Thief- Still my favorite stealth game

Thief (the 2014 reboot by Eidos Montreal published by Square Enix) was one of the very first games I played on my PS4 back when I bought the console three years ago a few weeks before Christmas (That’s right, the PS4 was my very own Christmas present). I loved it, very much, actually, but didn’t finish it until now. Why? You can read up on that here.

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The City in Thief is a veritable maze of shadows and light and little opportunities to hide.

But, despite that, over the past years I still found myself returning to the game again and again, to test my patience (or lack thereof) and my skills at playing it stealthy. Now, since Christmas 2014 I have played a lot of other games, stealth games too, or, rather, games where stealth is actually rewarded, like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the Dishonored-franchise, Hitman and, last but not least, indie-game Aragami.

Thief is still my favorite.

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Meet Garrett, the master thief.

A controversial reboot
Thief is the reboot of a classic franchise I unfortunately missed out on, and I know the game was not well-received by the original’s fan-base (and does have some annoying flaws too, by the way). It also had to compete against Dishonored the year it was released. And while the excellent Dishonored-franchise is one of my favorites, I hesitate to compare those two titles.

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Careful, careful. There are only so many shadows and that much more guards.

See, it basically comes down to the question: What is a stealth game? For me, that is. The answer? Pretty much any game where stealth is the ONLY option, because else you are punished instantly and severely, at that. Which is why I think Aragami an excellent stealth game. But this post is about Thief and the way it uses the gameplay and the story (which to me is one of the most important things about games) to emphasize the focus on stealth.

Well, the answer is in the game’s title.

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Thief appeals to the cleptomaniac in any of us. And it does so in a beautiful way.

The hero
This game is not about an augmented super-soldier who can cloak himself or turn his arms into swords. Neither is it the story of a supernaturally gifted assassin with the ability to teleport himself to higher ground when cornered and who is, actually, a master swordsman. This is a story about Garrett, a master thief, who prides himself on never being caught and noone ever knowing he was even there. Until the theft is discovered, of course, while he is long gone. Stealing is his passion and the perfect heist (“perfect” meaning never being detected) his ultimate goal in any endeavor. At least the way I like to play this game.

So, Garrett is a thief. Not a hero. He is no warrior either. Actually, he is the most wanted man in the City.

Garrett is also a loner, who pretends not to care for the needs of the people, or the City. But certain events occur that first turn him into a reluctant hero and, ultimately, into the City’s savior.

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The Thief-taker General wants to see Garrett hang and he does everything in his power to  trap the elusive master thief.

The story
Garrett is, as mentioned, a master thief, actually, THE master thief, or the King of Rats, as his arch-nemesis, the nameless Thief-taker General, calls him. The shadows – literally – are his only ally. And he is good at what he does and so he gets the most difficult jobs. The beginning of the game, set on an exceptionally beautiful Midsummer’s Eve, has him team up with Erin, a young thief/assassin and Garrett’s former protegé whom he greatly detests.

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Midsummer’s Eve in the City: Vibrant, warm and simply astounding.

The job, already dangerous to begin with, goes horribly wrong and Garrett finds himself returning to the City a year later without any recollection of what has happened since. Presuming Erin dead, he sets about reaquainting himself with he City, only to find that a strange darkness called the Gloom has taken possession of its people. It saps away all hope and will to live from those it touches and it casts the City into perpetual night.

Garrett, always pragmatic and in need of some coin, heads over to his old fence, Basso, to ask for a job. That job, though, will draw him into a dangerous powerplay between the people and the baron Northcrest, who rules the city, and, ultimately, towards the truth of what is really going on in the City.

The gameplay
As mentioned, this is a stealth game, and while it is not as unforgiving as Aragami, where pretty much one hit from an enemy weapon killsyou should avoid discovery at all cost. Guards will hunt you down instantly, if discovered, and NPCs who catch you in the act of stealing will call for the guard immediately.

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The Baron’s Watch is not the only danger lurking in the shadows…

There are three ways to play: as Predator, Opportunist and Ghost. Rewards differ from mission to mission, though, so not every playstyle is rewared equally. But playing it stealthy is always the best option, I think, since Garrett really is no match for the guards and escaping, once dicovered, can be tricky. Which is why I love this game. The thrill of sneaking behind the back of some guard, lifting his pockets undetected and continuing – and finishing the mission – undetected is just the thing for me.

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Since I have played this game a couple of times, though not to the end, I challenged myself to playing without waypoints or interaction prompts and found out that this improves the stealth experience even more.

Remaining stealthy is hard. There are a lot of guards (who are extremely attentive on the hardest difficulty), traps, noisy surfaces and dogs and birds that will alert guards or NPCs if they sense you.

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The reboot also introduces the Focus ability, which is very similar to the Instinct ability of Hitman or the Eagle Sense in Assassin’s Creed. Playing without is definitely more fun and more of a challenge.

Also, the very act of lifting loot, of opening safes or strong-boxes, finding hidden levers and what not is stylishly executed. Contrary to Dishonored, I should mention. You can really feel the lock giving way, feel the utterly elegant movement of Garrett’s hands (this game is presented in first person perspective) and the smoothness of his motions as he crosses impeding objects or jumps across the abyss to grab at some rope to get to higher ground. Simply beautiful.

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I simply adore how they handled the animations for lifting stuff.

The setting
The City, as mentioned, is plunged into convenient shadows throughout pretty much the entirety of the game. Garrett will be sneaking thought streets and alleys and across rooftops and walkways, navigate the sewers as well as unique locations such as a brothel, an old mill, a creepy asylum, a cathedral and even a ship, but emerge in the end into the light of dawn, which I thought especially poetic. Thief is a beautiful and athmospheric game, still is, even though I have seen some very beautiful games (The Witcher III, for example) since.

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There’s darkness everywhere, but also some stunning views.

The Verdict
I think anyone who loves stealth games should play this one. Unbiased. It is a great game if you want to challenge yourself, although you will have to customize to get the most out of it. I actually would love to spend more time in the City. But, for now, I will content myself with replaying the missions and the still excellent DLC, The Bank Job.

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The Bank Heist is a challenge indeed.

So, what is your take on this game? And what is your favorite stealth game?

Keep on playing

Vanessa


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