I activate my focus ability to scout out the area and find an opening to sneak by the enemy patrols. A single guard stands nearby. Slowly, I inch my way behind the target and shift into the light for a moment to make my move. As quickly as I appeared, I vanish back into the shadows--25 gold pieces richer from the coins lifted from the guard's purse. That's Thief, a game that differentiates itself from other "stealth" titles in that sneaking around unseen isn't just an option--it's practically mandatory. You're a thief who's out to make a quick buck, not to murder everyone in sight. But while the sneaky elements of the game are well implemented and enjoyable enough to warrant a playthrough, Garrett's long-awaited return doesn't hold many surprises when it comes to Thief's gameplay or plot.
The reboot kicks off in the middle of a heist, reintroducing you to the master thief Garrett and his rookie partner, Erin. Long story short, Erin is overconfident about the job, interrupts a secret cult ritual, and falls into a mystical light, resulting in an explosion that leaves Garrett unconscious. You awaken a year later with no memory of the time between the heist and the present. It's up to you to figure out what has transpired within that lost time, what happened to Erin, and why The City is in the middle of a destructive revolution during the 15-hour campaign. The intro starts the game off strong, but as you progress the story's poorly told and isn't terribly exciting.
Throughout the main missions, it's difficult to follow exactly what is going on. The major events and characters never feel important enough to pay attention to, and all of the story elements haphazardly come together in a disjointed way. The City is in peril, but Garrett doesn't really care. A revolution against the corrupt Baron has begun, but Garrett only wants to find Erin. The motivations of the characters are all over the place, and the story poorly explains the situation from one chapter to the next. Even the reason why Garrett has super thief powers and a glowing blue eye is only sort of explained in the last half of the game. If you're looking for an enticing story to keep you hooked, the predictable betrayals and confusing plot points aren't enough to carry you through to the unsatisfying ending.
However, even though the story's a wash, the stealth gameplay and thievery will keep you playing for the long run. Thief abandons action-heavy gameplay for slow, sneaky stealth. The majority of the game has you doing what thieves do best: lifting valuables, breaking into safes, and disappearing into the shadows. You also have access to Garrett's arsenal of gadgets that allow access to new areas, and water, fire, and gas arrows are invaluable tools for distracting enemies. Using your gadgets effectively is rewarding in a way that makes you feel like a real thief as you disable traps with your wire-cutters, access secret vents with your wrench tool, and dowse torches with a shot of a water arrow.
Then there's the thieving, which is exceptionally addictive. I was eager to explore every drawer and china cabinet when I knew they might contain loot, or at least a clue describing the location of valuable treasure. Plus, skulking around while stealing the silverware and golden rings laying around the environments becomes an alluring but entertaining distraction.
The same goes for the side jobs, which give much more life to The City's otherwise forgettable residents. You'll meet with citizens offering high-risk jobs that net you handsome rewards and oftentimes interesting side stories. But if you just want to test your sneaking skills, there are also challenge modes that offer well-designed, timed scenarios. With all of the collectibles, extra quests, and treasures to uncover, there is definitely plenty to explore in Thief's dark, samey environments.
Speaking of, while it makes sense that a Thief would only work at night, the darkness that permeates the entire game doesn't help to create a noticeable mix of settings. You'll move from the dark streets of the City to the dark halls of a mental institution to the dark caves of an ancient underground library. These locales sound interesting on paper, but in the game you always feel like you are in the same place, in the dark, stealing stuff.
Outside of the stealth elements, Thief feels limited. The combat, for instance, is severely lacking. Yes, Garrett is a master thief, not a warrior, but every once in awhile you might find yourself going toe-to-toe with a guard. When this happens, all you have is a sword-dodging side-step move and a weak-feeling blackjack attack at your disposal, making for some incredibly dull encounters. Plus, because the combat is so lackluster, several of the armor and weapon upgrades become irrelevant simply because you'll want to avoid the boring head-on conflicts at all costs.
Thief also has some issues with sound glitches. On more than one occasion, I experienced looping guard dialogue that continued even when I was nowhere near the source, and there was also some inaudible speech during in-game cutscenes. Only by enabling subtitles was I able to discern what was being said. None of these sound bugs were enough to completely ruin the experience, but the fact that sound issues came up fairly regularly was annoying to say the least.
Still, despite its uninspired storytelling and occasional bugs, Thief is a worthwhile adventure that anyone looking for a stealth-based experience will enjoy. The reboot doesn't introduce any new concepts; it instead sticks to the simple, traditional shadow-skulking of the previous titles. But as any thief knows, the best payoff doesn't come without a few risks, and the rebooted Thief prefers playing it safe over raking in the big haul.
Thief was reviewed on Xbox One.