When Square Enix dropped its reboot of the Thief franchise it was met by a pretty solid wall of "meh", including from yours truly. As a reboot goes it wasn't the near-perfect work that Tomb Raider had been for SE and mostly the game just felt like a slightly less awesome version of Dishonored.
There's no doubt the game has problems. Its map is joke, the guard AI can get very twitchy and the lack of a fast travel option can seriously get on your nerves considering how much of the city is made up of dead ends and frustrating warp points that often make no sense.
Despite all that and my own lackluster review of the game on first look Thief grew on me until it honestly became my favorite release of all of 2014, Reasons include...
You Don't Have to Kill Anyone Maybe I'm getting old and soft but somewhere around the middle of last year it kind of started to bother me that every hero in every game I played was a mass murderer. A murderer of people trying to murder you, I'll allow, but a murderer nonetheless. Lara Croft kills hundreds. So did Joel from The Last of Us and Booker from Bioshock Infinite.
If you play Thief as it is intended you shouldn't have to kill anyone. If you play it like an expert you should never even be seen outside of cut scenes. Granted that does make the game extremely difficult and I admit that sometimes in my rage at botching a stealth mission I've put an arrow through a guard's eye and them shamefully restarted from a save point. Still, it's nice to have the comparative moral high ground throughout the play. Garrett may be an unrepentant thief, but he doesn't hurt people unless absolutely necessary.
It's Got a Really Lush Cast of Characters One of the big complaints against Bioshock Infinite was that it failed to really bring to life the residents of Columbia like its predecessors did with Rapture. There was some but not really all that much. Or take the Batman Arkham games. Crouch on rooftops and you'll here various thugs say all kinds of cool things.
Again, though, in most games that happens and you just know that later you'll be beating them to a pulp or mowing them down. In Thief you creep along learning the hidden secrets of the city and filing the information away for later use. In a way the city itself becomes a character as you chronicle its rot through what you take.
My favorite was the side missions involving a poet that killed himself and left one last valuable bit of prose a client wanted. You can do that mission just fine, but if you happen down one very dark alley and into a sewer drain you will find the hanging body of the actual poet himself hidden where no thinking person would look. On the table near him is another poem, your own secret little bit of history in the city.
This isn't true all the time. About the 14th time you hear two guards go on about their favorite prostitute you'll be reaching for an arrow to shut them up, but thugs are thugs in any game and they're always a bit monotonous.
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It's Simple One of the reasons Portal 2 remains one of the greatest games ever is its simplicity. Chell has a very small bag of tricks and the game simply challenges you on how well you use those.
Thief is like that. Because the game gives you multiple ways to complete every level you technically never need to buy anything or upgrade. Even if you do your arsenal is limited to three situation tools most players can afford after the second mission and a quiver of trick arrows. If you're trying to play the game as a predator or a flashy opportunist that likes to use the environment the odds are you will almost never need most of that arsenal.
Garrett's strength is in stealth abilities and that's all you require to get by. Often it's even preferable because the more complicated you make a plan the more likely it's going to go awry.
Romano Orzari is Fantastic The game picked up a lot of flack from longtime Thief fans for the replacement of the original Garrett voice actor, Stephen Russell. It makes sense from an in-game perspective because the Garrett of this game is not the same Garrett of previous games. Still, it stung.
Orzari is amazing, though. Garrett is taciturn by nature and most of what we hear is actually just his internal monologue, but Orzari is a master of a kind of dead-pan dry humor that not many can aspire to. His jokes are so bitter and quietly delivered that you're not even sure if he's joking or not. It's part of what makes Garrett such a great antihero. He's socially challenged despite being brilliant, and you can honestly feel his few friends being really and sincerely attached to him in spite of it.
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Stealing is SO Much Fun Remember what I said about killing? Well, in most games you're also a thief and no one ever mentions it. You may be looting a destroyed dystopia but to take Bioshock Infinite to school again you're also just robbing random people.
Garrett does that, but he's honest about it. That's what he's known for. He never pretends to be better than others morally, just that he refuses to kill people because that should never be necessary for a master thief.
In every man's heart is the desire to be in on a heist. Thief lets you live it out, and if you work at it it can be more exciting than any death match. Look at the walk through video up there? I looked that up for some help on a mission and I remain spellbound by it. The speed and skill that is shown as Garrett is driven past the guards and strips the house bare before anyone even knew he was there is art in play form. Thief offered that in 2014 when no one else did, and I loved every minute of it.