Monday, March 17, 2014

Thief (2014) review

   Thief is a difficult game to review because it's often fun but it's also bugged as hell with a weak storyline. Thief strikes me as a game which needed about six months to a year more added to its development cycle. They could have added a Fast Travel system, more characters to interact with, and padded out some of the problems with the derivative seeming plot.

    As a fan of the original Thief series, I was pleased to see this franchise getting rebooted but I was worried it wasn't going to seem as original or fresh after the release of Dishonored by Bethesda. Dishonored was, effectively, a steampunk version of Thief only with the main character serving as an assassin rather than a thief. Also, the main character of Dishonored possessed incredibly fun supernatural powers absent from Thief. This is, unfortunately, true.

Moody atmospheric gameplay with a dull story.
    The premise is the main character, Garrett, suffers an accident which seemingly kills his former apprentice and knocks him into a coma for a year. When he awakes, he finds his city (named, "The City") devastated by plague and a class war having begun between the rich and poor. Garrett must rebuild his looted headquarters, investigate the mystery of the plague, and steal everything not nailed down (and a few objects which are).

    Fans of the original Thief will note a number of things are conspicuous by their absence. The previous games were defined by their conflict between the eco-terrorist Pagans, the steam-tech obsessed Hammerites, and the morally neutral Keepers. All three factions are absent here and the weird thing is there's no reason they have to be. The Hammerites are the equivalent of the Catholic Church so they should be a background element, Garrett is a former Keeper so you'd think they'd come up in conversation, and the Pagans strike me as a group which would love to take down the new game's main villain.

    I'm not the sort of individual who wants to see original series beholden to their roots but this is a bit like doing a Star Wars movie without the Rebellion, Empire, or Jedi. Yes, theoretically, you could do it but why would you want to? Even if you want to add to the setting, you should at least acknowledge what's come before. The fact what they added, the class-conflict and plague, was already covered by Dishonored kind of undermines things. There's only so many stories to tell but you have to tell them differently. It doesn't help that Garrett doesn't really have any reason to become involved in the struggle between the two sides either.

This is your archenemy. Err, kinda.
    Even the more interesting characters are troublesome. Garrett's apprentice, Erin, is the motivator for a large number of his actions throughout the game. Thief seems confused about whether Erin is a psychopath who Garrett pushed away because of his violence, a girl he's in love with, his surrogate daughter, or any combination thereof. This would normally be a multifaceted character but we don't get to spend enough time with her to understand what sort of feelings our protagonist has for his lost companion.

    I'd like to say the City, itself, makes up for it but it's as confusing as the characters. While it's perpetually night and moody, giving the place a somber Medieval Noir feel, the place doesn't exactly feel very lively. Most of the areas in the city are blocked off until you pass certain storylines in the game and the sense of free-roaming which would have made this game more interesting is severely hurt.

Erin is awesome but barely present.
    It doesn't help there's a million doors in the City but only a handful of them lead to places you can break into. I wouldn't mind this if there was anything worth stealing in the majority of the locations. Garrett steals spoons, magnifying glasses, bells, scissors, and other items which make him feel like a petty thief as opposed to a master one. I'd have appreciated the game more if Garrett had about half of the loot and double the value. The fact you seem to be robbing impoverished citizens half of the time doesn't make your character feel much like a badass either.

    The gameplay helps make up for these heavy flaws. Garrett is an entertaining character to play, giving you a sense of profound power as you stealthily move from one location to another. The addition of a set of fingertips removing every bit of loot you lay your hands on, gives a sense of accomplishment to every little theft (even if there's too much "trash loot" as mentioned above). I even loved the addition of Garrett's "knock-out" cutscenes lifted from Deus Ex: Human Revolutions.

    The missions for Thief are really where the majority of the fun happens. Breaking into a slaughterhouse which has been re-purposed into a crematorium, sneaking into a brothel built into the remains of a Keeper (?) ruin,  and even the smaller missions like robbing a jewelry store are all very fun. If there had been a better storyline to tie all of these missions together, I think Thief would have been a modern-day classic. Unfortunately, they don't.

Stealing is, appropriately, the only fun part of the game.
    The City is too depopulated to be a living entity, the missions are too far apart, and gameplay gets frustrating when you want it to be enjoyable. It took me several hours to figure out there was an experience point system beyond buying better equipment. I also found the Focus system to be frustrating as I would have preferred it to cost nothing and only illuminate items of interest or actually be of use beyond serving as a time-saver.

     The characters are boring too, with none of the big personalities of the original Thief games. Erin is probably the most interesting character aside from Garrett and she doesn't have a role for the majority of the game. There's also a Darth Vader-esque guy in the Thieftaker General who I think we're supposed to be archenemies with but the guy is just too petty to really care about. I feel like the Thieves Guild quest from Skyrim was a much better Thief game than this was--not the least because Stephen Russell did the voice acting for Mercer Frey.

Garrett will be deaf from living here.
   In a very real way, the game's sense of authenticity can be summarized by the central hub area. Garrett lives in the clock tower of a church, which he uses as his Batcave. The thing is, no one in their right mind would do this. How would you sleep? Why would you live there? Garrett is not a vigilante superhero, he's a guy who steals money to pay his rent and presumably live it up between missions. It looks cool, don't get me wrong, but shouldn't Garrett have a pad more akin to the Boss from Saint's Row? You know, stripper poles, elf-maids, or whatnot? It would have made the point of being a thief feel more authentic.

    In conclusion, Thief is fun in spite of itself but I felt almost no desire to actually play the adventures and I realized halfway through the game I didn't care. U didn't care about the characters, the plot, or what was happening. This is, simply put, an extremely disappointing game. If you want a real sequel to the original Thief franchise, you should play Dishonored instead.


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