Kleptomaniacs rejoice: a cult character among gamers who like to explore the less law-abiding sides of their character is back. He’s Garrett the master-thief, and in Thief, he has a starring vehicle that takes advantage of the next-gen consoles. The results are pretty impressive: Thief remains true to its origins (the first game came out in 1998, and the last iteration a decade ago), yet cleverly adds mainstream appeal while, living up to its billing as a reboot, avoiding any whiff of clunkiness.
This time around, the action opens with Garrett and his young, impetuous friend Erin witnessing a mystical ritual, which they involuntarily gatecrash; a year later, Garrett is dragged back into the Victorian-inflected, steampunk city (not unlike that of Dishonored, whose makers admitted they were influenced by Thief) by a pair of beggars; he has no memory of the intervening period. The city is now in the grip of a plague-like disease dubbed gloom, and revolution is brewing.
Cue all manner of pleasingly baroque missions (plus, of course, side-missions), which prove to be long, involving and varied – most include some decent puzzles, and a more action-based escape sequence at the end. But the meat of the game is stealth, and moving stealthily has never been more fun or satisfying than when you control Garrett. The artificial intelligence is still rigorous: even if it’s dark, enemies will hear you if you move too quickly, and dogs and birds will give your presence away. Garrett, though, has a great arsenal, consisting of various types of arrows, flash-bangs and a cosh, plus tools of the trade like lockpicks, wrenches and wire-cutters. And Eidos Montreal has added a Focus mode, which highlights useful environmental objects and sharpens Garrett’s reflexes. You can also upgrade his skills, by paying the Queen of Beggars or exploring and finding upgrade points. Thief’s stealth, as a result, is geared towards rewarding ingenuity, rather than trying your patience. And masochistic stealth-purists can turn Focus and other helpful stuff off when they start a game.
It’s not perfect. The gothic storyline is generally great, with some satisfying twists, but sometimes descends into annoying mystical-vision sequences – and it could do with a bit more humour. But overall, Thief drags stealthing firmly into the next-gen era, is sufficiently meaty, has a decent amount of replay value (despite being single-player-only) and is a must for stealth aficionados.
Reviewed by Steve Boxer