There’s a bit of cutscene dialogue early in the game where Garrett’s sidekick, the young and irresponsible Erin, says something along the lines of ‘Just like old times, then.’ That may even be a direct quote.
Sigh, I thought. Nothing like establishing what the Devs hope to achieve with this game early on, eh?
Thief: The Dark Project is a seminal classic of PC gaming. It birthed the first person stealth genre. It was atmospheric, challenging and even disturbing. A solid plot held together individual and distinct levels, each with their own unique challenges. Few people who played it back in the day would describe it as much else than a triumph. The sequel was even better, I’d say, building on what came before it. Those who didn’t like it are taffers, pure and simple.
Even Thief 3, which was a bit marmitey for me (many loved it, it didn’t quite gel with my expectations), had some incredible moments. When I played the famous Cradle level at the end of that game, there was a geniune thunderstorm going on outside. I still wake in cold sweating terror at some of those remembered moments.
So what do you do with such a license, in an era where the stealth genre is a common staple? Repeat the success like a master burglar at the height of your powers, or squander your gains like a crap robber?
Larceny Wish List
Well, first things first. You’re going to need some modern day whistles and bells.
Shiny new graphics – check. Unreal Engine reporting in, looking both new and shiny in equally impressive measures.
Rebooted storyline that both nods twinkingly to the old fans whilst starting a the game afresh for the newbies – check. Nice to see Basso in the flesh at last. Good actually to sneak through the districts of the nameless city Garrett lives in. Someone said Taffer. Great to finally work with my wisecracking emo teenage apprentice on a heist-gone-wrong wait whaaaaat?
I’ll come back to that, and the plot. The biggy for me is the whether the new game can make me feel as terrified as it used to. Thief, even played on basic difficulty, was pretty hard. You routinely had levels filled with enemies who were much better at fighting than you. Some were even immune to being bopped on the head from behind, your best weapon. Okay, you could stab or shoot them from behind pretty easily. But it was loud and messy, and usually meant a lot of tense clearing up.
You never had the resources you needed. Basso’s cut of any profits you’d just made always left you struggling to buy the tools you really wanted for the next level. Maps and intel were vital, and neither held your hand. No glowing waypoints, no minimaps back then. Just an incomprehensible scrap of papyrus that told you broadly where in the underground city you might be, then let you get on with being burnt to death by flying elementals in your own time.
And it showed you proper respect, called you sir and never gave you no cheek. And bread was cheaper back then, and the skies bluer.
So I’m an old git. But you know what? I’m a happy one. The game gets the atmosphere right.
Job’s a Goodun
Where Thief works is making you feel like a scared, vulnerable man trying not to get caught whilst stealing a bunch of well-hidden valuables.
The tension I used to feel is still there. The horror when a guard turns unexpectedly. The panic when they see you. The frantic legging it. The feeling of being less than the stealth legend you ought to be when the level stats tell you that although you’ve just spent two hours hugging walls and pooing your pants, you only got 34/67 bits of loot.
If I raise an alarm, the lazy sleeping thugs wake up and start wandering about. Guard routines change. In a fight, I can dodge and duck attacks, but (the way I’m playing it) not parry them or really make any effectual ones of my own. Lockpicking is done as a minigame, but a realtime one where I have to keep an ear peeled to the sound cues to tell me how much time I have to jiggle the tumblers into place.
Thieving is a terrifying experience, no doubt in real life too. As such, a huge adrenaline rush when it works out, and you slide unseen from shadow to shadow before cracking a vault, swiping a ruby necklace and disappearing into a network of tiny alleys.
NB I (and ManaPool, I expect) in no way condone theft, please do not have a go at me in the comments and please do not pirate this game to prove some kind of stupid point about its content.
The City is excellently realised, it’s looking great and dark and shadowy and unpleasant. Using a district as a mission hub is a bit time consuming, and I’d welcome a quick travel ability. But equally, it’s fun to explore (and nick stuff), which is the entire point of the game, really. Or should be.
When you’re in the moment, doing your nefarious (and illegal, especially in real life) job, it’s great. There are things that don’t tie in with the original, as behooves a reboot, and they don’t sit well with me.
Garrett is a thief, not an assassin. He goes to great lengths to establish this, in fact. So having combat takedowns, lethal broadhead arrows and several rather assassin-y skills feels wrong to me. I love that I can turn them all off in the difficulty settings, and that doing so gets me kudos in the form of improved level scores.
So I don’t mind it, and it’s clearly there to pander to a different style of play. Nobody is ramming it down my throat, so I don’t need to feel grouchy about it. For example, I can’t review the Focus feature, I turned it all off and I don’t really want to know. Lame excuse for a reviewer, I know, but sod it. Only so many hours in the day.
And actually, that’s a great thing for a game like this, other games could take up this gauntlet. Or steal it if they’d rather. Don’t steal, kids, it’s wrong, remember.
The story – well, hmm. ‘I’ve got Amnesia’ in an rpg game hero is like the hangover too-good-wine always brings. You know it’s coming. You know you have to put up with it. You know you’ll drink the wine anyway, but you sometimes wonder why everyone is too lazy to invent something new and better.
The sidekick thing is fine, weirdly, and mostly not an issue. A new age means a new Garrett, and having a personal element to the story is okay. But if the overall atmosphere of sneaking round the city is present and correct, the dialogue and characters feel weaker than I hoped. And I miss the old factions, even if they’re sort of represented in some ways. Was the odd Woodsie or Hammerite too much to hope for?
Something about Garrett, too – he was very much the lone wolf back in the day. I can’t help but feel that adding extra characters, people under his dark wings to care for other than himself, waters down the character a bit. Just having excellent stealth levels linked by styling cutscenes worked very well for me in the originals. I think this might have been a tighter, more focussed game with a similar approach.
There shouldn’t be boss battles or QTE chase scenes in a theiving game. Garrett had climactic encounters in the past, but he approached and solved them using sneaking. He’s a Thief. That’s a gamebreaker for me, but that’s all I feel the need to say about it, and at least the moments are short and seldom.
Last Big Score
Overall, I’d say yes. Sneakier and stealthier than other recent stabs at the same back, and gameplay is worth the price of admission. Not as memorable or as revolutionary as the original, in fact rather tame and safe in some ways, but well, what ever is? Pandering to a wider audience is commercially sensible, even if it annoys a particular sect of fans.
But factor in the custom options and you’ve got a lot of fun and replay time ahead of you. Plus bragging rights when you leave your friend’s level score in the dirt. Play it on hard with the lights off and god help you if you’ve got a heart condition. I think I have now, but I’ll be going back in for another one shortly, even if that makes scant medical sense.
- Tense and atmospheric
- Excellent stealth sim
- Great customisable gameplay
- Not as memorable as the original
- Moments of jarringly bad gameplay that break the spell
- Some weak storytelling
- Perhaps a bit slow in places
OS: Windows Vista with Platform Update for Windows Vista
Processor: High-Performance Dual Core CPU or Quad Core CPU
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: AMD Radeon 4800 series / Nvidia GTS 250
DirectX: Version 10
Hard Drive: 20 GB available space
OS: Windows 7, Windows 8
Processor: AMD FX 8000 series or better / Intel Quad i7 Core CPU
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: AMD Radeon HD R9 series or better / Nvdia GTX 660 series or better
DirectX: Version 11
Hard Drive: 20 GB available space