Thief review: sneaky business

Long before Corvo stalked the shadows in Dishonored, Garrett defined first-person stealth in the Thief series. A pickpocketing pro, the anti-hero stole precious treasures through multiple games. After nearly a decade of silence, Thief has returned with developer Eidos Montreal attempting to revive what made Garrett's adventures so beloved.

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Like the original games before it, the 2014 reboot focuses primarily on Garrett's thieving abilities. Being a prototypical stealth game, he's nearly invisible by staying in the dark and staying out of sight. Peering around corners will reveal what patrolling guards are up to, and players can either avoid confrontation, or knock them out and hide their body before others are alerted. Close-quarter combat should be avoided whenever possible.

Garrett, nimble as he is, also has several abilities that are useful when reaching his objective. Being able to peer around corners really helps keep an eye on guards while scoping the environment, though you probably shouldn't leave your head out for too long. A new ability, the "swoop," proves to be especially useful. With this, Garrett can quickly move along the ground. This covers about five feet in distance, but it can make all the difference when you're trying to get past a guard.

Garrett's bow returns, which gives the master thief numerous abilities. The rope arrow can be used to access new areas, and water arrows can douse candles--to distract enemies or create darkened areas to hide in. The most effective, however, are the fire arrows. Not only can these be used to create a diversion, they can also be fired on guards themselves.

By using "focus," the player can scan the environment for clues, such as grates to grapple onto or items to use. This will help reveal the numerous routes of entry to consider: a hole in the roof, a window that can be pried open, or basement door waiting to be lock-picked, for example.

The latter option will be tempting at first. Lock-picking is cleverly implemented, with players having to "feel" the give of the lock through the controller's rumble feature. By placing a pin in the right place, players will feel when to move on. However, while clever, the trick can become tiring as the game goes on, with unlockable upgrades necessary to hasten the experience.

Players will want to find other ways around the level, but even with focus, it can be frustrating at times. Objectives aren't always communicated to players in a clear way. Long load times also discourage exploration, with minute-long loads making failure during challenging platforming sequences a bit more frustrating than needed.

While the narrative isn't particularly satisfying, master thieves will want to spend their time working through the game's side missions, which mainly involve acquiring extra loot. You can also break into unmarked locations to find treasure, and swipe loot from guards via pickpocketing. Harder difficulties prove to be the most satisfying, as they take away focus abilities and make guards more alert. It may be best to start on an easier difficulty to get the feel of things, but clearly the harder difficulties better reflect what the game was designed around.

Thief has its hang-ups, particularly with frustrating loading times and repetitive gameplay that will have players unlocking the same doors over and over again. However, Eidos Montreal has captured the essence of stealth gameplay with their take on Thief. Players may have to work to find what makes the game special, but nobody said being a master thief was easy. [6]


This review is based on downloadable Xbox One code provided by the publisher. Thief will be available on February 25 on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PC for $59.99. The game is rated M.