The original Thief franchise didn’t have much of a presence on home consoles – barring an original Xbox release of Deadly Shadows, it didn’t have any. In the decade since then, stealth has become a far more mainstream genre and gamers as a whole are more willing to try something new. Originally scheduled as a fourth entry, this game wound up being a reboot during its development and tells the story of how Garrett became a master thief. Given that the original series was notorious for being incredibly difficult, I was initially apprehensive about this one – but it’s a lot more user-friendly than past games.
The core game sees you run around the plague-infested City trying to pilfer whatever’s needed to get by. It might be an item, it may be something needed off of a corpse – no matter what deeds need to be done, you need to do them. Accomplishing the tasks requires you to move around the environment and stick to the outskirts of everything. Going on main roads makes you an easy target, and you’ll find yourself wanting to hide as much as possible. Sometimes, you can just hide behind something and swoop in for a quick takedown with your blackjacks. Other times, you’ll need to carefully sneak past enemies to avoid all detection. While combat is inevitable, you’ll want to engage in it as little as possible if you hope to survive for a decent length of time.
New to the series is the Focus mode, which is activated when hitting Y. Much like similar things in the Batman games, this allows you to see climbable surfaces, traps that have been set, and other things you can interact with. Putting out candles, for example, allows you to be more direct with enemies if need be, since you can hide in more shadows than before. You’ll want to stick to the shadows as much as possible here, because you could wind up with only a blackjack to defend yourself – forcing you to rely on defensive rolls in tight areas to avoid taking too much damage. While there are some small environments, the areas are usually more open there than before, which helps limit how claustrophobic the environments can feel.
You’re given a fairly diverse amount of ways to stay alive in a world that wants to kill you, with a weapon wheel giving you access to equipment that can take out flames for you from afar, or allow you to distract enemies. You’ve also got the blackjack, but it’s only useful for short-range combat. You can also use arrows to weaken enemies, but that will also alert them to your presence – you’ll want to be as accurate as possible with everything you do because supplies for everything are limited. Swooping with A allows you move like a cat for a brief period of time, and can mean the difference between being spotted briefly and it being brushed off, or being actively pursued.
As someone who is usually terrible at stealth games, I got into Thief instantly. While the “find Item X, destroy Y amount of guards to do so” formula does get old at times, being able to explore the city is fun – even if it does result in some major loading times. The freedom offered up gives this more of a sandbox feel than most stealth games, and the thrill of stocking up on items never gets old. Using them to pay for highly-priced goods does, but the inclusion of items to help with your stats does make the game even more user-friendly, which isn’t a bad thing overall. You can always choose to simply avoid purchasing something, and just hope you don’t find yourself in a situation needing it later. At a minimum, you’ll want to restock on arrows, buy a few distraction arrows, and get a healing item or two to ensure you can make it through the next section of the game if the going gets rough. Thief’s control layout is logical, and allows you to run, duck, and attack with ease.
Visually, the last-gen version looks shockingly good. The character models feature outdated-looking flesh, but their clothing flows reasonably well and is affected by things like rain giving it a visibly damp appearance. Animation is fairly smooth, and you’ll need to pay close attention to it in order to determine where enemies are and what direction they’re facing – especially with minimal lighting. Speaking of which, the limited lighting leads to some amazing views of the environments and characters – with smoke buildup all around. It’s a bit of an overused look in pop culture, but it’s effective here. Environmental textures can look really muddy up close, but most look reasonably good. You definitely won’t be mistaking the 360 version for the next-gen versions though, and there are times when environments will pop in out of nowhere during cutscenes. This doesn’t affect gameplay, but is distracting.
Thief is a joy to look at and hear as well. The voice work for both primary and secondary characters is quite good. The cast does an admirable job making sure you take what’s going on seriously with solid performances from everyone. While smaller characters may not last as long, their time can be memorable just due to the voice work. Little quips on the street add a sense of reality to things, although you will hear some phrases repeated a lot – hurting that reality somewhat. The same goes for the iffy lip-syncing. The soundtrack fits the gothic setting and is both foreboding and action-packed when the time calls for it. While I doubt the music would be in my regular rotation outside of the game, while playing, there’s no other music I’d rather hear.
Thief’s reboot is a resounding success overall. While some may lament a series with so few games being rebooted, the end result is still a thrilling stealth game that rewards patient players and should scratch the stealth itch for all fans of the genre. It’s definitely hurt by some repetitive game design though, so frequent breaks will be your friend. Otherwise, you’ll grow tired of the same pattern over and over again to finish levels. The limited combat options make fighting regularly a bit of a chore, which makes some sense since the idea is to avoid detection and therefore, avoid combat as well. Engaging in it and winning feels satisfying, and that’s always a good thing. Visually, the last-gen versions are a bit underwhelming, but do feature some impressive sights thanks to effective lighting techniques. Up-close textures can be a bit of an eyesore though. The voice work and soundtrack are exceptional as well. If you’ve enjoyed past Thief games, you’ll enjoy the reboot as well. Those new to the franchise, or iffy about stealth, would be better-served renting it to give it a shot.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Square Enix
This review is based on a retail copy of Thief for the Xbox 360 purchased by the reviewer.