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Thief (2014) - Page 2

GAMEPLAY (cont'd)

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It doesn't even label buildings or districts
And then there's the in-game map. This thing is beyond useless. The hub world--the City--is big and confusing, which is fine, but the map doesn't help you in the slightest if you are lost. You can't change floors in the map, can't look at other areas, and can't fast-travel anywhere. Indeed, if you want to go back and replay a previous level--which you can do--you have to trek across the city to get to the level's starting point, assuming you remember where it is (because it's not shown on the map). Speaking of replaying previous levels, one other annoyance is that, while you maintain any collectables you gather in each playthrough, your "statistics" menu will only display the stats of your most recent one, ignoring anything you may have accomplished during a previous run and needlessly confusing anybody who is trying to figure out which collectables he or she needs to go back for.

Next is the "challenge" system. Each level comes with a set number of challenges, such as picking a certain number of pockets, remaining undetected, or collecting all the loot in a given level (which is incredibly difficult). With the exception of collecting all the loot, which is universal, you can only accomplish a certain challenge if you stick to one of three playstyles. This is neat, in theory, but it's poorly executed. I'm guessing that over 90% of players will go through the entire game and only stick to the "predator" playstyle, since killing or knocking out two or three enemies tends to put you in that category. I don't understand why there isn't a "lethal" or "nonlethal" playstyle, given that there are no other incentives to play a nonlethal game, and why the "ghost" playstyle can only be achieved if you don't touch a single enemy.

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The downloadable version comes packaged with the previosly-preorder-only Client Job, "The Bank Heist," which is easily the best quest in the whole game
Finally, there's the side quests. The first set of side quests are Basso Missions, which are short and simple requests to loot a certain item in the City or clean out an empty store or something along those lines. These net you an instant reward and can be gathered in bulk from Basso at various points in the game. The second set of side quests--the Client Jobs--are bigger and more involved, essentially acting as mini-levels. These are fantastic, but there are only half a dozen of them and there is no real payoff in the end for completing them all (though the game will seem to promise you a glimpse at a working automaton at the end, don't get your hopes up for anything but a "thanks" for your efforts). The game world is immense enough to accomodate four or five times as many Client Jobs, and it would go a long way towards making all the expensive upgrades attainable.

Still, despite these very real and very annoying problems, the gameplay is great when you are sticking to the stealth and not bothering to go back to collect stuff. The upgrades, focus points, and fancy tools are mostly worth it, and the fact that they are so expensive encourages players to gather as much loot and do as many side quests as possible. There is also a freerunning aspect that is done incredibly well, almost matching the excellence of games like Assassin's Creed and Mirror's Edge. In the final accounting, it wouldn't take much tweaking to solve this game's problems. Doing simple things like letting players replay levels from the start menu, having a regular save system, or altering the parameters of the challenges would go a long way towards making this a top-of-the-line experience. Alas, the fact that the game designers couldn't be bothered to address these easy fixes, combined with a woefully inadequate combat system, means that I can't in good conscience give Thief a very good gameplay score.

[Gameplay: 6 - The stealth and archery elements are done well and the controls are responsive, but several annoying design choices hold back what would otherwise be a great game.]



PRESENTATION

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The level of detail is as mindboggling as the guards' poor night vision
The world of Thief is detailed and beautiful, in a dark and decrepit, steampunk way. The City is enormous and filled with secrets, but it seems almost abandoned, with only a handful of non-enemy NPCs wandering about and none actually inhabiting the many homes or shops you can invade. You can still stop and overhear conversations from lit windows--a staple of the series--but these conversations are only mildly useful and are infuriatingly repetitive as you progress through the game. Why they don't change after every level is beyond me.

The graphics are good, though there are occasional frame-rate issues, bad lip-synching, and texture pop-ins. The character designs are varied and realistic, the textures and atmospherics are crisp and detailed, fire is done really well (which becomes more important as the game goes on), and the chiaroscuro is as good as it gets for current-gen games. Alas, the game pays the price for this with frequent and excrutiatingly long load screens, small, compartmentalized areas instead of seamless maps, and a bit too much of the cut-and-paste aesthetic. Instead of having open windows where NPCs walk by while having their conversations, for example, the windows are almost all closed and lit up with an identical lighting pattern that attempts to convey the existence of a person within (but one that never moves). Stuff like that cheapens the detailed and realistic atmosphere.

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You will not forget Moira
While at first blush, the game world seems non-linear and the levels seem different, it eventually becomes clear that the game is more linear than its predecessors. Even the hub world is a bit too narrow in places, creating a few bottlenecks you'll tire of rather quickly. Still, there are levels that are done very well and have several different avenues of approach, such as the expansive mansion where the wealthy architect is holed up. A few levels actually break off into action moments--where Garrett is forced to run across rooftops while being chased by guards or a raging inferno--and these moments are thrilling, if a little annoying for players who are too accustomed to the game's otherwise slow and methodical pace.

Where Thief absolutely excells, though, is in its sound design. The series is known for making sound crucial to the gameplay, with your every footfall carefully measured by the texture of the ground, the broken glass or water you might be stepping in, and how fast you are moving. You really hear everything, and Thief is even better than its predecessors in this regard. You'll hear every drop of rain, every cough and sneeze of a distant enemy, the rattling of a bird in its cage, and Garrett's breath if you've been running. There is music under all of this, but it is almost entirely ambient and unobtrusive. There is one level about halfway through the game that exemplifies perfect sound design; without spoiling anything, you find yourself in an abandoned insane asylum, but one that is filled with creepy noises and unexpected oddities.

Voice acting is neither particularly stellar nor memorably terrible. It is adequate. The voice actor for Garrett is much flatter than the one who did his voice in previous games--making Garrett a bit more milquetoast than necessary--but the voices for the villains, NPCs, and other side characters are pretty good, if not great.

[Presentation: 8 - Wonderful sound design, decent voice acting, and good graphics make up for long load times, fairly linear level designs, and repetitive textures.]



CONCLUSIONS

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Time isn't always kind to old franchises
Ultimately, I love this game. It seems designed almost perfectly to match my particular gaming tastes. While it may be the perfect game for me, though, it is far from a perfect game in general. It is mired by lazy design choices, ambitious ideas that aren't fully realized, and its unwillingness to be either a full reboot or a true sequel to the original series. Most gamers will walk away from this game without it leaving much of an impression; its story isn't ground-breaking or particularly memorable, its gameplay is good but not great, and it does little more than bring an old franchise up to modern standards. As a free game, I'd absolutely recommend it, especially for solo-gamers, but for those considering paying full-price, I'd say you're getting robbed.




FINAL TALLY
STORY: 7
GAMEPLAY: 6
PRESENTATION: 8
SOLO GAME SCORE: 10

TOTAL SCORE: 7.8

Thief is a game that wants to be great and live up to its predecessors' reputation, but it's more mediocre than memorable.



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-e. magill 2/6/2015










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