This is not a review of Thief (here’s MMGN’s review). I have not finished Thief, and I almost certainly never will, such is my luxury as a critic who didn’t seek a review commission on this one. But I have played through the first three missions, which really was enough for me, I think, and I came away with a few anecdotes. Don’t take this as an indictment on the full game, although I heavily suspect that it stays stupid, and bad, and irritating and ugly and dull.
The very first line of dialogue
The very first line of dialog in Thief is Garrett – who often talks to himself during missions, which is really damn distracting when you’re trying to assess whether there is anyone else nearby – is a quip about how Garrett has never paid for anything. Because he’s a thief! So you start thieving, and each item is worth a certain amount of money, and money is used to…oh, to buy things. Things Garrett needs to thieve. Well! With this in mind the act of stealing in Thief is no more fun or interesting than it is in every other bloody game where you have to collect scattered collectables.
The cutscene from 1997
The prologue/tutorial mission of Thief ends with a ghastly pre-rendered cutscene. Thief is, on Xbox One at least, already a pretty ugly game – technically proficient, but grey and dull and obviously modelled on the architecture of the earlier systems – but this cutscene really ramped it up. Faces are pallid, visuals are blurry, the whole thing just feels weird and pathetic. It could have been lifted wholesale from the original Thief, for all I know (I really should get around to playing that).
The weird locked, booby-trapped, nearly empty room
Wondering around Thief’s hub city, I decide to break into a building I’ve encountered just off the beaten track (which is to say I wandered away from my objective marker). I used my lockpick and entered into a small room, with a handful of valuables inside and another door that didn’t open. Huh. As I said before, thieving in Thief isn’t actually all that satisfying, so I was a little dismayed. But then I noticed a floor panel, hooked up to a mechanism on the wall, and realised that I had activated a machine that would shoot an arrow into me when I tried to leave the room. I could still get out, but I’d take damage! I figured there must be more to the room, so I poked around a bit more and eventually, to my delight, found a hidden switch. I pressed it, and a grate slide away on the wall nearby, giving me…an alternate route outside.
…so hey, that’s a bit anticlimactic, right? I found this weird room, poked around, discovered its secrets, and ultimately got out with very little to show for it? I don’t even have a good anecdote, really. I actually managed to stumble to my death shortly afterwards because Garrett walks with the sort of heavy ambling gait I’m familiar with from those weird first-person Sherlock Holmes adventure games, and all that progress was erased because I didn’t bother to save. It struck me that the game had a good chance to impress me here and had failed miserably.
The window that wouldn’t bloody open
I was being pointed towards a window I needed to open to progress to the next area. These are fairly common, but also slightly baffling – you can never see through them, even though they are, you know, windows, and often once you’ve gone through one you can’t go back out again. Thief makes a point of explaining to you that once you leave a location you probably won’t be able to return, funnelling you in the specific direction it wants you to go, which as I understand it has angered many franchise fans.
In any case, I wander up and start the ‘bash X to open the window’ quicktime event. I press the button. I press it over and over and over again. I pound on it. I pull out my phone and send a Snapchat video of myself mashing X desperately for another ten seconds. I put the controller down for a bit and seethe. I pick it up again, hit X a few more times – because there’s no option to step away from the bloody window – and suddenly the thing pops open, because of cause these blockades are just there to hide loading times.
The numerous times I thought I was playing budget Dishonored
So, the stealth systems in Thief are pretty damn weak. Shadows are all-encompassing, guard patterns are confused and dumb, and since no one can duck down you’re pretty safe if you manage to find an air vent or similar. But what has really stuck out, to me, is how poorly justified the ‘swoop’ mechanic is. It’s an obvious rip-off of the ‘blink’ from Dishonored (a vastly superior game, by the way, developed by a team made up largely of people who originally made Thief), allowing Garrett to rush across a short distance more or less invisible to his enemies. It’s sort of cool fun to use it, but when you’re swooping past alert guards in full light it just doesn’t feel like a thing that should work. Levels designs don’t so much encourage swooping as they do actively signpost it, but perhaps it’s better that way when the combat is so dull anyway.
So these are the things that have made the strongest impression on me in Thief. Maybe it gets better! Maybe I should just go back and play the original trilogy! Maybe you think I’m being too harsh? Let us know in the comments.