Friday, January 8, 2016

The New 2014 Thief Reboot Sucks

Dear game developers: if you're going to make a new game in an established series, especially one that's been dormant for years, please give it a title that distinguishes it from the previous entries in the series. Don't give it the exact same name as the original game, or the series in the general. When I type something like "Thief mechanics" or "Thief level design" into a search engine, how does it know which game I'm referring to? When I'm talking with people about the newest game in the series, what do I call it? The new Thief? The Thief reboot? Thief 2014? Thief 4? Thi4f.? It drove me nuts with Tomb Raider, and I'm not looking forward to being in this same situation again when Doom comes out in 2016. I mean really, this whole trend is getting ridiculous and needs to stop.

I pretty much knew from the beginning, when Eidos Montreal released the teaser with the title officially stylized as "Thi4f," that the game was going to be rubbish. Mind you, I pretty much expect to be disappointed by virtually all mainstream AAA games these days, but my cynicism kicks in even stronger when it comes to revivals of beloved classics, and Eidos Montreal's efforts with Deus Ex: Human Revolution left me more skeptical than optimistic that they could do a better job reviving Thief. Looking past the rubbish name, I find that the game itself is rubbish too. It's not just that this is a bad Thief game, and it most certainly is -- it's disappointing even as a game in general. The fact that this is supposedly "Thief" just makes it that much harder to stomach.

As a reboot, this new Thief shares a lot of elements from the first three games while not being canonically tied to them. The protagonist is still named Garrett and he still has a different-colored eye, but he's not the same person as before. It still takes place in The City, a quasi-steampunk Victorian-era industrial city with the same district names, but it's a different city than before. The story centers around a young woman named Erin, a young thief Garrett took under his wing. The game begins with a prologue mission sequence in which you, as Garrett, run along the city rooftops with Erin before infiltrating a mansion. There, the two of you witness a magic ritual, and Erin falls into the magical energy field creating a huge explosion. You wake up an entire year later with no memory of what happened or where you've been, and discover that the city is suffering a deadly epidemic known as "the gloom." You spend the rest of the game tracking down Erin in hope of rescuing her.

Infiltrating the mansion with Erin in the prologue sequence.

The story failed to inspire much motivation in me, as a player, to push forward in the game. The whole point is that you're supposed to be concerned for the well-being of Erin, but the game didn't give me nearly enough time to develop an attachment or even an acquaintance with her. In fact, her characterization had the opposite effect on me, with her rash behavior (killing innocent guards, rushing ahead without checking if the coast is clear) and cliche dialogue ("I'm not a kid anymore," "You're holding me back") making me actively dislike her. Garrett himself even seems more annoyed with her than fond of her, and they don't even make it clear what relation she actually is to Garrett; is she a close friend, a sister, his partner, his protege? We know next to nothing about them at the start of the game, and only get vague hints over the rest of the game, which raise more questions than answers.

Garrett, meanwhile, doesn't feel like Garrett at all. For some reason, they decided to do away with Stephen Russell's iconic voice and got someone else to play the role. But Garrett isn't just any character you can slap a new voice on and have him be the same person; Garrett is Stephen Russell. Romano Orzari attempts to mimic Russell's voice but doesn't pull off the same type of confident swagger, and ends up making Garrett sound like any generic, monotonous grim-voiced character from any other game. If they were going to hire a different actor, then they probably should have let him do something different with the role so that we could maybe appreciate a new interpretation of the character instead of being stuck with what is merely a lame substitute for the real thing.

It's not just his voice that's different; everything about him feels somewhat off. It used to be that he was against killing because it was unprofessional; a true thief should avoid leaving any signs that he was there, and if it was absolutely necessary to dispense a guard, then it was best to knock him out so as not to leave a bloody mess at the scene. Now, when he witnesses Erin kill a guard, he objects on purely moral grounds: "He was barely older than you!" The whole time we have to listen to him talk like a grumpy father scolding his children and worrying about the mission getting too dangerous, instead of hearing his usual professional determination and almost arrogant level of confidence. His appearance reflects his new writing in an equally unpleasant way, with the emo eye shadow and goth leather attire. He even feels different mechanically; with the game's new emphasis on free-running parkour, third-person Uncharted-style platforming/climbing, fast dodging, aerial drop-down attacks, and "swooping," he feels more like a ninja or an assassin than a thief.

"Press Square to watch cinematic takedown." Truly engaging gameplay at work.

The game is also apt to break its own immersion by constantly pulling you out of Garrett's perspective and seizing control from you to play out its own pre-made cutscenes. It's really jarring when you're working your way through a level and suddenly are forced to watch a long cutscene in which you get caught completely beyond your control. Most of the game's main story occurs in these cutscenes, and I found myself constantly zoning out because I wasn't actually involved in what was happening on screen. It was pretty bad, one time, when I sat through a four minute cutscene and found myself swiping through newsfeeds on my phone instead of paying attention to the game. Once I was back in control, I realized I had no idea what actually happened in the cutscene, so I went on YouTube planning to watch it with deliberate attention, and still found myself zoning out halfway through it.

At other times throughout every mission, the game suddenly pulls you out of its normal routine of player-driver exploration and infiltration to force you into a heavily scripted action sequence or story sequence, the likes of which force you to go through a linear sequence of actions to make the scene play out along its rail-roaded trajectory, going to all the right places and pressing the right buttons in the right order like it's some kind of glorified quick-time event. These consist of moments like when you're caught in a mansion, triggering a frantic chase scene where you basically just hold down forward and the sprint key, or when you have to escape through burning buildings while the floors collapse out from under you. Other times you're pulled into a hallucinatory dream world where you just walk along linear paths picking things up off the ground while people talk to you. These moments just kill the gameplay because they take all meaningful input away from the player.

The original Thief games, particularly the first two, strived not only to be good stealth games, but to be what they called "immersive simulators." This was achieved by the constant use of first-person perspective that left you constantly in tight control of the protagonist, and the consistent set of rules implemented to allow you, as Garrett, to interact with the world. You had the freedom to move about the world as you pleased, freely jumping or climbing onto any plausible surface. There were no invisible walls or un-climbable ledges -- unless it was out of reach. Your tools, likewise, could be used freely within a logical, plausible sense. Rope arrows could be attached to any wooden surface; you just aimed and put the rope wherever you wanted it to be. If the designers didn't want you using rope arrows in a particular situation, then they just didn't put wooden surfaces in the area. Basically, these games let you do whatever seemed like the most reasonable thing in any given scenario, thus letting you create your own solutions to every obstacle.

Aiming a water arrow to douse a burning fire. 

This new Thief doesn't adhere to these principles of creative freedom or consistent rules at all. Every interaction you can possibly have with the environment has been scripted in advance. Using rope arrows to reach inaccessible areas, throwing objects to distract guards, lighting oil spills on fire, leaning around corners, and jumping/climbing onto surfaces can only be done in areas the game specifically intends you to. You can climb some things, but not others; you can pick up and throw some objects, but not others; you can open some doors and windows, but not others; you can crawl through some narrow passages, but not others; you can fall to your death off some ledges, but not others; you can lean around some corners, but not others. The act of simply interacting with the world proves so maddeningly infuriating at times, because the rules are so inconsistent that you often can't do the most natural, logical thing in a given situation.

At one point I was trying to break into a three-story apartment building from a neighboring rooftop; there was a rope hot spot nearby, which let me dangle a rope right outside the second and third floor windows. Except, the third floor window was barred. The rope looked perfectly within reach, so I tried jumping onto it, planning to lower myself down to the second floor window and work my way up to the third floor. And I ran straight off the ledge to my death without jumping, presumably because the game didn't intend for me to jump onto the rope from that angle. I died two more times trying to jump onto the rope before figuring out I was supposed to break into the third floor through a vent on the other side of the building, open the bars, and then jump on the rope from inside the building to lower myself down to the second floor window. I just about had a brain aneurysm here, because the rope was equidistant from the rooftop ledge and the third floor window; how did the game expect me to know I wasn't supposed to jump onto the rope from the rooftop? And furthermore, why couldn't I jump onto the rope from the rooftop?

Then you've got all the absurd nonsense going on with the interface that shows GPS waypoint markers for each of your objectives, enemy health bars, enemy "alert status" bars, a rotating mini-map, interaction button prompts, and arrow accuracy indicators, in addition to other things like sparkling loot and object highlights, all of which is turned on by default. I turned all that crap off because that's just not how a Thief game should played, and I found most of it incredibly distracting. I got really annoyed by all the floating messages constantly telling me to "Press L2 to climb" or "Press square to peek" in obvious situations, but then struggled numerous times to figure out what the hell I was supposed to do when those prompts weren't there in unusual, idiosyncratic situations, like "Hold square to jump onto meat hook." I spent a couple minutes trying to jump onto it with the usual L2 prompt, and tried both pressing and holding square, but I apparently wasn't close enough to trigger the cutscene animation and had no way to know that was the case.

Using focus vision to highlight all of the interactive stuff. 

Likewise, I turned object highlight on because I wanted to be able to tell what I was targeting, so that I wouldn't get screwed by the context-sensitive action button doing something different than I intended, like opening a drawer or going into peek mode when I simply wanted to take something off a desk, but that had the unintended consequence of permanently illuminating all of the game's windows, ropes, and other climbable surface a bright immersion-breaking blue. The context-sensitive L2 button is particularly atrocious, since it has sprint, jump, and climb all mapped to the same button; while trying to run away from alerted guards, I found myself constantly climbing up and sliding over surfaces I didn't mean to. In a couple situations I pressed L2 hoping to climb onto a ledge, only to discover that I couldn't, causing my character instead to sprint in place for a moment thus alerting the nearby guards.

The guards themselves have really inconsistent behavior, too, which makes it impossible to predict what will happen when you try to do something. If you throw a glass bottle to distract some guards, some will move towards the source of the noise, while others will simply turn and look. Sometimes, only the nearest one will go to inspect the noise; other times multiple guards will do so. Sometimes guards would walk right past me and I'd wonder how in the world they didn't see me, while other times they'd spot me from across the room when I felt sure I was hidden.

This new Thief brings back the iconic light gem, which helped you determine your visibility in the previous games by indicating how well-concealed you were in the darkness. The light gem of olden days had something like eight or more different shades that progressively filled up from completely dark to fully illuminated as you stepped in and out of shadows; the new light gem in Thief 2014 only has three states -- hidden, visible, and some stage in-between. Perhaps that's all you really need, but the light gem in this game doesn't help at all, since you can be completely hidden in darkness and still be spotted by guards at a reasonable distance, while other spaces look like they'd enshroud you in complete darkness, but then you step into them and discover that your light gem is only partially darkened, or worse yet in some inexplicable cases, fully illuminated.

The tutorial message explaining the light gem.

With the game's incredibly narrow field of view that prevents you from having any kind of peripheral vision whatsoever, along with your general inability to hear guard footsteps or noises because of the game's horrendous sound mixing, it's really hard to anticipate guards because you usually don't see or hear them coming. That's probably why the game has all these extraneous audio-visual cues telling you things about the mechanical state you're in, because they didn't do a good enough job creating consistent guard behavior or shadows. Every time you step into the light, the screen flashes a bright white to tell you "HEY, YOU'RE VISIBLE NOW!" And every time a guard spots you, there's this loud musical accent to tell you "HEY, YOU'VE BEEN SPOTTED!" Often times, the only reason I know I've even been spotted is because I hear the music chime in, and the only way to readily know I'm stepping out of darkness is by the blinding white light.

Poor immersive feedback makes stealth rather unsatisfying most of the time, because it makes the game rely far too heavily on the bad type of trial-and-error. The game often gives you very limited windows of time in which you can safely perform an action, like taking out a guard or sneaking past him, before those options are permanently taken away from you or before it gets much harder to do so. A guard may walk past the door to the room you're in, giving you a few seconds to sneak around the corner behind cover or into another room, before he turns around to lean his back against the wall and stare straight out into the room for the rest of eternity. If you didn't move when his back was turned, then your only options are to throw a glass bottle to distract him, get caught and take him down in a head-on battle, or else reload a save and try again.

In one scenario, it took me five or six tries to figure out the exact timing and order of operations: open a door to distract the guard, swoop around to the other door and go inside, grab the candle, cut out the painting, swoop out of the room, close the door [so that the original guard wouldn't see me as he was returning to his original position], turn off the light [so the guard in the other hallway who was going to turn around wouldn't see me], and grab another candle. There had to be enough of a delay between opening the first door and entering the second so that the guard wouldn't see me in his peripheral vision as he was walking out, and yet I needed to get in there as soon as I could to give myself enough time to grab everything and get out safely. That left me with about a one second window to work with on both ends of the sequence; any minor slip-ups and I'd have to start over again.

Picking a lockbox before the fire spreads and engulfs you. 

It gets many times worse in other scenarios when you have 6-8 dynamic variables to contend with, leading to dozens of possible combinations of things you can do, in certain orders, trying to find that one combination that lets you get through an area undetected. In some of the game's more complex situations, where they give you a more "open" floor plan with multiple patrolling guards and several points of interaction in the environment, I had to spend 30-45 minutes just to find that exact, perfect combination of actions that would get me through the "room" undetected.

That may seem like a good thing, that the game gives you enough options that I could spend that much time picking a desirable course of action, but the element of choice is just an illusion. Guards rely too heavily on scripted behaviors, for instance -- "spawning" only when you cross a certain threshold, or waiting until you cross a certain point to start a certain sequence of actions. You walk halfway through an empty room, and a guard walks in behind you, despite the fact that you've knocked out every guard in the level to that point. Other guards wait until you nearly turn the corner before they walk into view. It's like the game is trying to force moments of quick-thinking improvisation on you, but it really just makes the game feel phony, staged, and artificial; it doesn't really matter what you do in the game because it's going to force so many things to happen a certain way.

The level design, in particular, doesn't really allow you to improvise or come up with your own strategies; it always feels like the game is shoehorning you into two or three predetermined paths. This is no better evidenced than the rope arrows, which can only be used in predetermined spots to serve a predetermined purpose. It doesn't feel like you're using them proactively to come up with your own creative solution to a problem, but rather like you're using them reactively to do what the game explicitly tells you. The only choice you have in that scenario is to use the rope in the exact way the designers intended, or else not use it at all, which isn't much of a satisfying choice. Even when you're picking a different route, like gaining entry to the mansion by climbing through a window, as opposed to going through the cellar, they tend to be only minor deviations along the main path through the level.

Peering down at guards from a cross beam in the rafters. 

Levels in this game are incredibly linear, often completely devoid of exploration and figuring things our for yourself. In chapter four, you're given the objective to "find the jail cells," and you simply follow the one and only path through the giant, towering Keep until you conveniently arrive at the jail cells. And then you have to "find the great safe," and once again you just follow the only path until you conveniently arrive there. On a larger scale, the missions are always broken into two or three chunks that have to be completed in order, in a certain way, before crossing a point of no return and moving onto the next chunk. The main reason for all the linearity, I suspect, is because of the game's reliance on heavy-handed storytelling; things have to happen a very specific way in order for the elaborate cutscenes and storyboards to make sense, so the level design necessarily reflects the pacing of the story instead of focusing more on facilitating gameplay.

The original games usually dropped you outside an enclosed area and said "steal the precious item." There were certain preliminary goals you had to accomplish to reach those ends, but it was often up to you to figure out where the item was and how to get to it. It made you feel like a thief: casing the joint, studying it for weaknesses, getting in, mapping the layout (without the aid of a mini-map), solving the puzzle, and getting out. Each level was like a sandbox that let you do your own thing. Objectives in the new Thief deal less with actual thievery in these types of open-ended sandboxes; instead of having to get something, you're usually trying to get somewhere, so that you can get to the next location, and then the next location, so that you can find something out about what happened to Erin.

There's really no challenge in figuring anything out, either. With the mini-map that shows the entire layout of the level and your exact position in it, the waypoint markers telling you exactly where to go and how far away your next destination is at any given time, and the "focus vision" that magically highlights every interactive thing in the environment, you basically just coast through the levels without having to actually think about where you're going or what you're doing. Thankfully you can turn all of this off if you want a slightly more "old school" Thief experience, but the level design still follows this principle of dumbed-down linearity. When a message pops up on screen telling you to "find the hidden passage" in the room you're in, you'd think there'd be at least some kind of puzzle or challenge involved that required keen observation and clever deduction skills. But, in this game, you just casually glance around the room and find the super obvious, giant gold-framed painting that's illuminated by the only light in the room, which you can immediately guess has hidden switches behind it exactly like all the other countless "hidden switch paintings" you've encountered before.

The front entrance to Moira Asylum. 

The crown jewel of level design in the new Thief has to be the Moira asylum, which is obviously attempting to be "the scary level" like the Shalebridge Cradle was in Deadly Shadows, or Return to the Cathedral was in Thief: The Dark Project. To its credit, the Moira asylum was actually spooky and unsettling. Per the usual, I'm so desensitized to horror games that nothing truly scared me -- even the few jump scares had no effect whatsoever -- but I did find myself holding my breath as I slowly crept forward, nervous any time I turned a corner or turned around. Basically, the Moira asylum is what I was expecting from the Shalebridge Cradle, but did not get -- weird supernatural stuff going on like ghostly visions, mannequins that reposition themselves when you aren't watching, doors mysteriously unlocking themselves, or bloody messages suddenly appearing on the walls. It was enough to put me just a little on edge and kept my attention firmly glued to the screen with fascination. So, well done Thief, you actually impressed me with this level.

The game makes up for the linear missions by offering a rather large hub, in the form of The City, that you can explore between missions. You can break into people's homes to steal extra loot and find valuable collectibles, or visit several shops to spend your money on supplies and upgrades to your equipment and abilities, or even take on optional side missions with their own separate levels, storylines, and objectives. It's basically taking the idea introduced in Deadly Shadows and expanding it into something more substantial, which is certainly a worthwhile endeavor. After all, it helps the immersion somewhat by leaving you in Garrett's perspective between missions, and it gives back some of that freedom that's lost in the overly restrictive, linear missions. Unfortunately, the City hub is a colossal mess that's a chore to navigate and simply not that fun.

The City is made up of dozens of narrow, labyrinthine streets that all look virtually identical. There's no sense of structure or organized layout to the City because everywhere looks and feels like ramshackle slums -- few places actually stand out in any kind of unique, memorable sort of way. It was pretty bad when I entered a brand new district and thought to myself "this all looks so familiar. Have I been here before? I can't tell." I spent a lot of time in this game breaking into the same buildings over and over again because I could never recognize any of them as buildings I'd already infiltrated, or because I was desperately trying to find a transition point that would load me into the next district of the City, which aren't marked at all on your map. Simply trying to get from one end of the City to another is a major pain, because all of the roadblocks and guard patrols force you to go really far out of your way finding an obscure, indirect detour.

Climbing onto the rooftops.

The City is basically broken into two planes -- the ground-level streets and the rooftops. Being able to run along the rooftops is a cool idea, reinforced by the classic "Thieves' Highway" level from Thief 2, but the streets and rooftops are almost entirely separate planes of existence in this game. It's really difficult to transition between the two planes; often times you get stuck on the rooftops trying to figure out how the hell to get down, and vice versa. When faced with a closed gate to the next district, I looked up and found a glowing blue window with a series of beams and ledges leading away from it. Figuring that was where I had to get to, I spent nearly two whole minutes backtracking and looking every which way trying to figure out just how in the world I was supposed to get up there. Eventually I gave up, and several hours later discovered that the only way to get up to those beams is to enter the district through a completely different loading zone, which wouldn't become available to me until later.

Completing side missions in this unwieldy map is almost unbearable. Between main missions, you can pick up jobs from a man named Basso, who periodically picks up information on where special loot can be had in the City. These, however, are all just menial tasks with waypoint markers to loot. There's a one-paragraph backstory for each job, but when the game bombards you with six or eight of them at a time it's hard to keep track of what's actually going on in each one. Basso has a few clients who hire you take on more elaborate side missions, which have their own special mission maps and scenarios, like breaking into a bank to steal a precious necklace from the vault, or helping a bumbling drunk stumble his way into the black market so you can steal a "talking skull" for a magician. These client jobs ironically tend to be better than the full-on main missions because they make you feel more like an actual thief by giving you somewhat more "open" scenarios of "get in, get the item, and get out" like the original games (albeit, smaller and shorter).

Sadly, just getting to these missions is enough of a turn off, because of the horrendous City hub, that it made me quit playing numerous times along the way. There's no way to know when clients have new jobs for you except to make the long trek all the way across the city to visit them in person. Sometimes I'd spend 15 minutes getting to a client only to find out he had no work me, which then required me to spend another 15 minutes getting back to where I was. Thirty minutes later, I'd accomplished virtually nothing and felt so annoyed I put the controller down and stopped playing. One time I booted the game up after not playing for a couple of days, intending to finally get around to starting one of the main missions, and spent 20 minutes slogging my way through town just to get there. By the time I reached my destination, I was so enervated that I no longer had the energy to play the mission, and stopped playing for that session.

Peeking at guards around the corner. 

Even more sadly, all of this slogging around town, checking every nook and cranny for loot and picking up every menial job from Basso is required in order to build up enough money to afford supplies or any of the game's upgrades. Unlike Deadly Shadows, there's very little equipment to be found sitting around the city hub or in mission -- you have to buy everything. I played each of the previous three Thief games on the hardest difficulty and continued that trend with this game, which meant having to pay absurdly inflated prices for everything, and it just got to be really tedious and discouraging trying to save up 28,000g to get a single upgrade, when the game is forcing me to get there by stealing 2g cups from people's cabinets, or picking up single gold coins on the streets. Consequently, exploring the hub just doesn't feel that rewarding, especially on occasions when you spend 75g (or 56g, with the discount) on a rope arrow to get into an otherwise inaccessible apartment, only to find 40g worth of loot inside.

You can replay missions to get more money, but good luck finding them since none of them are marked on the map. I, for one, had no desire to go back and replay such linear levels a second (or third, or fourth) time just to farm money. On the bright side, at least the game doesn't force you to make routine trips to multiple merchants to sell all of your stolen goods, like Deadly Shadows required. The upgrades, meanwhile -- things like leather padding which increases your safe falling distance, or the crosswind medallion which decreases your chances of being hit by enemy projectiles -- give you something worthwhile to actually spend your money on, and it's nice having that strategic decision-making about what priorities you want to focus on for your own particular playstyle. By playing in master difficulty I was guaranteed to have no chance of unlocking everything in one playthrough, which added a lot of weight to the decision-making process.

Then you've got all kinds of weird technical issues and decisions that really make the game less and less pleasant to play. In the beginning of the game, Garrett makes that big fuss at Erin about not killing guards, but then through all the missions you get bonus challenges popping up telling you to score X fatal headshots on guards. Why are you encouraging this when it's in stark contrast to the character you're trying to depict? While exploring the city, ambient NPCs repeat the same lines of dialogue over and over again, sometimes even back-to-back with no pause. Two NPCs had the exact same exchange of dialogue six times in the span of a minute while I was trying to sneak across a courtyard. A lot of them seem to have no idle animations and get stuck repeating more active animation loops, like in the case of one woman who kept raising her hands to fix her hair, lowering them, and then raising them to fix her hair again, or the angry mob preacher silently waving his fists in the air even long after he's finished his tirade.

One of the worst sound problems in the game. 

The sound design, in particular, is all screwed up. There's already the problem of the repeated lines, but sometimes a character will end up speaking two separate lines simultaneously -- this happened with Garrett himself a few times upon entering a room or picking up an item. Worse yet is the mixing, which randomly makes people talking right in front of me sound like they're on the other side of a brick wall, or people on the other side a courtyard sound like they're right in front of me. During one cutscene I could barely hear the character talking, so I reloaded the save to watch it again and suddenly he was sounding fine. I turned the captions on at one point hoping to mitigate this issue, but then found the captions weren't syncing with the dialogue, sometimes being a line ahead of or behind the spoken line, or picking up lines from background NPCs and displaying those instead of the character who's focused in the center of the screen.

One of the main missions takes place in a brothel, and it forces you to peep on several sex scenes through hidden holes in the wall to find symbols necessary to operate the combination on a mechanism to open another door. One of them is a BDSM scene with a man strapped to a chair, loudly panting and moaning, and when I exited out of the peephole the audio got stuck as if I was still watching. Even after walking to the other side of the brothel and peeping on other rooms, hoping to overwrite the sound effects, I was forced to listen to a guy obscenely yelling "Harder! Yes, hit me! That's the spot. Pinch my nipples!" for several minutes while I hunted down the other symbols and stood at the mechanism working out the combination to open the door. I'm not against sex scenes in video games or anything, but that whole situation was so distracting and unpleasant to endure that it deserves special mention here.

Other technical issues I encountered running the patched PS3 version of the game: it froze five times, requiring me to do a hard reset on the console. Twice it was during a load screen, after which manual saving was impossible until I encountered an auto-save to overwrite the corrupted save file. On two occasions the sound stopped working completely, requiring me to exit out of the game and reboot it. I encountered a glitch when a guard and I tried to open a door at the same time, causing us both to become stuck in place unable to do anything. An elevator door got stuck and wouldn't open, forcing me to sit there for 15 seconds before the doors slid open at lightning speed, as if the animation was playing in fast-forward to catch up. And graphically, the game looks terrible. Faces look like rigid plastic, the lip syncing is bad, textures pop in so glaringly that it's like watching pop corn cook, and there are so many broken seams, missing textures, clipping errors, and floating objects that I can hardly believe this is supposed to be a "AAA" product. I'm sure this is because I was playing the PS3 version, and not the PS4 or PC version, but damn it was such an eyesore that I can't believe they sold the product like this.

Examining a valuable item Garrett's just stolen. 

So where does that leave us with the 2014 Thief reboot? Surely the whole game isn't utter garbage, right? There must be some redeeming qualities to this game, right? Well, sure. At its core, stealing stuff is still pretty satisfying, and it's still pretty thrilling to feel like you're breaking in somewhere you shouldn't be. There's some good tactile feedback with the full body model that lets you see Garrett's hands reach out every time you steal something, and I like how that means it now takes time to grab a bunch of stuff, cause that adds to the tension of trying to get in and get out quickly, without being spotted. The upgrades, as I mentioned earlier, are nice. Special collectibles, likewise, are kind of cool, but it sucks that they're completely worthless until you complete a set. And being able to look through keyholes into other rooms is neat, since that lets you plan better and be less surprised by what you find on the other side of a closed door. Also, the options menu, holy cow, is so extensive, with all kinds of options to turn things on or off depending on your desires, and you can even create your own custom difficulty. More games need this kind of integrity in their options menus.

In the end, though, the 2014 Thief reboot doesn't really feel like a Thief game to me. Maybe it's because of the more modernized console design, but it feels more like a grungier Dishonored with hints of Assassin's Creed. The main problem, besides the sloppy technical implementation of everything, is that it feels like the designers were too concerned with making a movie-like experience with a dramatic storyline progression, instead of just making a good game and letting people play it. Too often, it feels like you're playing the game their way, so that the levels and story can play out exactly as they envisioned it, instead of just being dropped in an environment and being told to use your thief tools and abilities to get the job done on your own. It's a straightforward, almost cliche AAA game that just doesn't have nearly as impactful gameplay as older games used to, as designers become more enamored with creating impressive spectacles instead of good games.

And, for your viewing pleasure, I'd like to share a video I found on YouTube that will more succinctly demonstrate what's wrong with the new Thief. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so a video must be worth millions.


  1. I'm honestly surprised that you bought and played this game. This is one of the worst I've ever played, it even got so many negative reviews from game critics too.

    1. Fortunately, I got it as one of the free offerings on PlayStation Plus. I probably wouldn't have paid for it otherwise.

    2. Can you do a retro review to Dungeon Siege II and will you be reviewing Fallout 4? Thanks.

    3. I actually have a copy of Dungeon Siege II (and DS1, with Legends of Aranna) sitting on my shelf right now. I played both games 10-12 years ago and thought DS2 was a strong improvement over DS1. I can't promise I'll play DS2 any time soon, because I've already got a few games lined up to play, but I'll see if I can put it on the list somewhere.

      As for FO4, I have no means of playing it at the current time and don't want to spend the money on it, anyway. A review of FO4 is going to have to wait a long time, I think.

  2. Hey, you plan on reviewing the Witness?

    1. I'd like to at some point, but as usual I don't have enough spare cash lying around to pay $40 for it. Perhaps when I can get it in a sale, I'll get around to playing it and reviewing it.