As a genre, it has always seemed like stealth came and went as it pleased, much as the characters within these games often do to elude detection. Right now, we seem to be in a rather good phase for the stealth game in general. Between the introduction of new mechanics in independent games like Mark of the Ninja, the creation of exciting new franchises like Dishonored, or the return of storied franchises of yore like Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell, there is a lot for Stealth gamers to love. Sadly, the latest version of one of the older stealth franchises there is, Thief, is not one of these games.
The Thief games have been going for almost a full decade, and in the early days of preview coverage, it looked like Thief was going to be able to implement new mechanics from games such as Dishonored while still maintaining the feeling of a Thief game. Sadly, it seems like the constant rumors of serious development problems were well-founded, and there are countless issues that plague what is a game that maintains an interesting concept at its core.
Drawing a comparison between this game and the still somewhat recent Dishonored is almost a bit eerie. Both games involve rather similar plots involving a plague and some sort of dark voodoo magic behind everything, and Thief borrows quite a few ideas from Dishonored, including the existence of several small hub worlds within which are story missions as well as a selection of different side missions that the main character Garrett can choose to undertake or not.
The problem with Thief trying to use these mechanics is that it uses the same high roofs and narrow walkways without considering the fact that it is lacking the one thing that made traversing Dishonoreds world fun, the magical powers. Sure, at the core of Thiefs story lies some magical conspiracy that even after finishing the game remains a bit murky to me, but none of that really manifests itself within the gameplay, leaving you to clumsily search for ways to get up on roofs using context sensitive button presses.
Those button prompts are just the beginning of how Thief seems to constrain you, though. Whereas the older Thief games, particularly the first one, created a sort of open world even within the enclosed spaces of homes and sewer tunnels, every time the player enters a mission in this new Thief, they make a transition from a semi-open hub world to a painfully linear set of hallways and rooms. There is some freedom to how you deal with enemies, but the easy way out is always just to sneak up behind them and knock them out, which isnt hard thanks to the awful enemy AI.
Even stealing things in this new Thief feels wrong. Every time you would steal something in the older Thief games, it felt like a big score, like you were really achieving something. Here, Garrett is stealing literally everything that he can get his hands on from single gold coins to handheld mirrors. Instead of feeling like a master thief, Garrett instead feels like an insane kleptomaniac roaming through the city looking to steal garbage.
Even though the franchise is older than that of Dishonored, everything about this new Thief game feels like it was cribbed from Dishonored and then immediately made worse. Thief feels like what a cheaply produced knock-off version of Dishonored might feel like, and that is its biggest problem. If you like any number of the ideas that Thief puts forward, try out Dishonored.