When the new Thief was first shown off, it was attacked for resembling another, more recent steampunk stealth game. The new game’s supporters, however, were quick to point out that Thief has been around a great deal longer than this lively up-and-comer. Personally, I can report that the new Thief distinguishes itself from Dishonored in several key ways, while paying homage to its forefathers.
It still stars Garrett, for instance, in his New 52 incarnation. Just like in the old games, and completely unlike Dishonored, Garrett acquires a set of magical powers, allowing him to highlight enemies, slow down time, and move quickly between two points. Also completely unlike Dishonored the game is set against the backdrop of a city in turmoil, thanks to the city’s aristocracy grinding the proletariat under its fancy boots.
Yeah, maybe the game isn’t working that hard to differentiate itself. In fairness, its magic system does work less like a set of tools and more like an “easy button” for actions throughout the game. Having trouble with the lockpicking minigame? Splash around a bit of mana and get a faster, easier one. Want to kill a guard more quickly? There’s magic for that. The one downside is that your energy never regenerates on its own, and must be refilled by one of a limited number of poppy flowers scattered throughout the world.
Beyond that, the game retains all the trappings of previous Thief titles: pickpocketing, searching for multiple points of entry, stealing things… and water arrows. Unfortunately the atmosphere seems bereft of what made the original Thief games, if not for everyone, at least as unique and pivotal as they were.
The reboot sports a swifter pace, significantly brighter environments, and what seem like more easily dispatched enemies. The “action-if-you-want-it” approach is pretty much a given for any big budget stealth game these days, but, for better or worse, the methodical pacing of the older games was definitive.
There is also unfortunately the problem of forced action. The demo I saw concluded with a set piece located in and around a burning bridge, filled with explosions, falling debris, and third-person Uncharted-style climbing. When people talk about games becoming homogenized — incorporating every feature from every game, whether it fits or not — I feel they must have had something like Thief in mind.
While I didn’t witness them myself, I’ve also heard a great deal of talk about myriad technical issues plaguing the build being shown off just now. If that’s true, what we have in Thief is a game which does nothing to distinguish itself from the pack, pays only lip service to the series whose name it carries, and might not even work all that well.
After 10 years of waiting, I’m sure fan expectations for Thief are great. I’m just very doubtful that many of them will be met.