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Monday, March 17, 2014

Thief Review: Lost in the Shadows

Going in, I really wanted to like Thief. I hadn't grown up on Garret's un-booted adventures in the 90's, and I had been absolutely starved for something to come along and give my next gen worthy EVGA 780 a workout. I had seen the critical writing on the wall and I didn't care. The textures looked gorgeous, the story seemed decent, and the animation so fluid it almost made me thirsty.

And you know what? For fits and starts Thief really lived up to it's potential. But (and there's going to be a lot of buts in this article) the whole experience left a sad, sour, taste in my mouth. Thief is a game that seems to have been reworked over and over and over again. Plot points are heavily telegraphed (like the mannequins) and yet have nothing to do with the story... ever.  Some levels have several tactics and methods open to you, while most barely have two. It seems like Thief is at least four different games that intersect and overlap near constantly, so why does it feel like the whole affair is only 3/4s complete?    

But I'm getting ahead of myself, I don't finish a 12 hour game if there's nothing interesting going on. And thankfully Thief's worst aspects don't show themselves until about halfway through. Stealing everything that isn't nailed down, and being constantly graded not just for achieving special in-mission objectives (put out all lights, don't knock out any guards, etc.) but how you play in general, makes Thief surprisingly addictive at first.

Seriously, the animation is glorious.
Every chapter is dripping with secrets and loot to grab, and while most critics thought the normal mode was too generous with it's cash flow, I thought it was just right. I even replayed the first few chapters over again to get a better score and shinier loot, even still, I was miles away from mastering perfect runs.

It's only when I reached beyond chapter 6 did things start to turn to ash in my mouth. The level design sags, and the plot becomes muddled and unconvincing. Repeating a hanging scene, only this time with peasants hanging guards, does not a compelling rebellion make. The game play does not change in the slightest when you have to deal with civilian mobs instead of coppers.

And there are some spec-tacularly creepy oil paintings to find. For whatever that's worth to you.

The spirit of the game deflates, like a giant parade balloon, slowly but inevitably. It was by the final cut scene when the whole thing sank around my face. After that, it all started to make sense. You hear about the wretched conditions of AAA development; but rarely do the horror stories of Team Bondi's three year crunch cycle, or Trendy Entertainment's creepy man child director seem to sink into the game itself.

Thief began to feel like a cry for help. As if it figured out it wasn't going to be a worthy successor halfway through and began to beg for death. The last cut scene is so bizzare and anti-climatic, it's like a metaphor for a dev team throwing down their tools and walking out. Which was honestly a shame, because the last boss fight? It was a pretty great stealth based finale.

So no, I did not like the overall feel of Thief and you should probably wait for a steep discount if you are any where near curious. That being said, all lot of things do work. The missions in which you find curios for a traveling freak show are all head and shoulders above most of the main chapters. And I found the acting to be pretty damn professional overall. I didn't run across any major bugs, just some audio splicing, and the whole thing was maxed out at a solid 60 fps. At the very least it was good to know AC IV was an isolated incident. That thing just ran like garbage

So Thief didn't manage to steal my heart... just my attention for a while.

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