Thief is a dark game. And by that I mean DARK! Like, perpetual night, everything is damp, the colors are cold, and even the fires and torches seem to give only partial respite from dreary, tired…blah! I’ve played games that have been dark before, but nothing like this. Typically in games that I play, it will be that one “dark” or “gothic” level or dungeon. For the most part, the designers try to make the most visually appealing landscape possible, with lush colors and vibrant themes that bring the player’s senses alive. They maintain this method pretty well, and then create a that one “dark” stronghold or sequence to give the game’s environment some contrast. Thief is the absolute opposite. Here, EVERYTHING is dark. EVERYTHING is damp. With the fires around the city, I feel that if I were to stand beside one, I would be able to warm my hands but I wouldn’t get enough warmth to dry my coat, and my boots and back would remain cold and soggy.
Take these descriptors and place them in a world of mild steampunk, poverty, gothic, and a touch of the occult, and you’ve got “The City”, the ominous, non-descript world that our story takes place. It’s as if HP Lovecraft added a twist of tech in lieu of The Elder Gods.
As I am writing this, I have just completed the Moira Asylum Chapter, about halfway through the main storyline. As every cop movie is required to have at least one scene in a strip club, every horror setting has to pass through an insane asylum. Not that we didn’t take a trip through a Brothel in “Skin Market”, because ofcourse how do you get to someone’s dirty secrets without going to the most morally dirty establishment in the city?
The entire game thus far has taken place in a dark, damp, and dirty city simply known as “The City”. There is not official name for The City other than that, but you will see an on screen notification pop up when you enter different districts or regions, like Black Market or The Gullet. Garret’s personal base of operation is appropriately in the top of the Clock Tower, located in the middle of The City.
The questing is split up like most modern game with the main storyline following a linear path and the occasional side quests becoming available as side jobs and bounties. For the most part, every quest or mission takes place within it’s own distinct and separate map or building within The City.
The Bounties that Garret receives from his contact Basso are mostly “Person of Interest has recently received a bribe from Local Scum. Break in to Person’s house and steal it!” are simple and straight forward. In this case, you would then follow a map marker to the Person of Interest’s house/apt, find your way up to the only open window, duck a trap, pick a lock or two, and find the safe with the bounty. As soon as you obtain the bounty/bribe/trinket of value, you’ll see a message flash on the screen to let you know that the “mission” was completed.
The other side missions are Client Jobs. Thus far, these are available from two men: A Circus Side Show Scammer and overly enthusiastic showman named Vitorri, and an oddly curious mechanical tinkerer Ector. Both men’s missions require Garret to make his way to a remote part of the city and take on a whole different map. In this map, there are a whole set of additional loot and collectibles to find and score. These missions are completely separate from the main game. Sometimes, these can follow a “search and retrieve” mission format, requiring Garret to infiltrate an aristocrat’s home and recover a lost or stolen item while evading the hired guards or personal security. These side missions are much more complex than the Basso bounties and require a bit of patience as you make your way through.
So far, I have completed two missions for each of these men, and they are themed to go along with their personas. Vitorri has had me retrieve for him a talking “fortune telling” bejeweled skull and an Eight-Legged Cat that her refers to as an “Octo-puss”. My personal favorite part of his missions are the snarky one-liners that Garret interjects during their conversations! Ector is in the process of constructing an Android, but seems to have either sold off or lost parts of it. Thus far, I’ve retrieved for him a mechanical Hand from a garment maker and voice box from a trader. I’m not entirely sure where this mission line is going, but I totally want to see an automaton in action!
So far, the story line has been easy to follow: You begin the game in the middle of a job with Erin, your protégé. Erin is a bit on the arrogant side, and Garret isn’t too impressed. She sees herself as proud and able, while Garret sees her as reckless and inexperienced. Conversely, Erin sees Garret as “over the hill” and soft, while Garret sees himself as the road proven veteran. As the two make their way through the intro mission job, you go through the basic tutorial type stuff: Birds in cages will squawk and flap hysterically if you move to quickly past them. Hold L-Trigger (I’m playing on Xbox One) to run, free-run, and climb. That sort of stuff.
At the climax of the Intro, Garret and Erin are climbing across the glass roof of some kind of church and they witness a dark ritual in process. The Ritual is fairly vague, but it has something to do with a gem or artifact known as “The Primal”. This “Primal” is presented during the height of the ritual, which appears to be some form of summoning. However, The City being as old and decrepit as it is, the building cannot handle the stresses of the ritual and everything starts to fall apart around them. Garret and Erin crash through, and Erin gets, ermm, “caught” in the Primal? I think? Garret promptly blacks out when trying to save her, and everything fades to black. If that’s even possible given the pervasive blackness of the entire setting!
The game ultimately begins with Garret waking up in the back of a cart under a tarp. He’s being drawn along through the streets, and apparently the whole city has gone to an even deeper level of hell, and for some unknown reason the two men pulling this cart along are hell bent on getting Garret to a safe location. For some reason, Garret, specifically Garret, has been kept alive for the past year or so, and now The City needs him.
From there, the plot hasn’t really taken any significant twists. As stated above, we’ve already made the token trips in to a Brothel (with plenty of dark secrets hidden beneath it) and over to an Insane Asylum (with all the antiquated “treatment” methods). Where we go from here is anyone’s guess, but I’m sure i’m not done with lurking around in the shadows in another nobleman’s mansion.
As we were leading up to the release of Thief, the reviews started pouring in ranging from “tolerable” to “excellent with flaws”. My personal take is of the latter: This game is fantastically crafted, but with a handful of glaring flaws. The first and most important thing to remember is that this is a THIEF game. Not Assassin’s Creed, definitely not a Military Shooter like BF or COD, and in no way any form of RPG. This game is so, SO heavily geared for stealth is ridiculous and challenging. Certain critiques made by other outlets regarding the ineffectivity of the blackjack are completely justified. But it’s a blackjack. It’s not meant as a flashy melee weapon! It’s meant for sneaking up behind an unsuspecting guard and knocking him out with. Even with the Take Down animations, Garret does not pull off some kind of artistic or flashy beat-down sequence. He simply cups his hand over the guard’s mouth, clubs him a good one, and settles the now limp body gently on the ground. While it may seem boring to the new day’s high-excitement fashion, Thief remains true to it’s essence. Hide in the shadows, snatch a pocket watch, and leave without leaving a trace.
As you explore The City, you will notice that certain elements will momentarily take on a blue “glow”. These are elements that Garret can interact with. Such elements can be ladders that he can climb, lattice that he can use to climb, light switches, locks, ropes, and other such interactibles. This helps plotting courses to reach out-of-the-way locations. For example, in a few of the bounty missions I could clearly see the window that I had to reach, but there was no obvious way of reaching it. Thus, I had to do a bit of reconnaissance and back tracking to see what I may be able to scale or interact with. A well placed arrow shot to dislodge a pulley, which drops a ladder for me to climb. On my way up, I can pop a Rope Arrow to truss and use that as a new ladder to another cross beam. Pass through a window or two to get around to the other side of a building, and I’m finally where I need to be. Gamers who had played “Mirror’s Edge” will immediately recognize this as blue variant of “Runner’s Vision“. In fact, the entire free-running system feels directly derived from Mirror’s Edge. That is, except for the wall running/jumping. Garret’s vertical mobility comes from climbing walls and his rope arrows.
When traveling around The City, there are a couple of mini-games that the player must occasionally complete. One such mini-game is lockpicking. When picking a lock, the player must circle a thumbstick to find the sweet spot to engage the tumbler. As the player circles around, they will feel the controller rumble a bit and a series of dots fill in. The more the controller rumbles and the more filled the dot becomes, the close your are to the sweet spot. Once you think you’ve got it, you’ve got to pull the R Trigger to engage the tumbler and move on to the next. The locks vary in difficulty from 3 easy tumblers that rumble all over the place to 5 that barely give the player any feedback. Note: I’ve already purchased the most sensitive set of lockpicks available (see next section for more info), making this process a bit easier for me.
Unfortunately, there is one GLARING shortcoming regarding this game: and that is the dialogue. Not that it’s poorly written, but good GOD can someone please patch the proximity volume? I can be eavesdropping on a pair of guards, and I can hear one guard as if I’m walking with him and the other will be completely silent! Worse yet, if the system decides that I am within and audible range of a speaker, their voice jumps directly to full blast. I’ll be snooping around a window, four stories up, and I have to AGAIN hear about how Polly Adler is the sweetest smelling “dock frock” in Skin Market! For the love of which ever divine entity you choose, PATCH IT!
TOOLS OF HIS TRADE
Speaking of Rope Arrows, Garret has quite the array of special use arrows available to his disposal. I typically like to find a handful of techniques that work well in a game and with my play style, and just stick to those so I am yet to experiment with all of his toys….yet! Aside from his Rope Arrows, which can only be used in certain designated locations, he also has standard “Broad Side” arrows for offence, Saw Tooth for that extra-damage shot, Water Arrows that can extinguish open flame light sources (remember, he hides in darkness. More darkness = more mobility), Choke Arrow that cause a cloud of choking fumes, Flame Arrows that can light things on fire (look out for oil puddles!), Blast Arrows for things that you want to make go BOOM! and the utilitarian Blunt Arrows, for a cheap alternative for interacting with elements. For instance, you can actually push a light switch from a distance with an arrow, as well as knocking a pulley loose to drop an item or ladder. Broad Side arrows can be pricey, and other arrow are just down right expensive, such as the Saw Tooth for 50 gold a piece. Blunt Arrows are only 5 gold, making those mundane tasks much more cost effective!
Garret also has an additional arsenal of toys for other specific tasks. From a merchant, you can also purchase a razor (Stealing paintings), Lock picks, a twist wrench (open sewer grates and other duct vent covers) and wire cutters (disarming traps). All of these make you questing much easier and rewarding. If there’s something that I could possibly interact with, chances are it will make my life of sneaking easier!
Trinkets and upgrades can be purchased from merchants for additional gameplay upgrades. I was able to purchase all of the above mentioned items relatively early in the game, being that I made stealth a priority over upgrading attack or health. These trinkets bestow Garret with bonuses to his health and abilities, such as a “Warm Shirt” that increases is overall health or a lucky coin that helps him Aim with his bow better. He can also purchase upgrades to his current equipment, such as padding for his leather armor for protection, or increased sensitivity for his lockpicks.
So far, Thief has been nothing short of fantastic despite the internet outrage over it. The thing that gamers, and I’m going to assume that this next statement is more geared towards the younger ones, need to remember is that this series isn’t about the combat or action. It’s not about a kill count or ratio. Honestly, the focus of this game is about remaining hidden and stealing everything that isn’t nailed down! To enjoy this game, you have to accept and fully commit to the stealth style of gameplay. There really is no other way to play, and it was designed as such.
I know I titled this post as such and I beat the concept to death in the beginning, but I can not stress enough of utterly DARK this game truly is! I am not talking the just the literal sense either, as in everything is poorly lit. I am talking every other figurative and metaphorical sense of the word! There is nothing, I mean NOTHING happy about this game, it’s environment, or it’s dialogue. As you progress, the passerbys talk about this sickness that’s over taking The City that’s referred to as “The Gloom”, which given the context couldn’t have any other name. Everything in this game is “Gloomy”. This is one of those rare instances in entertainment where something is so miserable it’s fantastic! The designers of this game were going for a very definite and exact feel, and they focused in on it. There is little to no variation in climate between the environments, and I love it.
This game is not for everyone. At a recent trip to Gamestop, I was conversing with one of the workers about what games were coming out and which ones I was playing, and the young lad was doing a great job in making suggestions! As we got to talking, he suggested that I take a look at Titanfall, given it’s high ratings and reviews. Here’s the thing: I acknowledged that it is a great game, but I actually have no interest in playing it. The reason? I’m not a fan of multi-player. I don’t have any aversion to it, it’s just not my style. I grew up in the golden age of JRPGs, where I would spend HOURS grinding up my crew before the next big boss fight. I explore every vault in Fallout, I have two concurrent playthoughs in Mass Effect and Dragon Age, one as a “good guy” where I help and suck-up to everyone and one where I basically roll through with both middle fingers up in the air, just to see how the storyline changes. The thought of a multi-player only game does nothing for me. And that’s where we bring it back to Thief: if stealth isn’t your style, don’t bother with this game. If you don’t want to quietly sit in silence, waiting for that perfect time to swoop past a guard, then a game titled “Thief” probably isn’t going to be your style.
And that’s the problem with a simple numeric rating, even with the additional pros/cons listed. If you love the stealth style and have a thing for Lovecraftian horror, this is the must have game for your collection! If you are all about your kill ratio and have a steady crew that you game with in co-op missions, you may want to just let this game pass you by.