Thoughts on: Thief (2014)

Thief

Wow, where do I even start? I guess, by saying that despite a LOT of disappointments, bad design decisions, few rare but horrible glitches, the game is good. It really is. When thinking about what I’m going to say about the game while at about mid-point of the game, I was thinking of “really good”. But the last few levels are quite badly done, so “good” it is.

One thing that surprisingly Squenix decided to be quite about, and I really have no idea as to why, is that Thief is, in fact, not a reboot but a sequel. It happens in the same City as before, even if Garrett is a different character. Just several centuries later. And yes, I do consider this fact to be important, because trying to learn more about the game world, the surprisingly rich and intriguing world, of the original trilogy after the trilogy ended was one of the most enjoyable things in this game. Which is not surprising, since the story the new Garrett is involved in is absolutely abysmal. The concept behind the story is more or less okay, some of the characters are intriguing, but the dialogue, the feel of the world and it’s inhabitants are just flat at best, and the story simply goes nowhere. At first, after seeing Rhianna Pratchett’s name in the credits I thought I had the answer as to why this happened, but apparently even she wasn’t really working on the game and was involved rather briefly and in the early and mid stages of development.
And the fact that this happens is really a shame, since some of the characters and some of the hooks are pretty nicely done, and visually The City looks nice. Voice actor for the new Garrett was good, reminding of Stephen Russell’s delivery, but at the same time creating a different character. Music, composed by Luc St. Pierre according to credits, is actually very nicely done and reminiscent of the fantastic score of the original trilogy done by Eric Brosius. Not quite the same mix of weird creepy and industrial ambient with trip-hop and industrial metal sounding stuff, but very close and, because of the fully dynamic nature of music in the game, feels more natural and enhances the gameplay.
The gameplay itself, though, is where you start asking questions. Now, some of the ideas were nice.They did improve on the Deadly Shadows’ claustrophobic City – it’s bigger, has much more stuff to do, but at the same time, still fell in the same trap of pointlessly boring backtracking, “upgrades/tools” (think climbing gloves from TDS), which you absolutely have to get, and do it almost immediately, making the idea of buying them in the first place almost redundant. And added to this a really big problem of doors and other closed things re-locking after every mission and even side-mission (client job type, not just a mini-quest thing) for no apparent reason, rather then to just waste more player time.
I also did like how now Garrett had to physically interact with everything – be it grabbing loot, opening doors, flipping switches and etc. It means, no “telepathic” interactions, more thinking about where any interaction places you and how long each interaction takes when thinking about guards or other enemies around you. To somehow balance this idea out the movement became much faster and quieter, though, but actually not completely silent when crouched and on “loud surfaces”, as it was in TDS. Plus, the “swoop” move is a really nice idea for the kind of gameplay the game created.
The bad thing about this swoop, however, is that it completely overrides the jump button. Instead, all the jumping in the game is context sensitive and if you understand that the jump should be easily possible, but the game doesn’t want you to jump there – you just can’t. It, along with a few other “context sensitive” animations restricts the game much more than one might want to. But, at the same time, it doesn’t matter, because the problems with gameplay lie much deeper than that.
The actual problem with the gameplay is that, despite understanding it and getting it almost 100% right in their previous project DX: Human Revolution, the developers completely misunderstand the core idea behind Thief’s gameplay. Which is not that far from what Deus Ex gameplay is, in it’s core. Because Thief, even TDS, had very simple rules during missions – no cutscenes, at no point the controls are taken away from the player, all that happens in the level happens because of the set and, if not bothered or rarely scripted, never changing character routes and player interaction with it, and the level as a whole. That’s it – if there’s a “cinematic action moment” during the level, it’s because the player screwed up somewhere and alerted the enemies, not because the script says that there is a cutscene, during which Garrett gets discovered and it cues into an actions running away scene. And, because of this “forced storytelling” approach in the new Thief, levels are much much less open ended. And, you know what – with this approach it is understandable, that jump button got cut and rope arrows work as tools with very specific use in specific places (think more Tomb Raider 2013, than classic Thief, hell even less than climbing gloves from TDS). There’s no point in having normal jumping and proper rope arrows, if the levels are not structured in the same vein, as in the original trilogy, now is it?
And it becomes painfully obvious, when the game tries to directly reference those unforgettable missions from original trilogy. Sure, one of the levels does look like that incredible mission in T2 with Angelwatch tower, but the magic of the original was in how huge, varied and almost completely non-scripted that mission was. How breathtaking that run across rooftops was. Here it’s just a super linear level with a forced “run away” sequence jammed in the middle for no good reason. And they try to do their own Robbing the Cradle. And it is good. But where the original in TDS was brilliant because it worked just as a normal mission, but with no enemies at the start and with almost completely silent and frighteningly deadly enemies later, the mental asylum mission in the new Thief feels more like a first person horror game, a lot of free ones of which are constantly been created lately. With jump scares and horribly banal twist to the history of the place, where the original was just a sad and scary place, which got really unlucky at some point.
Also, there are two “boss” fights. Yep. Developers who got severely burned by including boss fights in theшr previous game did it again. And while Deus Ex actually had boss fight encounters from the very first game, Thief never did. Now, granted, you’re not required to fight, hence the quote marks. And the second one actually works much more like the “boss” encounter at the end of the TDS – more of a stealth puzzle than anything else. The first one, however, is ridiculously badly done, especially for ones playing on highest difficulty with several custom difficulty settings. The fight can be avoided, but the boss is so erratic and his attacks have such a wide spread, that it’s just painful to try and avoid him. Especially if the game does a rare reloading glitch, where the game just goes to a black screen after the loading and has to be force quit. And since I mentioned glitches – the other really bad and very noticeable glitch is AI reset when reloading – sometimes all the NPCs would just return to their starting places on the location and do the starting things they might do upon reloading, which may make some levels almost impossible to complete with full stealth/no knockouts approach.
But since I’ve mentioned custom difficulty – it is a nice, but, to be honest, pointless thing that will, most likely, just make your playthrough more painful. They set restrictions, which give you “points” for leaderboards, but that’s it – points, not multipliers, so there is a max of 1300 and Top of the leaderboard is full of those.
So yeah. Lots of bad things, but a good stealth game.

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