The view from the ledge of the clock tower, home to the master thief Garrett, shows a city in distress. Dissenters are being hanged in Stonecutter Square, a plague called “The Gloom” is ravaging the population, Moira Asylum is overrun with terrifying creatures, and Baron Northcrest is up to some evil and twisted shit. What this city needs is a hero; what they get is a thief.
Friction in the Workplace
The master thief and his impetuous protege, Erin, are off to steal a gem for a client in the prologue. Erin, resentful about Garrett’s preaching, and Garrett, preachy over Erin’s resentfulness, start squabbling on the roof of the job site which attracts the local guards. Shit goes downhill very quickly and Erin falls to her death. Garrett wakes up one year later being carted into town by a couple of beggars, which also goes downhill very quickly forcing Garrett to slip away in the shadows. Garrett reconnects with his old fence to sort out what happened in the time he lost and to discover Erin’s fate. The master thief has some work to do.
A Thief and His Tools
Garrett has an established reputation in the city, and his wanted posters are everywhere and, no, you cannot tear them down. Garrett starts off with a bow and a lockpick set, both of which can be upgraded later. The bow is ideal for taking out enemies at a distance, which is handy because Garrett is the world’s worst melee fighter. The fact that he refuses to carry anything more deadly than a blackjack only further compromises his combat usefulness. I guess it’s honorable to drive an arrow into someone’s head as long as you don’t use a sword. Garrett has access to some nifty arrows with a variety of uses: water arrows put out torches, choke arrows knock out dogs and birds and extinguish flames, fire arrows ignite flammables, blast arrows explode, broadside arrows make holes in guards, and sawtooth arrows make larger holes in tougher guards. Garrett also uses primitive flashbangs and can hurl bottles for a distraction. The blackjack is used to knock out folks from behind. It’s almost useless in actual combat, so don’t let it come to that: the loading screen is quite lengthy if you let him die.
Garrett can also purchase a razor, wrench and wire cutters from the arrow vendor outside of Basso’s office. The razor allows Garrett to liberate paintings from their frames, the wrench opens grates and the cutters disarm traps. You should buy these as soon as you can afford them. Garrett’s claw, procured from Erin in the prologue, is used to access those hard to reach places.
Experience gained can be used to upgrade Garrett’s abilities. These upgrades can also be purchased from the Queen of Beggars, who acts as sort of a sage for the master thief. She holds court just around the corner from Basso’s place of business.
Players utilize the clock tower as Garrett’s stash box and base of operations. Any unique or particularly valuable items are added to Garrett’s collection in the tower to be fawned over at the player’s convenience. Basso sends birds carrying messages to the tower on a regular basis.
Thief was developed by Eidos Montreal, the company responsible for bringing us Deux Ex: Human Revolution, and published by Square Enix. Like Deus Ex, Thief is a very dark and shadowy game. The city itself is under a perpetual supernatural nightfall, which works in Garrett’s favor. Keep Garrett in the shadows for maximum effectiveness-extinguishing torches and candles when possible. Thief provides players a light meter in the bottom left of the screen that indicates whether Garrett can be seen or not.
Garrett’s trail for the truth takes him through the run-down wood and stone streets and rooftops of the city, into the Baron’s mansion, inside a brothel, down to a couple of underground cities, and into the bowels of a mental institution. Some environments include puzzles that must be solved to progress, but nothing too mentally strenuous. The game borrows the level-grading system from the latest Splinter Cell game, rewarding players for either being sneaky, opportunistic, or predatory. Some bonuses can only be taken advantage of utilizing one of these three particular play styles.
As far as stories go, Thief tells a pretty good one. I felt genuinely motivated to both progress the plot and pick up side jobs from Ector and Basso. Most of the performances felt appropriate for the time and personality of the the character with one glaring exception: Garrett. Our master thief is unenthusiastically voiced with a modern, non-regional American dialect, making him stick out like a sore thumb. The protagonist should never be the least interesting person in the game.
Level progression is fairly steady as long as the player is in predator mode. Going stealthy drags the game to a near standstill while crouching, waiting, and timing movements. Since Garrett is not a particularly gifted fighter, and players are rewarded more handsomely for being stealthy, Thief can be a very slow-moving game. The introduction of supernatural elements to the series may cause some Thief veterans to cry foul, but it didn’t necessarily spoil the game for me.
Thief gets points for environments, story, gadgetry, NPC performances (the Thief-Taker General in particular) and providing gamers with an authentic and interesting atmosphere in which to do business. However, the game’s crawling pace, lackluster protagonist performance, and limited replayability force me to advise waiting for a sale. It’s a good game, it’s just not a great game.