Free to download for PlayStation Plus members in February is Thief, the fourth installment in a nearly forgotten franchise that helped give birth to the stealth genre of gaming. Released last year to decent but mixed reviews, Thief is a game that tries to please both fans of the original series and newcomers alike. While not a reboot in the strictest sense of the term, it does refer back to the continuity of the first three games (mostly in easter egg form), but offers a unique tale of its own that takes place well into the future with a new Garrett. Is this game as unremarkable as its reputation implies, or is your chance to get it for free an incredible steal?
Garrett is a Master Thief whose reputation precedes him everywhere he goes. He makes a living stalking the City's shadows and robbing it blind for his friend and mentor, Basso, and though he claims to be immoral and irredeemable, he sticks true to a personal creed that puts him at odds with his former apprentice, Erin. They are forced to work together, where their different styles clash, but the mission goes horribly awry, Erin is lost, and Garrett is rendered unconscious for the better part of a year. When he returns to the City, he finds it in an even worse state than before, with the City Watch at its most corrupt, the people at their most ready to riot for bread and coin, and a supernatural illness known as the gloom lingering over it all. He takes up his old job working for Basso, but quickly becomes entangled in a conspiracy surrounding the events of the fateful and mysterious night a year earlier.
|Not the Garrett you remember|
This plot is pretty standard video game fare, and it takes most of the game before anything truly interesting happens. Fans of the franchise will be confused by the fact that this Garrett is not the character from the original trilogy, and newcomers will probably think they're missing something during the opening chapters even though they're not. I can appreciate why the game designers went with a new protagonist, a new conspiracy, and a huge leap into the future, but the decision to name the protagonist "Garrett" and style him after his namesake is questionable at best.
Once you get beyond this initial disparity and accept that this is a completely different character, the plot becomes more palatable and entertaining, if not wholly original. There are a few nice (but somewhat predictable) twists, and there are definitely a handful of memorable moments worth experiencing. However, the most interesting parts of the story are all in the background and the backstory, whether they are found in the Baron's personal journals, where he recounts how he banished the old gods, or in the odd bit of trivia thrown into a random conversation between NPCs. The worldbuilding, in other words, is excellent, and does a good job explaining how the City has evolved in the last few centuries.
[Story: 7 - On its own, it's a fun tale set in a well-crafted fantasy world, but its tenuous connections to the franchise's roots are confusing and off-putting; a full reboot may have worked better.]
The original Thief: The Dark Project is credited with launching the stealth genre of gaming. As such, Thief has a lot to live up to, and a lot of catching up to do as well. It sticks to the first-person shooter perspective, gives you access to various types of arrows, and lets you use "focus" to highlight key objects in the environment. Fans of the series will find slipping into Garrett's leather comfortable and easy, and newcomers won't have a problem either. Ducking through the shadows, picking pockets, knocking out unsuspecting guards, picking locks, and collecting loot are all imminently rewarding, and for those that enjoy that kind of gameplay (like me), this game is sure to please.
|Water arrows are good for taking out light sources|
Unfortunately, just below the surface, the gameplay falls apart due to some poor design choices. The most notable flaw is in the clunky combat system. If you find yourself caught out in the open or are forced to engage in battle, you'll likely be defeated, not because this is a stealth game and Garret is a weak fighter, but because the controls are a non-intuitive mess, with your hits connecting or your dodges working based almost entirely on luck rather than skill.
On its own, this might be forgivable--you don't want to encourage combat, after all--but there are similar problems with the game's save system, in-game maps, "challenges," and side quests. The save system is incredibly annoying, with checkpoint saves occurring as soon as you pass a point of no return within a level, not offering you the chance to revert to an earlier autosave without restarting the level. It is possible to go back to an earlier manual save, but you can only have one manual save at a time (unless you take the time to tediously save your game in different save slots from the main menu). In this day and age, such a restrictive and infuriating system in a game that rewards thoroughness is totally unforgivable.
-e. magill 2/6/2015