Garrett is a thief with an eye for gold—but his eye acquires a strange power after an accident leaves him unconscious for almost a year.
That's the premise of "Thief," a stealth action video game by Eidos Montreal for the Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC ($59.99).
"Thief" is the fourth installation in a now-classic series that helped define stealth-based video games, and serves as a reboot of the franchise with an all-new story. The game also has the distinction of being the first big-budget stealth-based game for the next-generation video game consoles PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
The game looks good on paper and in its graphics, but has the "Thief" series managed to keep itself on the bleeding edge of game design?
"Thieves and swords do not get along," says Garrett early in the game. He's right — players might be able to take one sword-equipped enemy at a time, but "Thief" never intended to be a fighting game.
Players have to use stealth, speed and strategy to stay behind cover, slip past enemies and nab loot. Garrett's equipment includes a blackjack, a kind of club best used to knock out enemies from behind, and a bow with a variety of trick arrows. The regular arrows can kill enemies if you aim for gaps in their armor, but there's also the rope arrow for climbing, the blunt arrow for hitting distant buttons (such as light switches) and the water arrow for dousing torches.
The latter will probably be your most useful tool, as enemies, naturally, have a harder time seeing Garrett in the dark. Garrett can "swoop" or sprint from cover to cover, but both actions will tire him out if used repeatedly, and both can cause noise, particularly over rough or debris-littered surfaces, which will also alert enemies.
The game is divided into chapters focused around a theft or mission. To begin each, Garrett must cross The City, a sprawling area filled with guards to dodge, houses to pilfer and secret backalleys to explore.
Pressing one of the controller trigger buttons causes Garrett to sprint parkour-like across the rooftops, vaulting over obstacles and scrambling up walls. We encountered occasional problems with this while in The City — Garrett might leap nimbly across one gap only to plummet right down the next.
"Thief" prides itself on giving players multiple avenues to approach every situation, but in our playthrough we didn't really find that to be the case. Certainly in The City there are various routes one can take to get to a destination, but in the chapters themselves any choice that exists usually consists of whether to sneak past some guards, kill the guards, or, if possible, sneak through an air duct to circumvent them entirely.
At the end of each chapter, players are rated on which of three playstyles their performance most echoed: Ghost (meaning you slipped by your opponents instead of attacking them); Opportunist (meaning you knocked out but didn't kill your opponents) or Predator (meaning you used lethal force to achieve your objective). Of these, Ghost is the most difficult and will earn you the most achievement awards.
Nevertheless, it's difficult to actually kill enemies: you'll usually need either sharp arrows or a fire arrow and an oil slick. It would still have been nice if the game gave some way of indicating whether the body lying before you was dead or merely unconscious. At one point we knocked out a guard and then dropped him next to a flight of stairs, which he promptly tumbled down; we rushed to check on him but were unable to determine if the fall had killed him. Only at the end of the level did our Opportunist score tell us that the guard had survived. If the guard had been killed we would probably have gotten a lower score.
Some players will have fun challenging themselves to Ghost playthroughs. But perfectionists beware: the game uses only an autosave feature, so if you die or mess up you'll have to replay a sometimes frustrating amount of progress. It is possible to "cheat" the save limitation by popping into cabinets, which seems to always trigger an autosave.
Overall, it's fun to parkour across medieval rooftops and dart silently between the shadows. However, "Thief" has rough patches that are only exacerbated by a frequently clumsy story.