Thief, the reboot of one of the most iconic PC franchises, is developed by Eidos Montreal and brings back to life Garrett, the Master Thief. Set in “The City” during a massive spread of a disease called the Gloom the game resembles a cross between the Late Middle Ages and the Victorian era and starts with Garrett awakening from a year-long sleep following an incident where he lost his partner Erin and had an encounter with an ancient form of energy that enhanced his abilities. Tormented by visions of his late partner in crime Garrett tries to understand what is going on in the city, what kind of power he’s dealing with and why the Baron, the leader of The City, and a dissident resistance are at war.
Being a first person stealth game navigation is everything. Just like the Assassin’s Creed series there is no jump button but pushing a trigger allows you to interact with specific objects in the world. The absence of such a feature, the ability to jump, is a little bit disorienting at the beginning but if you embrace the system without second thoughts you’ll soon discover how good it actually feels. The world is designed with specific paths to take and the choice you have is basically the lower or the higher ground without any possible deviations too far up the rooftops. In fact you’ll never be able to reach the top of any building to get that Assassin and/or Batman feeling of stalking the city. You’re best friends are only the soiled shadows of the lower city.
But when you’re not sneaky enough and you get yourself caught by The Watch, or if you just want to take everyone on your path down, you can rely on a vast arsenal of lethal and non-lethal weapons. Stalking your opponents from the shadows and choosing your favorite approach is the core essence of this game. There is no wrong way, you get rewarded the same way for any approach you take. It’s all up to you. You can use the “Swoop” ability to slip quickly from shadow to shadow and don’t harm anybody, using water arrows and extinguishing open flames, you can headshot an unlucky guard with a simple arrow; or you can mix different weapons, like choke arrows or fire arrows to incapacitate or distract an enemy and then take him down with your Blackjack. During story chapters you’re in different environments with various path to choose from to reach your goal. Sometimes you don’t have enough “fire power” to blast your way through an enemy patrol; in those circumstances your best bet is to find a secure and secret way to bypass them.
Loot items are hidden everywhere and they’re fundamental to the leveling system. Every object is instantly transformed in gold; you can than later use it to buy resources, upgrade your equipment, buy different items that give you buffs or visit the Queen of Beggars to earn Focus upgrades. Focus is the ability to point out loot, collectibles and traps in the environment but can be also used to pick locks more easily, to remain hidden for a short period of time while moving in the light or during combat to knock out a guard with a single blow of your Blackjack.
The chapters are varied and interesting, from the streets of the City to a house of pleasure, from an abandoned and forgotten library to a creepy asylum. This last one deserves a praise. Chapter Five, set in the Moira Asylum is masterfully depicted. I’m not all that much into horror games but I loved the presentation. There are ghosts, creepy noises, isolation, disrepair, strange creatures (called Freaks) and even a sequence with mannequins! My favorite part of the game, hands down.
Exploration is key; you’ll find loot hidden all over the place and while exploring the hub city between chapters you’ll break into all sorts of apartments, shops and basements. Various jobs require you to “repossess” various items for various individuals and while some tasks consist only in exploring a single room in search of your “quest item” some are fully fledged levels with patrols of enemies and a more deep story behind them. As mentioned before you can move and climb only on specific “interaction sensitive” paths or by hooking rope arrows on specific girders. But this way you’ll soon learn to recognize the right way around, bringing you to explore every single nook and cranny of the environment, and you should to do it, otherwise why are you even playing a game like this? The problem is that the map seems an incomplete feature. You can’t set waypoints to revisit a specific location and you can’t mark merchants or quest givers. Even worse once you’ve completed a chapter you can replay it but there are no icons on the map for their location. The game is designed for multiple playthroughs, to complete different challenges specific to a particular playstyle or to collect missed collectibles but it’s too difficult this way and sincerely I can’t remember all the locations in which I can start a chapter.
After finishing the main story you can compete in ranked challenge maps for high-scores but there are only two maps available and the third one could be yours for only 4.99$. I don’t understand what’s going on with that; better yet, I fully understand it and I don’t want to be a part of this business model. Aside from that you can choose your personal level of difficulty by switching on and off different aspects of the gameplay. For instance you can turn off the HUD, takedowns, kills, the Focus ability or you can decide to play with only one life for the entire game. Anything to challenge your skills and satisfy the masochist in you. It’s a nice touch for the hardcore stealth enthusiasts and the long time fans of the series.
Overall the story has its plot twists with the supernatural, even though you can easily figure them out since they are basic tropes of the fantasy/adventure genre, but it suits the characters and the world well, helping to define the specific vision of the developers for the world they had in mind, with an oppressive government and the constant presence of sickness in the form of the Gloom. Too bad the ending is so willingly open towards a sequel or a future story DLC. The gameplay is perfectly tuned, with all the resources you need to enjoy the different approaches the game offers you and a great emphasis on exploration, the only way to obtain gold and then level up. Only specific items are too expensive for a single playthrough and intended for grinding gold but the buffs they provide are absolutely not fundamental to your progression. I don’t see why Garrett can’t be an even greater gaming icon than before. With this game he is.
+ Level design
+ Various settings
– Map UI
– Disconnected side missions stories
– Minor audio bugs and frame rate issues during cutscenes