One and the PS4 do both equally and exceptionally well. Only a Windows version of Thief on ultra-settings could surpass them. The atmosphere owes much to the realism in the lighting and reflections; the textures of the stone, wood, and glass; and the smoke and fog effects.
Audio. The game’s audio is quite well done. However, it would have been beyond reproach had it provided players with a better sense of direction. It would have been nice had Thief implemented the feature used by many first person shooters where the sound clues the players what direction they must turn their attention to. Garrett’s ears are sensitive enough to hear the subtle clicks while picking a lock. They should also be sharp enough to discern in what direction threatening sounds are coming from. Nevertheless, the audio, by and large, is a plus. The voice acting is quite well done. The sound effects reinforce the strong visuals as structures burst into flame or big contraptions crack and break. The cacophony of violent events is well contrasted with the subtle sounds like the lock tumblers just mentioned. The soundtrack has a techno aspect to it that reminds us that this is a Steampunk setting and not a Victorian gothic recreation.
Controls and Gameplay. The XBox One controller is impeccable in controlling Garrett. As one might expect, a stealth game demands precision and the controller is up to the task. Virtually everything Garrett does requires a deft touch from lock picking to aiming a bow and arrow to picking a pocket to ambushing a character from behind. The mechanics are quite intuitive and the game does a good job in introducing them, reinforcing them, and then leaving players to master them. Garrett is very responsive to the controls and this encourages players to experiment in all facets of the game. Except for cut scenes, players get only a first person perspective. This works insofar as it is Garrett’s hands that are the thief’s primary tools. However, one can’t help but think that occasional shifts to a third person perspective might enhance the game by showing Garrett in his surroundings.
Lineage. The first game in the Thief series was Thief: Dark Project developed by Looking Glass Studios perhaps best known as the creator of Ultima Underworld. It was released in 1998 by Eidos Interactive for Microsoft Windows. Looking Glass studios went out of business after developing the second game in the series, Thief II: The Metal Age (2000). Development of the third game in the series, Thief: Deadly Shadows (2004), was taken over by Ion Storm who had hired a number of the staff who had worked on the first two games. Eidos Interactive continued to be the games’ publisher. Unlike the first two games in the series that were released only for Microsoft Windows, the third game in the series appeared on the XBox in addition to Microsoft Windows.
Ion Studios went out of business shortly after developing Thief: Deadly Shadows. Although ten years would pass before the release of the fourth game, Eidos Interactive continued its interest in the series. Eidos Interactive, a UK publisher, assigned development to a studio it had formed in Montreal—Eidos Montreal. In 2009, Square-Enix acquired Eidos Interactive which is why Thief was released under the Square-Enix brand. The Eidos Interactive legacy, though, is still apparent. The Eidos Montreal studio is proof of Eidos’s interest in the series that spanned almost two decades.
Insofar as ten years elapsed between the release of the third and fourth games in the series, many gamers have had no previous exposure to the series. Nevertheless, the series has had an ardent following and its aficionados welcomed the arrival of a fourth installment. The game has been called a reboot but it remains true to the origins in its gameplay and its allusions to the earlier games in the series.
Comparisons with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Warren Spector, who founded Looking Glass Studios where he created Thief: Dark Project kicking off the Thief series, later founded Ion Studios Austin branch after Looking Glass Studios became defunct. There, he developed the third game in the Thief series and created Deus Ex, the inaugural game in the Deus Ex series. Thief could be viewed as the Steampunk equivalent of the Cyberpunk Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Both games provide the protagonist with numerous paths to get from A to B. They both favor stealth over combat. Both games were published after a prolonged hiatus after the release of their predecessor.
Nevertheless, where Thief is good, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is great.
• The Deus characters are complex and their motivations are often at odds with one another leading to dramatic conflict. Moreover, Adam Jensen is a protagonist we can relate to.
• Unlike Thief, the Deus story—full of intrigue, suspense, and plot reversals—does keep the players on the edge of their seats.
• While the first person perspective of Thief is effective, the way Deus switches from first to third person perspective is even more so.
The bottom line is that Thief’s strengths make up for its weaknesses. Deus Ex: Human Revolution has virtually no weaknesses.
Three best aspects of the game:
• The game play mechanics and the stealth tactics
• High production values that immerse the player in a believable Victorian gothic Steampunk setting dripping with atmosphere
Three aspects that could be improved upon:
• The story could have been more dramatic, suspenseful, and exciting
• Characters lack complexity and do not evoke empathy in the players
• Although the visuals are excellent, there is a dark sameness to them. A few brighter colored scenes would have provided welcome variety and would have underscored the bleakness of the remainder of the game.
In spite of its flaws, if you like stealth, Thief is a fun game. You can wander around at will without purpose or replay chapters and client missions of your choosing. The return of this great series is appreciated by those who may have played it 16 years ago. Those who are playing it first time can see why the series made its mark in video game history.
Because I had so much fun with it, I would like to give the game four stars. However, comparing it to Deus Ex: Human Revolution reminds us that it could have been much better. While the game has an overall rating of 3.5 stars, it is definitely a four star game for playability and fun factor.