Thief - PlayStation 4 (reviewed) / Xbox One / Playstation 3 / Xbox 360 / PC Score: 5.7/10
If opportunity makes a thief, the new version of the first-person stealth game offers them up sparingly. The reboot of a series which all but defined its genre presents a sprawling steampunk cityscape waiting to be plundered. It is, regrettably, an illusion concealing a frustratingly linear first-person adventure that has been surpassed by its imitators.
It is no secret that the game has endured a fractious development since the idea to revive the franchise first began to take shape six years ago. With key staff members coming and going, there are fundamental flaws that are inexcusable for a triple-A next-generation title, such as a faltering frame rate, clipped dialogue, stuttering cutscenes and ponderous AI.
Its gravest sins, however, undermine the very essence of Thief. For a game devised around stealth, this latest iteration has a gnawing tendency to nurture precisely the opposite approach, with combat and confrontation almost preordained in places, resulting in engagements that routinely result in Garrett’s demise, especially when he comes face to face with more than one enemy.
The first hours of the game invite the player to spend considerable time looking for a furtive path out of such potentially hazardous scenarios, yet after a while it hits home that such contemplation is futile, replaced by a grudging realisation that risk and aggression are imperative. This is especially telling in the first of Thief’s boss battles, where force is the easiest means of success.
When it comes to the core gameplay concept of sneaking into properties and ransacking them of their spoils, the player can choose from a narrow range of entry and exit points. Even with Garrett’s resourceful tools, the choice remains confined. The rope arrow, for instance, can only be used in a few places, despite the fact the skyline of the innominate city boasts a teasing abundance of joists and nooks.
It is a world that is beautifully created and compels intrepid explorers to look around. Venture off limits, however, and you come up against dead-ends, reminders you that this is a strictly hands-off city whose inhabitants are only at liberty to go where its designers will let them. For a master thief weaned on the stealth and subterfuge of the Keepers, it is a painful reality.
That said, it is always a pleasure creeping into a building in search of trinkets, an experience made all the more enjoyable by Garrett’s detailed and intuitive character model - his hands always prising open windows or delicately picking locks - and the roots of the series are better reflected by some entertaining and thought-provoking puzzles.
The focus function - a finite detective mode which highlights points of interest in Garrett’s field of vision - is interesting and the swoop ability is a fine tension-building addition as you creep under the nose of sentries and scurry from shadow to shadow. The development team also deserve praise for little touches demonstrating the PlayStation 4’s capabilities, the highlight of which is the way the light on the DualShock 4 controller glows when you are about to be spotted
Even so, the few positive aspects to the new Thief never quite come together to form a satisfying whole. Although it is possible to replay levels and a challenge mode offers something different to main story, it feels like a missed opportunity not to have presented the game as a series of vignettes and scenarios. Instead, makers Eidos Montreal insist upon a central story that struggles to captivate and is hard to follow.
A series that paved the way for titles like Dishonoured and Assassin’s Creed feels restrictive and tired. Considering the difficulties in bringing the game to the market, it is a wonder it is playable at all, yet that is not enough - Thief is like a cat burglar who comes out of retirement for one final job only to discover age has robbed him of his guile and poise.