The Problem With Thief Reviews

The Problem With Thief Reviews

The recent release of Thief has brought with it some of the most varied and odd reviews of a video game in recent times. The reception was been truly mixed. Actually, to be more precise, it’s all over the place, with some critics claiming the game is an utter mess while others heap on the praise. Naturally it begs the question: how much did each reviewer play the game, and were they aware of what kind of game Thief would be beforehand.

This is truly a case of different strokes for different folks, but opinions should be informed–and some Thief reviews seem to everything other than that.

Let’s get this straight for a second: Thief is not the quality experience fans were hoping for. But it’s not a bad game. One of the chief–and valid–criticisms is the AI. Guards plod around environments with little awareness for the events around them. Taking one of them out merely meters away from another should be impossible, but in Thief this is rarely punished due to the AI’s conical field of vision only paying attention to what’s directly in front of them. The AI will often become confused when in pursuit of series protagonist Garret, with them often becoming trapped on scenery or simply freezing and, bizarrely, walking on the spot. In short, it’s extremely unimpressive.

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There are also a lot of valid criticisms regarding the city the game is set in. It’s often a struggle to go from one mission to the next, leaving players a little lost and confused. It’s a not a huge issue, but it does result in some frustration. The main issue with Thief‘s environment, though, is the way in which it approaches climbing and traversing the surroundings. We, as a video game playing collective, have become accustomed to smooth and fluid methods of climbing the environment with very little being off limits. Mirrors Edge, Assassin’s Creed, and Dishonored (whose very lineage belongs to that of Thief) all provide great examples of how climbing and exploration should be done in context of the game’s tone and genre, and provide a stark contrast to that of Thief‘s rigid movement system.

Thief often leaves the player scratching their head as routes that seem possible turn out to be hidden behind invisible walls. There are certain roofs, drains, pipes etc. that appear to be climbable but are in fact insurmountable, giving the whole game a linear feel that clamps down on the player’s options. And this is a pretty big issue given the game’s focus on movement and the idea of the player playing as a ‘grand master thief’. It detracts from the experience and makes the player feel restricted and forced in how they wish to approach things.

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There are more issues outside of the aforementioned, but at its heart there is a good game bursting to get out. Thief does a decent job of nailing the stealth gameplay element and actual system of thievery, especially when the game is set to harder settings via the fantastic customizable difficulty options. There’s enough of a decent game threatening to burst out from between the seams for Thief to be appreciated.

While the game lacks a visual spark and sense of character, there is a strange feeling of oppression rooted to the core of the game’s universe. Perhaps this is why the game has garnered such a mixed response; people can see/feel the potential but it’s rarely built upon throughout the game. People handle disappointment in various ways, but maintaining an informed and fair view is vital in a review.

The divide between the negative and merely lukewarm reviews is seemingly caused by the way in which the reviewer handles disappointment. Those who keep a level head and outline the core issues while ensuring they praise the success give a true representation of the flawed product. The negative reviews are often marred with nostalgia of past entries in the franchise, giving Thief the almost impossible task of topping treasured memories. There is, of course, the  other issue of a number of reviewers reviewing the game with little to no experience in the stealth genre; this is perhaps the most prominent problem, though not entirely of the reviewer’s own making.

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One of the elements of Thief that can cause such variation in its reviews is the multiple ways in which players can approach each situation. Players can take a number of alternate paths to reach their end goal, with each path having a focus on either pure stealth or a more opportunistic predatory method. Some of these paths feel far more developed than others. To truly get the best experience possible, re-playing missions multiple times is often required. It’s a rather big ask, but a rewarding one nevertheless.

Thief, on the whole, is simply adequate, though certainly not worth the asking price. It’s nothing more and nothing less. When viewed as a game on its own merits, it’s easy to pass off the game as a flawed experience with unexplored potential. When viewed through the eyes of a Thief fan, however, the game might get a much more negative reaction. This is not the game fans were wanting; it does not uphold the ethos and themes of past games (for the most part). The truth is viewing the game in that light is rather redundant given the different team of developers behind the game compared to the previous entries. There is still an enjoyable experience clawing to get out irrespective of that, but it’s held back in favor of undercooked mechanics and a rather distorted plot. Is it a great game? No. But it is an awful game? Hell no. It is simply a frustratingly adequate game.

 

 

Sean Halliday


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