The Thief franchise is not new. In fact, the first in the series, Thief: The Dark Project was a founding father of the idea of stealth mechanics in gameplay, and at the time of its release, spun heads in much the same way that the pioneering works of a new art style would. And, in the spirit of our modern age, the series has received a reboot.
The difficulty of any resurrection of a series is in comparison. The aged sentinels of gaming slammed their basement doors in protest of the idea, certain that this new incarnation could never match the originals. Ironically, however, even the young and unschooled were picking apart the new Thief in comparison, not to its origins, but to 2012’s Dishonored, a recent champion of the stealth genre.
The similarities are too strong to dismiss as coincidence; both games are set in dark, fantastic parodies of Victorian England, tinged with steampunk innovation and eldritch abominations. Dishonored was inspired by the elder members of the Thief legacy, yet had the creativity to make the idea all its own, creating one of the most memorable and melancholic settings in the recent history of video games.
The new Thief, however, is left with an inferiority complex beset from all sides. It must be as good as the original, and as good as Dishonored, or face shame and inadequacy from the public. Sadly, it just doesn’t make it. The new game is beset by small plagues and mechanical failings, and only straddles the line between “decent” and “mediocre.”
Glitches are not uncommon. Sound is problematic (a terrible contrast to the original, which was showered in praise for its immersive sound), it often cuts out, replays inappropriately, and in one bizarre occurrence, came out muffled and drowned, sounding as though the player was underwater, or perhaps had an inner ear infection. The occasional slide or unresponsive control can be devastating to a player trying to remain stealthy, and ruin gameplay. The worst offender was an entire side quest that, when started, immediately sent me back to another area, effectively making it impossible.
But there are broader concerns. The next-generation graphics give you little immersion for their terrible cost: forcing you to navigate in small cells, and making you go through stilted travel sequences and loading screens frequently. The storyline-progressing missions themselves often lose the legendary flair of Thief, that trap-dodging, guard leading, loot snatching rhythm, and instead seem to focus on exploration and minute items left unguarded.
But despite the laundry list of issues, there is greatness trapped inside the new Thief, which occasionally shines. The atmosphere is frequently intense, and the landscapes, especially later in the game, give full immersion into the game’s dark zeitgeist. The patience and planning of making a situation work out can create a sense of satisfaction that’s reminiscent of the best of the stealth genre. And, in fidelity to the series, Thief appeals to the magpie inside all of us, demanding to take every shiny object in sight.
Ultimately, Thief is not a bad choice for those who want to play a stealth game, but I’d feel irresponsible recommending it to anyone new to the genre, as though afraid I’d scare them away from it entirely. I’d advise them to try Dishonored instead.