Yet 16 years on the genre it pioneered has come full circle, with the recent Dishonored serving up a masterclass in sneak’n’kill excellence, and nigh-on every big series from Uncharted to Assassin’s Creed incorporating stealth in some form. Nonetheless, Thief’s storied history means it deserves its shot at reinventing the wheel. Just be prepared for the process to end in a wreck...
Stealth games are often considered the hardcore gamer’s exclusive property, so it’s to Thief’s credit that anyone can pick this up and have fun. An idiotproof control scheme means there’s no need for tutorials (although the Epilogue acts as one anyway), and some shrewd inclusions on the HUD ensure you’re aware of what’s going on around you at all times.
Examples? The "light orb" on the bottom-left of the screen informs you exactly how protected by shade you are, and alerted enemies are shown with an eye symbol and an arrow pointing to their whereabouts. Both are astute concessions to modern, casual gamers.
For those who’ve stuck with the series since its inception, there are welcome features, too. Innovative weapons and upgrades abound – I found myself becoming obsessed with firing gas-based choke arrows in order to incapacitate guards before scarpering, while embarsage oil (which reduces the damage caused by burning) became a godsend given my accidental addiction to toasting Garrett’s limbs.
The city of, er, The City (what’s in a name anyway?) also nails the steampunk theme, with Victorian churches and clock towers and shops proving a joy to nose around. Under ground, at street level or over rooftops, this is a smartly crafted, easily navigable world.
While Thief recycles plenty of tropes from other games – more on which shortly – the story here is pleasingly original, centring on lead man Garrett’s attempt to decipher partner-in-crime Erin’s apparent death – and find out why he can’t remember a single thing that’s occured in the 12 months since that “accident”.
“There are worse things than you in the shadows”, warns the mysterious Queen Of Beggars at one point, and inevitably she’s right, with the game’s supernatural undertones carrying the story and placing you in contact with some very unique – if sometimes overly cartoony – enemies.
Give and take
Unfortunately, not everything about the experience is positive. Thief is certainly a fun game to play, but not always a fresh one – the stealth feels very Dishonored-like, exploration apes the Bioshock series, and Garrett’s “focus” abilities are ripped straight out of Batman: Arkham Asylum and a dozen games since.
Recycling is prominent everywhere these days, but the trouble here is that none of these elements improve upon the original mechanics. My overwhelming urge after tiptoeing through a foundry to recover an expensive ring wasn’t to try the next level, but switch off and replay Dishonored.
READ MORE: Check out our full Dishonored review
There are also inconsistencies with Garrett’s character which, even with the hints of some supernatural hoo-ha at play, are never fully explained. Initially he makes a big deal about not wanting to kill innocents – yet he’s happy to rob them blind instead? This is a real buzzkill.
As, it must be said, is the inconsistent voice acting. The portrayals of Garrett and Erin are perfectly believable; in contrast, NPCs are more wooden than a mahogany Keira Knightley. It’s like the devs spent the entire budget on the main characters, then recorded all remaining dialogue themselves. Inside a broom cupboard.
Truly a mixed bag. Thief binds elements of many other great games into a coherent whole, yet never surpasses any of those it borrows from. It’s like a band recording a album of covers that, while decent, are neither better than the original, or even a particularly interesting twist.
It's certainly solid enough for a sneak peek - especially if you're lingering in the next-gen release schedule lul - but this is nowhere near as groundbreaking as the series’ debut.