Oh Edios Montreal, how I had faith in you, you took one of my beloved franchises in the form of Deus Ex, and created a fantastic prequel, which deservedly received critical acclaim. You updated it but kept the core of what made Deus Ex a great game and enhanced it. How I had great faith when I heard you were going to applying that same skill to another one of my beloved franchises in Thief, only for it to turn into a complete disappointment.
Looking at Thief in two ways, as a Thief game it fails utterly, it loses the spirit and core of the series. As a stealth game it is mediocre, the stealth is far too easy, and one tool you can buy early on breaks the game.
Before talking about were its all gone wrong, lets me explain why the previous thief games were great, (incidentally you can pick up all the proper games from Steam, here, here and here). A thief game cast you as a pretty normal man, Garret, just living his life in a fantasy world. He never tried to be a hero, most of his inclination was to simply look out for himself. Often his motivation to commit crimes would be just to get enough money to pay the rent. As the game went on he would be drawn reluctantly into saving the world. Each mission (generally) would place you outside a building or area with perhaps a very simple objective. You could if you want go in through the front door (although you would almost certainly be killed by the guards) or more likely try and find a sneaky way in. Once in you would have to explore the world find clues about the location your objective and how to perform it (no objective markers here to guide you). Overcoming puzzles, guards and tasks as you came across them. There were no real boss battles, nor any scripted screens where you where force to be caught and had to escape (before anyone comments about the mechanist tower level from thief 2, where you go into an office and set off an alarm, it possible to actually disable it before going in and not get any guards after you). Freedom was name of the game, you were encourage to try a different way of taking each level, often coming across secrets as a rewards
Thief 4 pretty much drops all of that.
Where to begin? Well I’ll try to be as spoiler free as possible, but having said that I will spoil the first prequel section of the game, but if you’ve seen any of the trailers you will have had that done already
I was worried from the start, Garrets voiceover artist, while better than in the original trailers, still sounds more like a Chicago hit man then a thief. He still has a cynical side, but otherwise sounds like any game protagonist you heard before, but a greater sin comes when you meet his temporary sidekick in the form of Erin (Amusingly i had a sheep called Aeyrn, spelt differently but pronounced the same, which meant I kept visualising her every time Erin name was said)
I know who I rather have as a companion
Erin is a cocky, reckless, annoying young companion, constantly talks about how much better she is then you, while you go on about how much she has to learn. So, sounds like pretty much any modern female sidekick show in any modern game. She ends up falling to her apparent death (although I’m writing this before I’ve completed the game, so I’m certain she turn out to not be dead) and gives Garret a sense of angst he really does not need. Garret himself has been taking lessons from the Game protagonist book of cliché and become simply another cookie cutter mould character like you get in most games. As such his home base has to be is a Clock tower, not some little dingy apartment, but a ruddy great big clock tower in the middle of Stonemarket!
Continuing with the Fluff issues, the story feel like a cheap dishonoured rip off, you have a city with a plague going round, and a baron using it somewhat to his own ends. The writing is pretty bad, and sopme of the scripts are cringeworthy. At one point a group of guard have a discussing about a cock ring!
Game play wise things are not much better, you now have an action button for most athletic interactions, want to climb up somewhere? Action button, want to jump down (you can’t just walk off edges)? Action button, want to vault over something? Action button, want to… you get the idea. This can and indeed does cause problems, I was once running from some guards and saw some boxes next to a roof, thinking quickly I planned to climber up and get onto the roof, but as I was running when I approached I instead vaulted over them. The game also starts to place limits on where you can use your ability to prevent you from having fun and trying something diffrent. In one of the early level you can get onto roofs, but to stop from trying to jump into the buildings, the top of the roof has a 30cm tall metal fence around it which makes it impossible for Garret to cross. Later on I was in the building and wanted to jump down from my spot, I tried and tried for a few moments before realising I has to run and jump down. This lack of consistency makes a ok system frustrating and had me swearing at it times.
Another new feature Garret has is called ‘Swooping’, it allow you to move from place to place rapidly over a short distance and seems to be a response to Dishonoured Blink mechanic. It actually a fun system control and work very well, Just a pity it also tied to the action button.
The game also introduces mechanics only for it to then have to limit what you can and can’t do. For example at ome point you have to climb an outside of a building (the game goes into an immersion breaking third person view to do this) at some stage doing this climb you move from one set of pipes to the another set above, later on doing a similar section you can’t move from pipes to pipe even though the set up is the same, and you end up having to button mash everywhere to try and find how to move. The game also gives you tools and limits them, Rope arrows have to be shot into convneant placed sticking out beams, except the ones you’re not allows to shot rope arrows into, in which case they’ll hit but do nothing and you waist a rope arrow
The actual stealth mechanic feel rather primitive compared to older thief games, your light gem returns, but seem to have two setting, light or dark, with the stages in-between hardly making any noticeable effect. Guard have a mixture of good and poor AI, they’ll notice a door move from open to close, even if they don’t see you do it. They will also notice you putting out light and will eventually relight them. But will only really search around the local area, and not investigate other rooms nearby to try and find you. This makes avoiding them trivially easy. Also early on you can by a wrench tool that allows you to open up vents and climb in. The AI has no way to deal with this, even if they see you go in, they’ll act like you disappeared in front of there eyes.
Between each level you get to explore the city, this a fairly large and spawning area, but feels somewhat dead, apart from beggars and guards there are not a lot of people to interact with and does not feel like an actually place. The levels themselves early on are fairly liner, and set up in a way so you can only progress through and not backtrack. Once you get to chapter 3-6 they do get better, only to revert back to form in the later chapters This make the buildings you visit feel more like, well, levels instead of a place that actually exists. Ironically the side missions are closer to the original thief levels in terms of design.
Some good things about thief, the game look beautiful, and the animation/motioncapture in the cutsecens and in game are excellent. The game is very visual, you get to see garrets hands almost all of the time. When you feel for a hidden buttons around a picture you see Garrets hands grab it and have to move them with your mouse to fell around the edge till you find it, and you actually see his hand grab loot and pickpocket people which is really nice. Likewise lockpicking is also fun, but functially the same as looking for hidden buttons
One nice feature is the ability to customise your game difficulty settings you can switch off thing like the focus mode (which has the benefit of saving you quite a bit of money as you don’t have to buy upgrades for it.) and other things like moving more slowly, this is a pretty nice feature, and I would love to see more games making use of this.
Overall Thief 4 feels like someone took the design document for Dishonoured (an excellent stealth game), put it through dozen of focus groups removing any and all unique and interesting features and then built a poor stealth system on top. I would strongly recommend getting Dishonoured GOTY edition over this, or better yet buy the original games and enjoy a proper stealth game.