Reboots have a hard road to travel. On one hand, you don’t want to disappoint the jaded fans of the original work, so there is a certain obligation to bring in familiar elements. On the other, you want to make sure that the game effectively meets expectations of the modern day, as many tropes from the past have simply become dated and surpassed with advancements in technology. But, which is the right way to go? What is the optimum blend for a reboot to find success?
Thief is a reboot of a game that is 16 years old. In fact, the original Thief: The Dark Project helped to pioneer stealth games as we know them. Even the beloved Metal Gear Solid used elements that were presented in that very game for its core structure. Thief as a series has continued to influence many games throughout the years, including the 2012 game, Dishonored, which heavily borrowed ideas from the franchise while adding its own twists. But sadly, This new Thief actually feels like a step backwards in the first-person stealth genre, and not in that old-timey, days of yore kind of way either.
We’ll begin with the story, or whatever you call what they were trying to do in Thief. Garrett is a thief (surprise!), and gets involved in a big conspiracy because of a job gone wrong. He’s simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and now must take part in something much bigger than himself, and his personal thieving greed… I think. The story felt forced and required so much reading between the lines, that half of the time I wasn’t quite sure what was really going on. Things that should have had some kind of impact, like the time frame between the prologue and the first chapter, were glazed over with ‘the next job,’ and Garrett would bound off to sneak in a window to steal some random pendant, or other ‘valuable’, without really questioning anything. I understand that he’s supposed to be this stoic-loner thief, but the fact that a year mysteriously disappears between intervals should raise more than the question of, ‘what can I steal next?’
Adding to the jarring nature of Thief, cutscenes felt as if they had jumped over story segments on more than one occasion. Random events would be assumed to have taken place, instead of actually being shown. One scene ended with a confrontation between Garret and another character, yet when gameplay resumed, the other character was nowhere to be seen and I needed to sneak around to find them. These gaps in time happen on more than one occasion and become incredibly jarring, as the seams between story and gameplay do not quite line up, leaving the player in a state of awkwardness and bewilderment. Little moments like this really jolted the experience, and while I could fill in the gaps well enough for myself, my time with the game didn’t flow as well as I would have liked it to.
Speaking of jolting around, the framerate for Thief on PS4 is something that people will be talking about. I traditionally don’t put much stock in graphics or framerate, as I prefer to focus on gameplay and story first, but as each cutscene dipped in framerate to what appeared to be 10-15 fps, it was hard to overlook. Gameplay had a few dips as well, but the cutscenes looked awful. On top of being disjointing, they were fuzzy and dropped in framerate so badly, that it seemed like something you would expect to see in a remastered cutscene from a poorly done HD collection.
So, the story is lacking and the visuals in most of the story scenes leave much to be desired, but the most important aspect of a game like this will be how it actually plays. Thief is the hoarding aspect of Skyrim made into a full game. Much of my time was spent opening drawers and cupboards to find either nothing or a single item, like a letter opener or ink bottle. At first this was a lot of fun. It was exhilarating to be a thief, to sneak around in the shadows and steal a variety of objects. But, as the game goes on, very few new elements or mechanics are introduced, making most of your time stealing or sneaking into busy work. By the end of the game, I was tired of spending time avoiding guards, opening drawers, and picking locks, only to find an unrewarding item that could be used for an almost pointless upgrade. While there are special items in the game that kept me searching, it still felt like a chore, rather than a rewarding experience.
Despite its other flaws, I have to give some credit to the stealth gameplay in Thief. As a run-and-gun style of gamer, it’s refreshing for a game to focus on avoiding combat. The light and dark system, when coupled with snuffing out candles and switching off lights, was a lot of fun to play with. The secret areas were fun to discover as well, with hidden switches and traps that kept me exploring everywhere. Rushing up to a safe to find myself killed by an arrow trap made me rethink how I had to approach this game. Observation of your surroundings is key.
Unfortunately, poor sound design made some of that observation hard to do. Voices that should have been muffled due to being behind doors or walls, sounded clear as day, as if the enemy was standing right beside me. In a game where you need to be conscious of your surroundings while sneaking and stealing things, hearing voices from a couple of rooms away without accurately being able to judge distance was a mood killer. Even though I was spooked at first every time I cracked open a safe and heard a guard “near” me, I eventually learned to simply ignore the voices, because the game does a poor job of clearly distinguishing location and distance.
Where Thief’s story missions are fairly linear, The City is an open world and acts as a hub between missions. From here you can find additional quests that range from sneaking around and stealing things, to sneaking around and stealing even more things. The open world of The City may have been more refreshing if it hadn’t been for the ungodly amount of load screens that it took to get anywhere. I really wanted to give every side mission a chance (and I did), but I was disappointed to be greeted by a lengthy loading screen no less than two or three times per mission. This “open world” is actually walled off by these loading screens, and with the unfulfilling nature of the quests, it made this even more of a slap in the face.
I wanted so much for Thief to be fun, and in the beginning I did have a lot of fun with it. But, due to no sense of impact in the story and its unrewarding gameplay, it degraded into a chore well before the final act. While playing Thief I couldn’t help but feel like I’d done this all before, and often in a better setting. Thief may be a throwback to the early days of stealth games, but this reboot really feels aged and dated. While there is some fun to be had, you will have to sift through a mess of problems to find it. Now, this is the part where I insert the obligatory “Thief didn’t manage to steal my heart” line, right?
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