The Age of Thief is upon us. Did it live up to its hype? The answer is yes. Unfortunately for the folks at Eidos Montreal, the answer is also no. So sit back, keep your coin purses tight, and let me tell you a tale about a thief named Garrett. To be as spoiler free as possible here, the story of Thief is as simple as the title. Garrett, the master thief, returns after some time away from his home, simply entitled “The City.” In traditional Robin Hood motif, the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Garrett, a thief first and foremost, has decided to use this volatile environment to his advantage. The story, just like the overall feeling of this game, has some moments that will awe you, and just as many that will leave you scratching your head wondering how such writing made it through the cutting room floor.
First and foremost, Thief is all about stealing stuff. Every item has a gold value associated with it, and while there are mission objectives to complete, taking anything (and everything) you come across really is the constant meta-game that keeps gameplay dynamic. Leaderboards keep the adventure fresh, and I will admit I was drawn back to a few levels after a play through because I was absolutely convinced that I had nabbed every treasure and had rightfully claimed my position at top (I was wrong…).
But it’s hard to say Garrett is a master thief when I felt like a small time kleptomaniac. I stole forks. Then I nabbed some cups. Cups! Yes, I broke into houses to steal cutlery. Of course, if you want to be the leader on the aforementioned boards, then you’d better put your standards aside and be ready to take kitchen wares, pens, and other petty items. The occasional big score is fun to find as well, but they are so few and far between that you’ll be more inclined to search desk drawers than you would top secret, highly secured vaults.
Stealing is great with the inclusion of the Focus ability. Here, Garrett can quickly, and non-intrusively, scan the environment for interactive items. It was in these moments when I really felt like a thief. I’d enter a room, ducking in between guards in the shadows, while nabbing things left and right before exiting the room undetected. In these moments, the game really was refreshing and rewarding. The minimalistic HUD would vanish from sight, allowing me full access to the sights and sounds of the world around me.
Of course, these moments of joy were immediately shattered when the AI would break. And unfortunately, this happened a lot. Nothing breaks an immersive experience more than a guard stuck on a corner, or a wall, or, dare I say it, each other. I stood and watched two guards walking into one another for a good five minutes before I took them out of their misery. Speaking of which, combat is not the main focus of this game. Garrett is weak, and although he is trusty with a blade, fighting is a last option. Not just on principle alone, mind you, but in practice. You’ll find that Garrett is capable in battle, but when confronted with multiple foes, Garrett can’t keep up. This was a great incentive – take out enemies from behind, or to hide from them altogether.
When you’re not in missions, traversing through The City is a chore. While navigating through the dark alleys and slums, you’ll find that trying to find something on your map is nearly impossible. I have complained before about how non-functional the Borderlands map is but this game sets the new standard in useless, broken navigation. Certain sections of The City can only be accessed via special areas in the map, such as sneaking through a house, or going down a specific path. Gone are the days of true open world exploration where you take your time enjoying the scenery as you head in the general direction of your objective. In Thief, taking the wrong turn usually results in a frustrating task of going around endlessly in loops until you find the required threshold to a new area. Exploration is also segmented via a loading screen. These tended to be very long. On the PlayStation 4, these loading times were upwards of 30 seconds at times. And frequent. This kind of exploration left me unwilling to want to explore more for sake of additional loading screens, which totally defeated the idea of the open world environment.
Aside from the preposterous loading times, exploring The City and finding various ways to complete missions requires the use of gadgets. Garrett’s infamous arrow arsenal returns, which are great gadgets for dousing fires from afar, or making noise away to lure away pesky guards. Shooting rope arrows to climb up buildings are great too, except they can only be used in particular areas. It’s pretty obvious where they can be used, too. Specifically, rope arrows can only be used to hook to particular areas. Sometimes, I’d stand under a roof and shoot up on a seemingly climbable ledge. Unfortunately, this is forbidden unless the game wants you to explore there. This kind of hand holding takes away from a great premise of the game. It’s disappointing.
For those who stick around with Garrett long enough, the game does offer a slew of options to make the game even more difficult (this is a good thing). These modifiers are worth points (a great way to quickly advance your position on the leaderboards!). As expected, the modifiers that are worth more points also come with steeper penalties (getting seen automatically resets the level, for example). It’s reminiscent of the driving assists in the Forza Series. It’s a welcome addition to Thief and I would love to this type of customization (and subsequent risk vs. reward!) become more prevalent on all titles.
If you’re a fan of stealth games, you’ll find enjoyment in this title. But be warned, it’s very rough around the edges.
Images: Thief Official Website