Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Thief (2014)

I remember seeing a bunch of different controversies before the fourth Thief game even saw its release. The first one was small (and bit silly) in how the title was stylized as THI4F, which to me reads as thiaf. They of course ditched that later on to call it simply Thief.

Then came the news of Garrett's voice actor, Stephen Russell, having been replaced, for he was not physically fit enough to do motion capture voice acting for the athlete protagonist. I probably would not have noticed a thing without the news as it has been so long since I played Thief: Deadly Shadows. I do wonder, though, if it is truly necessary for the voice actor to also do mo-cap, especially if the same guy had already been Garrett's voice in three games and was willing to do the fourth as well.

The third ruckus that I recall, came from the gameplay video they showed at E3 (or something similar) where Garrett was shown to gain experience from things like making headshots. I presume Eidos Montreal was doing what they did with Deus Ex: Human Revolution since that game was so well received. Having kills give experience did not fit well with the fans of the Thief series, however, and that feature was abandoned, and instead Garrett's upgrades are gained via other means.

I guess there was also the thing how the developers explained the lack of third-person mode by Thief being traditionally a first-person game. Yeah, ignore the third game where you could switch freely between the camera modes. The third person wall-climbing sections, this Thief game has, are utterly pointless and serve even less purpose than those of Remember Me's.

I am not sure why I even bought Thief as I did not like Deadly Shadows all that much. Maybe I thought Eidos would create an experience as great as DX:HR. I guess that did not happen. If anything, I think they might have made a worse Thief game. Well, apart from the graphics, because Thief sure looks nice. The game taking place at night and things being dark help but it truly is a quite good looking game.

The lighting is cool, textures are sharp, and having moving clouds is very nice compared to the static and grainy skyboxes Unreal Engine 3 games usually have. The game also runs really well on my setup. So well, in fact, that GeForce Experience suggested using its Dynamic Super Resolution feature (super-sampling) to make the game look even better while still retaining 60 FPS.

Damn, do many of the screenshots look good? As if they were detailed concept art instead of merely having been taken in-game.

Nixxes did the PC port of the game but I dare say they did not do as good job as with DX:HR. There are some things that make me think they got lazy. For instance, there is no custom mouse cursor. It is hardly required but it adds to the experience to not see the standard Windows cursor while in game.

A bigger problem was the negative mouse acceleration when looking through a keyhole and when turning while hanging on a rope. Luckily most of the game does not seem to suffer from it but they should have gotten rid of it nevertheless.

When it comes to gameplay, Thief sure feels limited when compared to Dishonored. Garret's Swoop does not come even close to Blink's capabilities. And he cannot freely jump -- only when standing next to a box or a wall that can be climbed over. I guess there was a lack of buttons and making jump context sensitive like that allowed it to be on the same key as Swoop. But you do not really even notice the lack of free jumping and it is not big of a deal. Although I did at some places wish Garrett could do crouch jumps.

Melee combat is also rather awkward. It would help if Garret could properly equip the Claw instead of having a separate button for swinging it like in some shooter. With dodge being yet another key, I decided just to avoid face-to-face fights and keep to the shadows. Even that started getting tedious towards the end.

I expected Thief's maps to be larger than Deadly Shadows', which felt quite cramped indeed. And I guess they technically are, but not enough in my opinion. You encounter loading screens way too often. That would not be so bad if they just were straight-up loading screens. Instead every window entrance involves smashing a button to open it and every city district transfer a similar event to push a wooden beam out of the way in a narrow box corridor Garrett squeezes through while the game loads the next area in the background.

They are always the same and sometimes you even notice how lights in the room are unloaded as the window frames go darker when Garrett examines them before starting the opening process. The guys at Eidos Montreal sure fell love with such supposedly seamless loading screens in The Missing Link DLC but again it is so damn obvious that it breaks my immersion way more than standard loading screens.

Also adding to the annoyances of traversing the City is the fact how street guards respawn after missions like they did in the previous game. You have to avoid the same guys repeatedly. I got tired of it eventually and stopped caring whether they saw me or not.

Like Dishonored, Thief had some different pre-order bonuses that were later on made available as DLC for the game. I am not sure if they broke the game balance in a similar fashion, although probably helped considerably now that I rechecked what they actually added. If nothing else, the extra gold at least slightly hastened the process of getting the wrench, wirecutter, and razor tools that Garrett the "master thief" does not have, for whatever reason, and is blocked from accessing many places in early game.

Difficult the game hardly is even on Master, however. You can also customize it further with a handful of options. I hear the only-chapter-saves combined with one-hp options gets frustrating really fast, though. The HUD is also customizable. Being able to stop the mini-map from rotating was particularly to my liking.

In addition to different items, Garrett also has some upgrades himself this time. However, I found them extremely dull, hardly adding anything to the game. I felt never the need to use any of the upgrade abilities besides the object highlight function. It is odd that it still works for couple seconds even when your focus bar is at zero.

I do not know what kind of plot a game involving thieving should have to make it interesting but I sure did not find such in this installment of Thief. The lukewarm story did not manage to grab me at any point. And the supposedly scary mission was disappointingly not so. Albeit I might be more resistant to being spooked by a game these days. They obviously tried to recreate a similar experience to the Shalebridge Cradle in T:DS but did not quite succeed at it.

The game did manage to startle me once, though. Ever since looking through my first keyhole, I had been thinking how spooky it would be to have someone looking back from the other side. And eventually it happened. Even though it was not a hostile entity -- just Erin -- I still jumped a bit.

Aside from fixing the jarring area transitions, I do not really know what would make Thief better. Maybe Dishonored is the way to provide a more entertaining experience for this kind of game -- an option to go in guns blazing when the sneaking gets stale. Stealth alone is not enough, at least not in the way this game had it.

I think I might have enjoyed the game more if I had not gone with usual playstyle of trying to check out everything. Not spending 30 hours in beating the game -- and missing the 15+-hours-spent achievement -- could have made it less boring.

Also, one thing I almost forgot: why are there no female guards or other enemies? I think Eidos Montreal (or maybe Square Enix) is deliberately avoiding them as I noticed this in DX:HR already. That one had whole two non-civilian women: Fedorova and Zhao in the Hyron Project fight. Thief has none. It is not like I want to fight female characters particularly in games but I think it makes sense if at least some of the enemies were women. Companies like BioWare and Bethesda seem to have no issues with it.

It will be interesting to see how Deus Ex: Mankind Divided turns out in this regard.

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