I’ve tried to play this damned thing repeatedly, I really have. First on PC, and now on the Xbox and I just can’t. It’s not that there’s something egregiously bad about Thief. It’s a very pretty game, and the Unreal engine still holds up reasonably well today. It’s still fundamentally about stealing stuff but it feels like a very, very hard game to enjoy.
I’ve always loved the setting of the Thief games, with equal emphasis on the technological and the supernatural. But that feels lacking here. The City of the original trilogy has been replaced by this blander, browner version where everything looks more or less the same. The eerie glyph magic and the Hag from Deadly Shadows have been replaced by old men in robes chanting in a circle which is about as cliched as evil-person-type-magic can get.
And while Garett’s motivations were personal in the original trilogy, this time he’s supposed to be driven by … what? A job gone wrong? The loss of Erin? Whatever weirdness happened to him? But we don’t really know much about the job. We know next to nothing about Erin, who is more of a caricature of a person than an actual character. And the weirdness that happened to him is simply a videogame excuse to give him powers which, while interesting, don’t really feel like they impact gameplay in any meaningful way.
Plus, there are too many locked doors. Too many houses I can’t get into to rob. Too uninspired a story. Too interesting a protagonist. Too flat and colorless a city. The entire experience feels too linear, with few opportunities to wander off the beaten path, and very few stories in the City. There’s too little to make it feel like anything more than Generic Fantasy Setting For Thievery Game™.
On the other hand, think about Thief: Deadly Shadows for a moment. The Hammerites were intimidating. The Pagans were creepy. The Keepers were self-righteous. And all three factions were interesting. The conflicts between them were interesting. The ideologies were interesting. The larger picture of the world itself was much, much more interesting.
The Thief reboot abandons a lot of what made its predecessors interesting, and doesn’t replace those things with anything that even comes close to competing. Reading the Wikipedia summary of Thief is more captivating than playing Thief through to the end.
To really take Thief forward, they should have spent more time on the City. Made it smaller, if need be, but with more places to explore. More doors to open, more journals to read, more notes to find, more treasures to uncover, more conversations to overhear, more marks to discover simply from eavesdropping, just … more. Of everything.
As an example, very early on in the game, as I made my way to the Clock Tower, I came across two guards, standing in front of a large gate, separated from me by a stack of crates. One guard carried a lantern. The other had two pouches on his belt. Naturally, I wanted to rob the guard blind. To do that, I need to get pouch-guard away from lantern-guard.
I waited for their conversation to finish. Neither moved. They just continued to stand there, lovingly staring into each other’s eyes. I took a glass bottle and tossed it into a wall. They moved to check out the noise and, when they decided it was nothing, went back to staring lovingly into each other’s eyes.
Then I decided to put out lantern-guard’s lantern. The tools available to me were water arrows, fire arrows, and broadhead arrows. Broadhead arrows made both guards hostile immediately – even if the arrow only clipped the lantern and didn’t so much as touch either of them. Water and fire arrows only made them suspicious, which was better but only marginally.
I had no tools available to me to separate the guards and create favourable conditions for myself, except for three different flavours of ‘shoot the lantern’. If the intent was to lean a little more into magic, Eidos should really have added a way to use the focus meter to interact with objects – make a guard drop something they’re carrying, douse a lantern by consuming a water arrow but not firing it, loosen a belt buckle so belt and pouches (and breeches, as well, perhaps?) fall down, something. Heck, I’d love to wander the City causing rich people’s pants to fall off but there aren’t very many interesting ways to approach anything in Thief.
That’s why I’ve repeatedly tried and failed to play this thing. I’ve given up at different points each time. This time, I stopped a little ways after the prologue. I haven’t even reached the Clock Tower. I don’t think I will. But Eidos and Square Enix really need to reboot the franchise all over again and find a way to do Thief justice, because Garett deserves a hell of a lot better than this.