The irony does not escape me that I should be championing a stealth game when my preferred playstyle (in general) is to run in and wreak havoc on all the baddies. If there is a stealth sequence in a non-stealth game, I’m usually in trouble the first couple of go ’rounds, and after that I adapt. But if it is sneak and be sneaky from the get go, I’m just fine.
Thief released at a time when there weren’t a lot of current gen games coming out (February 25, 2014), and even though it was a solid experience, it received middling reviews with a metacritic score of a relatively low 67.
I may not be a reviewer, and I’m more than willing to admit to the game’s shortcomings, but I feel it didn’t get a fair shake. If I’d been reviewing it, I would have seen it somewhere around an 8 out of 10; room for improvement, but a lot going in the right direction.
(Ha! As a side note, I just looked up Game Informer’s review, and it seems Ben Reeves gave it an 8 out of 10; I was on the right track!)
I’m not going to go into the story of the game here (there are synopses of it in many places including the Thief Wikipedia page), but I’d like to highlight why I think it deserves another look.
However right off the bat I’d like to admit Thief’s smattering of faults.
The omission of a decent fast travel system was a bit wonky. Yes, the city was beautiful, but traversing the same relatively small environments repeatedly while avoiding the same enemies using the same patterns was a bit tiresome. It could also be a bit confusing based on the map system.
And yes, the repetitive and silly “minigame” of pushing a piece of wood, or heaving up a window frame to get to the next area was a mild chore. I suppose those were put there to give you something to do while the next area loaded, but the quick tapping sequences could just as easily have been omitted after the initial exposure.
And yes, towards the end (no spoilers) the story went off the rails a bit, but honestly, in a sweeping game such as this, what conclusion would feel appropriate? What could have lived up to the expectation? I daresay even in the most critically lauded games, that a decent percentage of endings fall a bit flat (need we be reminded of how Mass Effect 3’s ending was received?). We all hope for something suitable to conclude that particular story, but what we expect and hope for is also subjective.
Enough of this rain cloud; it’s time to highlight how I think the game shined.
The art direction is breathtaking. When you look out over the city, you get a true sense of what it must be like, feel like, in that location. The fog is palpable. The light from windows is enticing. The area begs to be explored.
There were times when you needed to solve light puzzles to reach certain areas, and I felt the bow really came into solid use here. At one point, I couldn’t figure out how to reach a particular room, and I realized I hadn’t looked up. Straight up. And you know what? I could look up through a hole in the floor above me and shoot a rope arrow to gain access to the elusive spot.
How often are we looking straight up in a game? Not terribly often. It felt novel and well-hidden, yet in absolutely plain sight.
The controls were tight. The weapons were effective.
I enjoyed so much about this game, but without question, what makes it remarkable and a “must-play” (in my opinion) is the asylum level.
It is easily the most effectively unnerving level of any game (horror or not) that I’ve played. You are constantly ill at ease. There are no obvious jump scares. Nothing lunges out at you, yet you feel consistently on edge. The asylum is large and open for exploration, and exactly as spare as it should be.
(moderate spoiler ahead)
The pinnacle of this experience (for me) was the mess hall with the stage at the front. There is a moment when you go to inspect something, and when you turn around, there is no jump scare, but it becomes obvious that things are not all together as they should be.
It was an excellent moment. One of my favorite “horror” moments in any game I’ve played.
There is much to praise in Thief. The art direction. The score (modern, yet completely fitted to the experience), the gameplay, the atmosphere. Especially now that Thief can be had for an economical price, I can only encourage anyone who hasn’t played it to give it a shot. It may not be perfect, but it’s highly engaging and has some remarkable moments.
And I can’t praise that asylum level enough. It’s absolutely as unsettling as can be.
If anyone out there has played Thief, what did you think of your experience? (Please keep the comments spoiler free in case anyone reads them who hasn’t yet experienced the game.)