Thoughts: Thief.


This was never going to end well. You can’t resurrect a franchise that’s near-legendary in its ability to make those who played it at the time wax nostalgic about Hammerites and Taffers and expect to please both those people and the new audience of console gamers that this new Thief is designed to attract. Last time that happened we got Thief: Deadly Shadows, and despite being a decent game in its own right it’s something that gets looked down on a lot for not being as good as the originals. When you look at it that way, Thief wins the smallest of victories: it isn’t quite as bad as I was expecting, and I don’t completely hate it. Thief is an okay stealth game, and if its development had gone smoothly I dare say we might even have gotten something on the level of Deadly Shadows out of it. Unfortunately its development didn’t go smoothly (you don’t take five years to make a game like this without fucking up badly at several points along the way) and so Thief ends up being something more like The Bureau: it’s a hodgepodge of ideas and mechanics thrown together into something whose shortcomings and general lack of polish ensure that it’s far less than the sum of its parts.

Let’s start with the City. Contrary to what you might have heard, the level design of the story missions in Thief isn’t actually all that bad. Some of them are distressingly linear, but most are chock full of secret areas and alternate routes that attempt to reward a player who doesn’t just slavishly follow that objective marker.  There’s nothing anywhere near as sprawling as Shipping and Receiving from Thief 2, but that was never going to happen anyway; what’s on offer in this remake is just about as good as I’d expect from the modern console age. The catch is that in order to get to the story missions you have to spend 5-10 minutes slogging through the City, the game’s sprawling hub area that’s so large it has to be cut up into four or five different segements. That in itself is something of an issue in that the transitions between City areas are not always clearly marked; some of them are highlighted by glowing gates, but some are just window entrances that are identical to window entrances you might use to gain access to a shop or a house, and it’s really irritating to have your exploration suddenly interrupted by a loading screen (or two, if you want to get back where you came from). Then you have just how insanely dull the City is. It’s very large, yes, but also largely pointless. It’s visually uninteresting, shrouded in a permanent twilight with no colours used that aren’t drab brown or gloomy grey. There’s lots of nooks, crannies and hidey-holes in it, but there’s nothing in them; it’s extremely disheartening to remove a concealed vent cover, drop down into a hidden area, get the “Secret Area Found!” sound effect, disarm a trap, pick the lock on a chest and open it to find… a cup and an ashtray worth 12 gold pieces.  It betrays a fundamental misunderstanding as to the player’s motivation behind exploring a level; it’s not enough to just splurge out a confusing mess of buildings and assume a player will obsessively comb through the lot just because it’s there. There has to be some incentive, some cool loot or secret or easter egg to reward exploration.


The City doesn’t have any of these things, and as a result I gave up on exploring it several hours in. Even after I minimised the amount of contact I had with it, though, navigating it was still by far the most boring and frustrating element of the game; because of how segmented it is getting to a destination usually involves at least two level transitions, and I had to dodge the magically respawning guards at the same time. This was exacerbated by Garrett’s movement, which is sufficiently awful that it made me realise just how badly I’ve been spoiled by games that do it right. He moves like he’s wearing a pair of concrete overshoes, is incapable of leaping more that a foot in the air and resolutely refuses to do any sort of context-sensitive action unless he’s standing up, leading to absurd deaths where he steps off a ledge and plummets to the ground rather than grabbing hold of the rope that was two feet in front of his face. I spent far, far too much time battling the awkward movement controls and deeply wished they’d taken a few pointers from Assassin’s Creed; it was okay for Garrett to move like a tank in 1998 because we didn’t know any different, but things have moved on slightly in the intervening decade and a half. Thief should have moved with the times instead of plastering itself to a wall when I what I actually wanted was to pick a guard’s pocket.

At least Garrett’s other interactions with the game world are done right. Where most other games would have loot disappearing into some nether dimension when picked up, Thief has his hands shoot out from the sides of the screen and physically swipe it. Where he stashes it afterwards I do not know — which is a little weird considering he must pick up half a metric ton of stuff during any given mission – but I appreciated the way the game constantly tries to create a connection to the game world, with Garrett rifling through desks a drawer at a time, swiping his hand through candles to snuff them our and reaching out to push buttons and switches. This tactile interaction is also used to great effect during the puzzles as Garrett runs his hands across a bookshelf or around the edges of a painting looking for a secret switch. I know it’s just a pretty dressing for what is ultimately a very simple minigame, but it does a great deal to make up for the clunky movement and general failure on Thief’s part to promote any sense of immersion or place.


Thief’s world design is bloody awful, there’s no getting around that. Where the original Thief’s budget, stylised cutscenes did so much to enhance that game’s sense of atmosphere – a critical accomplishment given how primitive the graphics were, even for the time – the reboot uses bland in-engine cutscenes that look just as dull as the rest of the world. Given how effective Garrett’s first-person interactions with the environment are it’s jarring to be yanked out of his body and shown something unutterably tedious happening in a cutscene, usually involving his persistent “nemesis”, the Thief-Taker General, who has some of the most atrociously bad voice acting I’ve heard in a triple-A game in a long time. Not only is his accent horrific, but he mumbles and slurs so many of his lines that I started to suspect the voice actor might have been hitting the drink in order to blunt the pain of having to utter such hackneyed, claptrap dialogue. Sometimes when Garrett is talking to somebody during a cutscene their conversation will suddenly drop in volume while the ambient soundbites of the people around them continue unabated and drowns them out. And those soundbites, holy shit. You thought the guard lines from the original Thief were bad? At least they had a B-movie sort of charm, which is more than I can say for the ambient conversation in the remake. Garrett overhears the usual selection of conversations telling him where to find valuable items as he traverses the City, except these voices appear to come from thin air; I think they’re supposed to originate from poorly soundproofed rooms or something but they sound like the people speaking are right next to Garrett, making it seem more like he’s starting to hear voices in his head. The denizens of the City you can actually see also never shut up, saying at least one line every ten seconds like clockwork. Considering their limited repertoire (they’ve done the weird Elder Scrolls thing of having different voice actors record the same selection of five stock lines) they repeat themselves frequently and often to the point of absurdity; witness the guard patrolling the ancient underground ruins where no-one has set foot for centuries who said, and I quote: “Wish there was a sloop-seller nearby!” If it’s not sloop it’s coffee, or sleep, or a tooth coming loose, and it never, ever stops.

It gets so bad, in fact, that I resorted to brutally beating1 every single guard I saw in a futile attempt to get them to shut the hell up (I was not allowed to do the same thing to civilians because of the difficulty setting I’d picked). I actually enjoyed having to sneak through a catacomb filled with mutant monstrosities later on in the game because they at least didn’t go on and on and on about sloop every five sodding seconds. Of all the insufferable things Thief inflicts on the player the voice acting is probably the worst, followed closely by the economy of thieving and the lip-service paid to side-jobs. I’ll spend about as much effort describing the latter as the developers did putting them into the game: there’s about twenty of them but every single one consists of going somewhere in the City and pressing E, after which you get a generous payment of about 50 gold. Not only is he a miser with his job fees but Garrett’s fence must be making a fortune because he apparently charges a ruinous commission on every item Garrett steals; golden cups and brooches are worth about 6 gold each, while even the supposedly valuable big loot (like a solid gold bust of the City’s ruler) clocks in at around 60 gold. For reference one rope arrow costs 75 gold, while the permanent upgrades required to access alternate routes through a level are 500-1000 gold.  Because the things you steal are next to worthless it strips a lot of the joy out of the act of thievery, which is understandably something of a problem for a game called Thief; time and again you’ll crack open a safe only to find that the loot inside is worth less than the equipment you used to get to the safe in the first place. Where’s the fun in stealing things if they’re not valuable? That I’m even having to ask this rhetorical question of Thief is a solid indicator of just how badly it’s veered off the rails when it comes to the game’s core mechanic.


I’ve spent all this time talking about the world and the act of stealing and almost none whatsoever talking about the stealth gameplay. That’s because it’s solid, but almost completely unremarkable. The light gem is present and correct. Shadows are an almost impenetrable barrier to a guard’s eyesight, and they’ll only spot you if they’re right up close. They’ll hear you coming a lot further away, especially if you’re stamping over broken glass or something, which is why you do spend most of the game shuffling along in a crouch. Caged crows act as noise sensitive alarms, and caged dogs act as proximity alarms. You sneak up behind guards and press Q to do a silent takedown. You drag the bodies away and dump them where nobody will see. In short you do the rote actions you do in literally every other stealth game under the sun, and Thief’s problem here is that its approach to stealth is unimaginative and doesn’t make enough use of its curiously combat-oriented set of gadgets. I can think of at least two games I’ve played in the last couple of years that have done stealth far better than this Thief remake: Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and – despite its many flaws – Dishonored. Given that, I don’t feel like being particularly generous towards Thief just because it didn’t completely fuck up it it’s raison d’etre.

Still, if I don’t feel like being generous I don’t particularly hate Thief either. Once I gave up on the City and started tearing through the missions – with their actually quite good puzzles and level design that made the most of Garrett’s environment interactions — it became mildly diverting, and I dare say I would have made it to the end if not for a persistent save glitch that eventually stopped me in my tracks. The quick version of this: Thief will occasionally fail to save your game state properly, meaning that on loading the save you’ll find that sleeping citizens have been awoken and lights will have been turned off. In my case it failed to reset the swarm of angry guards that was about to stab me to death and I’d foolishly failed to make a separate save, meaning it was something of a game-ender. This is actually a huge bug and I’d be far more annoyed about it if I really cared about finishing Thief, rather than being kind of relieved I didn’t have to play it any more and could make a start on other, more interesting games. I think that reaction – or lack of one – says rather a lot about Thief; it’s a stealth game that is merely average when compared to its competitors and which is stunningly unimaginative throughout, and it does mean that we’ll likely never see a proper continuation of the Thief series after this reboot has turned out to be so awkward. I’d argue, though, that the Thief series in particular has never needed one; it said what it needed to say in the original trilogy and there is something to be said for knowing when to stop. They were groundbreaking games that had a huge impact on gaming, and Thief was never going to repeat that kind of success with a modern reboot. I don’t begrudge it the attempt, but perhaps now that that attempt has been made — and has turned out to be decidedly lacklustre — they’ll finally let Garrett rest in peace.


  1. It’s supposed to be a non-lethal takedown, but the guards you “knock out” are quite clearly dead, as evidenced by the open eyes and general lack of breathing.
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12 thoughts on “Thoughts: Thief.


    This game enraged me. It’s one of those ones where you can talk about its flaws again and again even though the game itself is not so bad. It’s repetitive, has boring linear story mission design with 2 parallel corridors simulating non-linearity (one nice touch is rope arrows having different length depending on designer’s need), side missions in small but sandbox environment feel much more interesting than big story missions, you don’t feel any progression or achievement for stealing cause you have to steal a bag of silverware to afford a fancy arrow. And you get all the useful upgrades in a first several hours of the game, afterwards you can only buy combat upgrades and combat is never a good idea in this game. I like animation and slow pacing, I’ve liked several puzzles. The only big gameplay-related problem I have with the game is the usual stealth one: why wouldn’t I just take down every guard? Or with Garret’s silent cheap deadly arrows, why don’t I kill everyone? Unlike Dishonored’s hero, Garret has a specific personality and despises killing, I get it, but he doesn’t seem to mind till you make him kill disgusting Thief-Taker. The threat of combat forces you to take down everyone or play with atrocious save-load.

    Anyway, I’ve noticed you haven’t said anything about the story. Perhaps cause it doesn’t look so bad at the beginning. But by the end the game becomes a huge ad for Dishonored. I thought Dishonored’s characters were bland and writing was boring. Oh boy. Thief takes every possible story stamp and bruteforces it into the story, not trying to do a story about everything developers thought of (like, again, Dishonored), but misusing every trope and failing story again and again. Characters pull facts out of their asses, those facts do not affect story, have no consequences, have nothing leading to them, they’re just bland tropes. Orion is Baron’s brother – nothing leads to it, nothing comes out of it. The revolution is against Baron – fair enough, but the Gloom was a big factor and you never hear about it once revolution starts, it’s not important anymore. Orion captures the city… And at the same time builds the ship to get out of the city. Erin is now the city spirit, Beggar Queen says. Ancient underground monsters are somehow generated from people by spirits. Asylum has 42 readable notes without getting not a single one important or interesting ones. Erin blatantly jumpscares you for some reason. Thief-Taker takes a lone trip into the heart of Orion’s base.

    And all of it is not just a justification for missions, it’s shoved into your face. The story makes it so that Garret doesn’t steal anything important after the first mission (getting into ruins of some old civilization is not what I’d call stealing), Garret gets boring nonsensical visions, Asylum tries to be Amnesia but throws stuff at you every 5 seconds.

    It’s insulting to have the game with so bland and dumb plot while the gameplay itself forces you to think and plan ahead. Can’t believe those guys have something to do is mostly nice Deus Ex Human Revolution.

    • Hentzau says:

      While it’s Eidos Montreal who are responsible for Thief, the studio is made up of about 350 people and it’s not the same internal team who made Human Revolution.

      And I don’t mention the plot because I encountered my game-ending bug towards the end of Chapter Six, and I’m leery of damning a plot that I’ve only gotten two thirds of the way through ever since the Bureau, which was apparently precisely the point where it started to get interesting. I *will* say that Thief’s plot was utter bollocks up to and including that point, and it would not surprise me at all if it was utter bollocks all the way through to the end. For a game that seems like it’s been welded together out of spare parts left over from aborted development cycles it’s to be expected that the story would be nonsensical; the complete misunderstanding of what made stealing things so satisfying in the original games was in my eyes a far graver error.

      • >I *will* say that Thief’s plot was utter bollocks up to and including that point

        Well, at least you didn’t get to the part where it felt like the game has skipped some cutscenes (we were just standing face to face in the end of the cutscene, why am I suddenly on another side of room?) and haven’t seen how various story lines met with the consistency of Old Spice ad and Gainax ending.

        Making stealing boring and not profitable is what ruins exploring and side-quests. Linear mission design and story makes you suffer for just playing the game.

  2. Darren says:

    I never played any of the older games, so I fortunately don’t have any dog in this fight, but the mixed reviews are definitely going to keep me away from this for the forseeable future. I still need to play through the Dishonored DLC (and that’s a game that I found myself much more pleased with after replaying it) so I’ve got good stealth options for the time being.

    • Hentzau says:

      I don’t want to be one of those people who says “You should really play that game that I’m viewing through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, it was awesome!” but please do try at least the first two Thiefs at some point. As for this Thief, I did try to go into it with an open mind but even so it disappointed me. It’s just not very good, and as you’ve said there’s better stealth experiences to spend your time on.

  3. innokenti says:

    I think the most annoying thing I’ve found so far is the lack of reward for exploration and thievery. Big shiny loot items should be significantly more valuable than the common loot you find around, and medium ones should also at least make it worth the effort of going there.

    I’d be fine if the game didn’t shower you with loot along the common track – but expending rope-arrows and doing a bit of acrobatics and exploration should be appropriately rewarding you with the big bucks.

    The fact that it doesn’t takes a big chunk of the fun of thieving away.

    As you say, the actual stealthing is generally sound, and I think I could get on with this game as a sort of nice little filler if it didn’t damn well randomly crash every 20 minutes.

    (Shows no sign of any problems on High graphics settings, but whether I have them high or low, it just crashes about 20 minutes in, I’ve tried even updating the graphics drivers to the AMD Beta ones… but nothing. Boo. Hiss.)

  4. Oh man I wish you’d get pre-release copies of games you review. Absolutely none of the reviews I read prior to buying the damn thing mentioned any of this, particularly that the simple act of theft is no fun in the game (instead they fixated on how great the customisable difficulty settings were).
    Well, I can console myself that having not played any other thief games I won’t have such a bad time of it. Although like Darren I still need to complete Dishonored+DLC first (having just had exactly the same experience you mentioned in your review, where you could spot the plot twist coming a mile off, and wonder why Corvo couldn’t. It’s the exact same plot twist as used in Metro: Last Light too).

    • Hentzau says:

      The thing is, right, the customisable difficulty settings are nice, but they’ll be used by maybe 5% of the people who play Thief. The other 95% still have to put up with Garrett the rag and bone man, carting away any old junk from a crime scene because it’s the only way he can make any money. A master thief he is most definitely not.

      (There was actually a trivial fix to the problem, too. Keep prices the same as they are, multiply all loot values by 10, and put in some form of money sink that has no point other than prestige. For example Tropico had an option to funnel 10% of all your income to your offshore bank account, which had absolutely no in-game benefit but which increased your score at the end of the game. Something like that.)

  5. Gap Gen says:

    In that first shot, is Garret just an egg with heavy eye shadow attached to a torso?

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