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Thief – The Review (Xbox One)

I had planned to do an introductory piece of Thief a few months back but decided against it because I had little idea of what to compare it to. Every review or ‘sneak-peak’ I had looked at had compared it to the older games and it apparently fell very short of the mark, so, I decided to wait until I could buy it. And buy it I did.

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Gameplay

At first the gameplay feels clunky because it is so different from many other games. Some of the controls are similar but others are unusual and difficult to get used to. That being said the controls are well set out and feel finished. Motion is fluid and response is quick which makes for easy use in faster places of the game where speed is necessary (and there are many, many moments when you’ll need to be quick!) and the character readily reaches for escapes and ledges you may not have noticed which helps greatly.

The selection of tools at your disposal make each mission interesting and offer many ways of  accomplishing each task. “Focus vision” is a mode which highlights objects you can interact with in the environment and upgrades can highlight special items with hand prints on walls and paintings. The “Focus vision” is immeasurably helpful thanks to the incredibly dark lighting and need for remaining in the shadows.

One really infuriating feature of the gameplay is the lack of good melee without forking out for expensive upgrades to armour and damage. If you are spotted, RUN. At least 80% of people you see on the street will want to kill you and they can. You can hide relatively easily but if you remain in the area, thanks to quite intelligent AI, they will find you. I will praise the AI for their ingenuity in hunting your character down but, it gets really infuriating. The best feature for avoidance is the sprinting. You run quite fast and accurately, rather than suddenly changing direction you slowly veer off and because it is the same button for climbing and scaling your character will automatically reach out for places to climb which, when tactically retreating from a horde of angry guards, is very useful indeed.

Characters

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I have a few problems with some of the characters of this game. It might be because I never played the others but they feel empty and dull. There is very little fleshing out of characters or linking of storylines which makes for a rather objective and cold view from the players perspective. Garret is a fairly likable main character. He’s quick, dark, mysterious and somewhat charming. However, you learn precious little about him or his relationships with the other characters which makes for confusing encounters when you seem overly friendly with some people and stand-offish with others.  The only really interesting characters I found were Erin and Basso. Erin feels more complete as a character as you delve a little deeper into her past through missions and cut scenes. Basso is just more friendly and lovable in general. It’s hard to describe but he’s like a cool uncle who brings you back a strange toy whenever he goes to another country.

The main problem I have with the characters in this is a problem shared by many. All of the main characters are voiced by American actors. The minor characters sound more like common English folk of the Victorian era which contrasts horribly with the central characters like they’re some weird imported play going on amidst the surrounding city, completely unconnected.

Maps

Now this is a dichotomy the likes of which you rarely see in gaming. On the one hand the actual level and map design is brilliant and sometimes ingenious. There is nearly always another way into important places and several escape possibilities nearby which makes the game both fun and challenging. When you come back to previous missions with new abilities unlocked you might find a better way of skulking around in the shadows or a secret treasure stash you missed before. It really makes playing through each mission multiple times seem worth it.

However, the map you are given to look and try to navigate is abysmal. It’s sad to say but because of the way it has been displayed and the fact that the city is so close, dark and you can scale nearly everything, it all begins to look the same. I found it increasingly difficult to remember where certain locations were and the mini-map is beyond useless. You have no real markers to speak of except mission markers and with no way to actively mark locations yourself, you get lost easily. I once spent almost three days searching for a previous mission to replay before giving up (and after screaming at the Xbox numerous times resulting in it shutting down once by accident.) and playing on without a redo.

Quests

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The main questline is very interesting and well-developed with engaging narrative and twists that really make you want to know more. I think this is what makes a great game, when the story itself makes you want to continue just so you know what happens next. There are some elements that seem a little unusual in Thief, however, such as the ‘magic’ and the psychological elements that seem more akin to a Fear game than anything else.

One issue I have is the side missions or lack of real variety in them. They are well scripted and well made but they always felt too short and are desperately necessary if you want to be in good stead for the rest of the game. If they were more challenging and more of a ‘bonus’ then I think I’d have enjoyed them more than I did. They could have been carefully woven into the main story and I’d be none the wiser but instead they were made separate and having a forced time gap between several of them made it rather annoying to complete. The rewards you receive themselves feel barely worth it because all that really matters in the game is the Focus Points because they help you level up your Focus ability which in turn makes the game a whole lot easier.

I felt like the mini map was overlooked in the game which may seem like a small fault but it seriously impacted on the playability of it and made several moments exceptionally infuriating.

Features

Some of the features I have already talked about like the Focus Vision and Focus points. Focus points are the in-game points system that allows you to level up your Focus Vision and enhance other skills such as sneaking, bow damage and lock picking. Kind of like the ‘EXP’ of the game, it aids in helping your character progress in skill throughout the game by unlocking new abilities or simply improving existing ones.

The selection of arrows you have is also a really nice feature. There aren’t too many that the choices get confusing but there are enough to provide you with a variety of ways of completing missions and taking out guards. You have the stealth arrows (water, rope, blunt, fire to some degree and I would like to include ‘Choke/gas because it can knockout dogs and birds) and then you have your standard killing arrows (broadhead, fire, blast and sawtooth) along with multiple throwables such as bottles and glasses. This allows you to either straight up kill everything, or take the subtler approach and distract guards then slowly sneak by unseen.

You also get a nifty little club called ‘The Claw’ that allows you to slam it into grates and other such things to climb better which is really helpful but quite a slow action unfortunately.

Graphics

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Graphically I found the game very pleasing. It looked smooth, clean and dark. Even among the darkest moments of the game and the most graphically intense the frame rate remained solid and stable with little to no blur or lag problems. I think the lighting is the real winner in this game though. Being that you make use of it so much it’s easy to expect dynamic lighting but you’d be sadly a little disappointed. While not being as good as some newer games it still has remarkably good lighting effects and shadows. Usually a very high contrast white or amber light, they create a lot of shadow which the AI seem to pick up on quite well.

On a more personal note, I love the city! The art, the style and the feel that it gives is truly incredible. It’s such a dark and cold place but filled with so much lavish character and awe-inspiring backdrops, especially when you get up high and look at the clock tower with the incredibly vibrant moon and thick black smog of the city. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s really the kind of city I’d like to live in.

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Overall

Dark, gothic and refreshingly difficult. The controls are spot on and the gameplay is brilliant with an interesting, twisting narrative that leads you through a magical world of dark deeds and even darker characters it truly is a thrill and a joy to play although it was a little too short for my liking.

8/10

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About The Author

21 year old jack-of-all-trades. Currently hoping to be cryogenically frozen so I can pilot a space battleship in the distant future or at least be a Space Marine. Favourite things in the world include music, gaming, writing and the smell of victory.

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