Much like its masterful protagonist, Thief has been watching from the shadows. It’s been far from an agonising decade for fans of the series’ celebrated brand of stealth. Despite being widely recognised as the progenitor of the genre in the west (Metal Gear takes the honours in the east and overall), there’s been plenty to keep us busy. Splinter Cell, Hitman and, most recently, Dishonored has taken over. Can Thief steal the title back?
The story starts off with Garrett awakening from being unconscious for 12 months, after bumping into his apprentice, Erin, for taking the same contract. He finds that his once familiar steampunk stalking ground, The City, inexplicably altered. It’s night-time and rain pelts down on the cobblestones underfoot. Guards under the ominous employ of The Baron patrol dank alleyways. As a curfew kicks off, they lock the poverty stricken in with the dead and dying, as a plague eats away at the slums’ populace. Scrawny beggars lie slumped over under the measly shelter of aged wood awnings. Filthy opportunists pat down the dead for whatever lousy belongings they may yet cling to. It’s all too easy to feel panned in, suffocated by the overhang of these oppressive buildings in this sodden place.
It’s in this dreadful city that you’ll be learning everything Thief has to offer. Garrett has lost none of his abilities. Pressing in the left stick has him crouching for super stealth. Using the Touch Pad you can select various items, such as bows and arrows and food, in a heart beat and use it by pressing in the R2 trigger. The square button let’s you steal anything, even off unsuspecting guards. The L2 trigger activates Garrett’s dash ability, letting him jog around at pace. Like a subtler Mirror’s Edge, certain aspects of the surrounding scenery throb with a telling blue hue. These features can be interacted with. When approaching grates at speed it can be clambered up to reach higher rooftops. The perfect vantage point to observe the developers stretching their atmosphere-evoking muscles.
I’m not talking about the visual either. While sneaking across a wooden walkway, bracing against a gathering storm, Garrett will briefly be lit up by a flash of lightning. Play it in a dark room and it flares with whiteness, not just because of the lightning strike on your telly, but because of the clever use of the Light Bar on PS4’s Dualshock controller. When exposed the Light Bar will change from blue to super ‘hurt your eyes’ white. It’s a great example of Eidos way of interacting with player experience and the one and only game that’s taken advantage of the Light Bar without having to physically turn the controller to look at the colour.
Your objective more often than not involves moving between guards without them taking notice of you. Thankfully the AI aren’t a bright bunch. Throwing an object, such as a glass bottle, in the opposite direction of where you’re moving will have them dumbstruck for ages. Should the guards notice you, an eye-like symbol will appear about their heads, a simple dash onto the rooftops or hidden alley will see you making short work of them. Make use of your Focus ability by tapping the triangle button and this becomes your playground. By entering focus mode everything that can be interacted with in any form turns neon blue. It also happens to slow down time, which is a great asset when you’re trying to use your lock pick with nearby guards around.
Puzzles are back too. Documents scattered about will either alert you to a nearby treasure or the codes to a safe in close proximity. Other documents will come with clues to solve a complicated puzzle, though the hardest puzzle took me around five minutes to complete. That’s likely the biggest problem with Thief. The challenge feels a bit wayward. Should you increase the difficulty it becomes impossible to play the game, but on Normal difficulty it’s just far too easy. Graphically it looks stunning… if you’re playing it on last generation hardware. When it comes to the PS4 I expected much more.
If you’re a trigger-happy player it’s best you steer clear as Garrett does not have the ability to act on confrontation. It’s really all about running and hiding and if that’s your cup of tea you’ll get more of enough to get you coming back. For the rest – keep an eye on your belongings.