Thief: The Most Grim, Oppressive Game I’ve Ever Played

By Ethan . February 26, 2014 . 5:30pm

“The Gloom is everywhere” is one of the lines repeated by unoccupied guards throughout Thief. It would be easy to pick on this line because it’s repeated over and over during the game, or how easily guards revert to saying it after forgetting that there was a thief to worry about 30 seconds ago.

 

I could point out how “The Gloom” is about as unspecific a name for a plague as “The City” is as the name of the city the game takes place in (or “Thief” is for a new game in the Thief franchise for that matter). But that would be petty, and there’s a much more important truth to be drawn from the line “the Gloom is everwhere”.

 

This is because, in Eidos Montreal’s Thief, the gloom is everywhere. This is perhaps the most oppressive and grim video game I’ve ever had the misfortune to play. Level one takes place at a corpse disposal site, and it is necessary to move through it by hanging from the carcass conveyor belt with the cadavers. Level two takes place in a brothel. An early quest leads you through a pornographer’s lair. There’s a level in an asylum. Most every mission takes place at night, and most every location is grimy.

 

This is not to say that an exploration of an ugly fantasy should be inherently written off, but if a game sets out on such a dedicated mission to make its places and faces so uniformly wretched, there ought to be a reason for it. Games like Silent Hill and Condemned: Criminal Origins have developed remarkably unpleasant settings and then leveraged them to illustrate truths about the characters or human nature or even society as a whole. Thief, I’m afraid, does no such thing. It can barely keep the plot coherent (and at times doesn’t even do that) much less offer perspective on the world beyond the game.

 

It’s almost as though the creators felt that in order to make Thief work, everything else in the game had to be so filthy and awful that the protagonist Garett’s quiet, professional approach to theft wouldn’t make him seem like the bad guy. I mean, yes, he steals from people without regard for their security or wellbeing… but he has scruples! He prefers not to kill when he can help it and he isn’t big on grave robbing. Compared to the greedy, murderous, and two-faced characters he meets, he’s practically a saint.

 

As the setting and narrative worked to repulse me, nothing else stepped up to attract me. The stealth mechanics in Thief are functional but never rose beyond that. The levels are generally small and broken up by loading screens far too often. Though there are multiple valid approaches to most situations, it quickly become clear to me that I was always choosing between two or three level designer paved paths laid out in front of me. Player invention was neither required nor supported.

 

And the bugs! Look, I understand that games (and particularly PC games, which is the version I tested) are no longer static products and routinely become better or even entirely different software after release. I’m inclined to let a lot go when I play a game on PC before it’s available to the public and before graphics card drivers are out to specifically support it. But there is a limit.

 

In order to get this game to run at over 20 frames-per-second on my powerful machine, I had to set all graphics options to absolute minimum. Audio queues were repeatedly bugged (“The Gloom is everywhere” stuck with me because I heard it about 30 times back-to-back before I just had to kill the speaker to shut him up), and a lot of NPC animations got stuck on the environment as well.

 

Oh, and it crashed at one point eating my save file with it. So I got to adventure through the procession of the perished in the furnace again!

 

I actively disliked playing Thief during my time with the game.  There was nothing I was interested to see, no plot thread I was eager to see through to resolution, no mechanical hook that reeled me in.

 

Food for thought:

 

1. Remember how that mostly fantastic Tomb Raider reboot didn’t meet Square Enix’s projections?  I can’t wait to see what they expected from this. For what it’s worth, though, this is Eidos’ first big whiff under Square Enix management. They brought back Deus Ex and Tomb Raider in solid form, and even Hitman Absolution was surprisingly good. If you haven’t played it, Eidos’ most recent Hitman offers all the player-driven creative stealth this game doesn’t.

 

2. Even when a big AAA project doesn’t pan out, there’s usually some good to be found. In the case of Thief, it’s the art. The art that I found so unpleasant is impressively varied and skillfully made. Lighting, building architecture, textures and more all paint of cohesive picture of decay, the aesthetic is impressively realized in all facets of design. There’s also some good shadow tech in play and the swoop move feels like a first person version of Mega Man Zero’s profile lowering dash move. It’s clear that there’s talent on the development team yet, and I’ll be all ears when they announce their next projects.

 

3. There’s a surprising amount of alliteration available to describe a conveyor belt of dead bodies. I went with carcass conveyor belt and procession of the perished in the main body, but there were options. Choices I was particularly fond of include “expired entourage”, “reposed retinue”, and “cadaver convoy”.

 

4. Oh yeah, and good luck if you get lost. The in game map blows.


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  • chibidw

    “Remember how that mostly fantastic Tomb Raider reboot didn’t meet Square Enix’s projections? I can’t wait to see what they expected from this.”

    - 18 million copies. By next weekend.

    • DCBlackbird

      SE: 18 million? I think it was good enough to warrant 19 mil maybe 20..

    • Altin

      SE: “18 Million?! I eat 18 Million Units for breakfast!”

  • Ben Ruiz

    In-game map is about as good as the maps in Thief 1

    • Pyrotek85

      I’ve not played this yet, but part of what I like about Thief 1 was that the maps weren’t perfect, they were made to look like sketches sometimes, and wouldn’t always show everything. I thought it added a little realism personally, especially if you were dealing with someplace off the beaten path, like a cave or crypt.

  • Guest

    Buggy releases should not become an acceptable standard for any game. It’d be unacceptable in any industry, why here not? Really good for this article to call out this game flaw, consumers always must know beforehand.

    • Jungo

      Is it unacceptable in any industry? Browsers ship with bugs constantly, and we just expect them to patch it. How is game software different from work software?

      • Lucky Dan

        There’s a difference a browser is going to be used for a lifetime, a game is a most going to played around 3 months before they move on to the next game.

        Work software you are definitely going to come up with problems that are outside your environment so that’s a given but a game is like a Dungeon Master in D&D the rules are set within the game and the company should know and explore these rules that’s the reason they should have Q&A people to test these games.

        • Jungo

          D&D the rules are barely even as set as these are. D&D has lots of ‘bugs’ that require published errata, and pretty significant ones at times.

        • Fallen_Persona

          Yes, they should pay extra money to increase their cost for a game that’s probably going to be bought used by half the fan-base anyway which yields them no profit to begin with.

          • Lucky Dan

            I think it’s a lot of mismanagement and people not doing their specified job, if so many bugs are present they haven’t even play tested their games, I mean you gotta play your product and make sure it’s at an acceptable quality. Take this analogy for example.

            You don’t go in a restaurant and order the most expensive mouth watering meal and the waiter comes out with a lump of the chef’s shit on the plate.

            “What’s this” you ask the waiter. The waiter responds “the chef is just working out the bugs in the meal we will fix it up half way through the meal”.

          • Fallen_Persona

            No, you misunderstand my post, full of cynicism and anger over the attitudes of gamers.

            I definitely understand where you’re coming from, and it’s true this should be able to be possible. The sense of entitlement is ridiculous. I just think more people need to actually support the companies if they want a better product.

            To me, someone who buys a game used complaining about the quality of the game is like buying a knock off version of a T-Shirt, then complaining to the original manufacturer about it’s quality, knowing it’s a knock off.

            But, barring this problem, yes, games should be thoroughly tested.

  • WhyWai

    “this is Eidos’ first big whiff under Square Enix management”

    clearly another showcase of SE shitty management.. this game is obviously rushed.

    • DCBlackbird

      How heavily involved is Square’s management in this? Is it more than check ups, budgeting, and publishing? Are they actually… Meddling?

    • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

      This game has been in development hell for 6 years

  • saxophone15

    Strange that you had trouble running the game on your computer. I remember TotalBiscuit said Thief ran very smooth on his computer (not that this really matters to me as I was never interested in the game).

    • Ethan_Twain

      It’s worth noting that this game pops up an AMD logo in the opening and I run an Nvidia graphics card. So the best experience will almost always be on an AMD card for Thief.

  • JustThisOne

    *internal frown*

    I really wanted this game to be awesome… I’m really into gloom and doom stuff, so maybe I’ll take a look after a price drop.

    One question though: What did you think about Garrett himself? And if you’ve played the previous Thief games before, try not to compare this one to his previous renditions.

    • Abend

      there was a 25 percent sale on GMG a little bit back

      • JustThisOne

        Yeah, and there were some preorder sales too. But I kinda wanted to wait and see more, first.

    • Ethan_Twain

      Garrett is kinda like Liam Neeson now. Like, modern action star Liam Neeson. The older guy who’s experienced and professional and pretty much always right. The entire main problem only happens because Garrett says “Nope, we’re bailing this mission, it looks too dicey.” but then the less wise young thief decides to ignore his wisdom and go in anyway. He’s cynical and he’s most always right about it because, as mentioned, everyone else is scum.

    • Aoshi00

      Hm.. I played the prologue and finished Chapter 3.. I enjoyed it quite much even though I had never played the previous Thief games and I’m not big on First person at all in general (other than Bioshock), but I had no problem navigating w/ Garrett.. I thought the control was pretty good and intuitive, I’m playing on 360 and installed on the HDD.. other than the subtitle being out of sync a few times, I haven’t encountered bugs yet..

      I haven’t gotten too far, I was at times put off by the graphic mountains of corpses in the Tomb Raider reboot which I also liked a lot, but I didn’t find the dark and dystopian setting here that repulsive, and rather appropriate (steampunkish & Victorian).. Even Batman Arkham Asylum had that gloomy feel.. I wanted to play Dishonored but couldn’t get into the control.. I don’t know how the rest of the story is, but I’m pretty motivated to play and find out more. the movement, gadgets, stealing, environment, puzzles, art direction, voicing acting, I kinda like everything.. it’s fun to be stealthy and plan a route not to be noticed and to avoid conflicts..

  • MrRobbyM

    Well, I could tell it was going to be bad pretty early on but I always hoped I;d be wrong and that it’d at least turn out decent enough to play through it. But eh, at least I didn’t get my hopes up too high.

  • Juan Andrés Valencia

    “The Most Grim, Oppressive Game I’ve Ever Played” Manhunt 2, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, euphoria, Saya No Uta, Sweet Pool and Drakengard and The Cat Lady are pretty oppressive as well. I think Ethan would be shocked as to how bleak some games get.

    • ogopogo

      I really hope the Euphoria you just said isn’t the one I am thinking about because that would be horribly inappropriate. Yet the fact you mention it right before Saya no uta makes me think it is.

      • Kumiko Akimoto

        It probably is but he’s also right.

      • Juan Andrés Valencia

        Yep, it’s that one. I honestly played the demo since the VNDB rating was insanely high for something like that and what a shock the story and music are great, too bad about the utterly revolting themes and images in it (And this is coming from a guy that owns Cannibal Holocaust on Blu-Ray). Manga Gamer is considering localizing it BTW so there’s that, I thought it wouldn’t get worse than Kara No Shoujo 2 and Cartagra in terms of dark content.

        It’s weird but I do find utterly bleak, grim and oppresive games fascinating, it’s not like a movie or a book where the story is already written, oh no, in a game you are interacting with it and YOU KEEP PLAYING IT.

        • Kumiko Akimoto

          Are they? Omg I’ve wanted to play it since the first time it came out

          • Juan Andrés Valencia

            I played the demo using Google Translate (Don’t ask, the result was… yeah…) and it definetely kept me interested. Nemu in particular is one of the most evil characters I’ve seen in any media.

            They had a poll about it and from 87 people that voted 41 said they would buy the game, 13 said they would if it was that good even with the content while 27 people said they wouldn’t even pirate it. They already have connections with Clock Up and they’re releasing an HD Remaster this April so I doubt they are going to pass on it, specially considering how supportive Kotaku and many other gaming websites have been with visual novels.

          • Kumiko Akimoto

            That’s so exciting does the hd remaster add anything other then good looking sprites?

            and well I’m not sure if they’d be supportive of this one conisidering-cough cough-

          • Juan Andrés Valencia

            It’s the same game. On HD.

            That’s about it though…

          • Kumiko Akimoto

            ahh that’s kind of a bummer but eh take what i can get if it gets localized that is

        • ogopogo

          Oh wow, the fact Manga Gamer is considering localizing this is actually mind-blowing. The type of images in that game was on the most extreme end of the extreme as far as that type of things go. I wouldn’t want to see what kind of response gaming media in the west would have to this if they found Dracula sucking blood in LoS2 repulsive and comparable to rape.

          I would say this though, bleak and grim are fine when they serve a purpose and add something to the story or the message that the author is trying to convey, hell, even if it’s for comedy effect. On the other hand I absolutely despise works that are grim dark just for the sake of being grim dark and edgy, which in this case, the article made Thief sounded like it was doing exactly just that.

          In the case of Euphoria though, having actually finished the game even though I had to skip through some of the scenes, the grim dark natural of the setting was actually essential to the story it was trying to tell. Also, if you thought Nemu was evil from the demo, you definitely should consider finishing the game if you had the chance; the game has one of the most memorable ending in recent year as long as you can stomach the stuff you have to go through to get there…

          • Juan Andrés Valencia

            Yeah, I seriously want to play it but I can’t understand japanese and I’m not sure if it’s going to be released soon. Oh well… a bigger excuse to go through my backlog.

            As for Nemu, I did hear she goes from psychopath to the game’s heroine. That’s kind of cool I guess? But yeah, I’m already predicting the media reaction to the game and to be fair, I don’t blame them, considering Clock Up’s mostly known for nukiges.

          • Kumiko Akimoto

            Well that and the extreme content might be something people aren’t used to getting localized. Saya no uta was bad in a more psychological way and it wasn’t overly gory and i don’t know maybe demon gaze or that other nitroplus novel that just got translated has some bad stuff in it, but as far as I know we’ve never gotten something with very extreme content like in euphoria.
            So it could be potientally a rapeplay reaction.

          • Kumiko Akimoto

            I’ve seen the cg for the ending but i have no idea whats going on and it just makes me want to play more.
            Hopefully eroge did well enough that it strengthen the bonds a bit between the companies.

            The only thing I can’t take in this novel is the scat scenes but thankfully they allow you to opt out of those.They were considerate because apparently scat is worse than guro.

    • Ethan_Twain

      Oh no, I certainly believe you. There’s a big difference between the most caustic and unpleasant game I’ve ever played and the most caustic and unpleasant game ever released.

      Generally my tastes steer me clear of anything like the games you listed. I’m sure that for someone who grew up playing M rated games or watching R rated movies underage (I’m one of the few who actually didn’t touch any of that stuff until I met the age requirement) wouldn’t have nearly the reaction to the game that I did.

      • Juan Andrés Valencia

        It just sounds… tacked on to be perfectly honest with you. The old games weren’t like that. At all. I can perfectly understand you.

        This isn’t Nier, this a steampunk game were you sneak around people while whacking them with a club and stealing their stuff.

    • mojack411

      I don’t think it’s the oppressiveness alone that annoys him, but the fact that there seemed to be no purpose to it. When something is grim dark simply for the sake of being grim dark it comes off as extremely forced and contrived. The games you listed at least used their dark atmospheres to delve into the human condition or psyche or other similar theme and it worked very well for them.

      • Juan Andrés Valencia

        Manhunt 2… not really, I’d say it’s an even more needlessly grim dark game than Thief. Yes, it deals with themes like insanity, torture and traumas but that takes a backseat to the ridiculous levels and twists it has.

        Tell me, you are a mental patient that has been experimented on and somehow, to find and kill the people behind the conspiracy, you end up in an BDSM/torture club, an apartment building that throws you into a porn theater, a sex shop and a slaughterhouse. Yeah… no. That’s not how a smart dark story works, that’s how a Red Bull frenzied 14 year old kid would think a game like that would work.

    • Shippoyasha

      A lot of those games carry a lot of charm visually though. Sometimes a grotesque sense of charm. A lot of Western games piles on the dourness and it just looks like some street corner in the real world without enough of a stylistic uniqueness binding it together.

      • Cybersteelex

        Dishonored comes to mind.

    • Eilanzer

      Saya no Uta indeed…Amazing game tough…

  • kyrt

    I find articles where people are complaining about the lack of stealth in this game mildly disturbing when the game has a custom game mode allowing you to set your own way of playing it. It seems like most people simply failed to see that option when finding a difficulty. I also thought that the atmosphere was perfect especially for the grim time frame of which I imagine this type of game taking place in. I get the feeling everyone playing this game expected it to be like dishonored and simply are too picky. Of course the game will likely get patches remember deus had it’s own share of problems and once the bugs are undone I’m sure this will be a pleasant game in its own morbid right. Sometimes these more niche games are a lot better to other people. I expect this game will likely be 40/60 on the amount of people who like the game as opposed too the amount that don’t. Of course until I play it and not just watch other people play it I can’t fully tell if all the reviewers are right or not.

    • Ni ~Algidus~

      If the reviewers are not complaining about the lack of the stealth, they’re complaining that the game combat system is horrible and that the players should be able to play the Dishonored-style (taking on 10-20 guys as if they’re nothing). We can make the stealth alot better by customizing the difficult setting. but wishing Thief to be able to fight 10-20 guys is not really wishing to play Thief.

      This is a common problem that the stealth genre in this age in running through

  • hazelnut1112

    “If you haven’t played it, Eidos’ most recent Hitman offers all the player-driven creative stealth this game doesn’t.”

    Damn, that is seriously saying a lot right there.

  • 6hokage

    you haven’t played much then

  • Nana

    The most grim, oppressive game you ever played? Look. I am looking forward to this game too. A lot even.

    But please stop the ridiculous overhype.
    This game has NOTHING on truly grim games.
    Example: “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”
    Nothing. That old game makes this here look like a children’s picture book.

  • Thom

    Goddamn. I have never seen so many reviewers pile on a game as much as on this one. I’m playing it on Master with most of the HUD turned off to recreate the experience of the original Thief games and I have very few complaints. Kids these days. Sheesh.

    • ogopogo

      Really? You’re fine with contextual based action and having only pretty much very few predefined way to go about doing things? Because when I heard about those things and thought back on the Tomb Raider reboot, I was already put off from this game. Don’t get me wrong, I think the developer should be applauded for trying to improve the game after that first trailer was so poorly received, but some things, like core design, just can’t be “fixed”.

  • Göran Isacson

    I kinda wish that this article would have gone into greater detail regarding the failings of the mechanics, as it feels a bit too quickly done and over with. What the article spends most of it’s time talking about, the doom and gloom, kinda feels like it… well, it’s a nice glimpse into your personal tastes, but I don’t know if it says that much about the GAME. If anything, I think I would like to know if the oppressive atmosphere actively gets in the way of the plot, if it becomes so cynical and unpleasant that it creates plothole or makes the characters so one dimensionally nihilistic that there’s nothing worth caring for.

    But yes, mostly I’d just like to know more about the gameplay mechanics, and how they kill your interest.

    • Aoshi00

      I think this amazon user review might be informative for you, usually I prefer those reviews over main gaming sites’. I’ve only played 3-4 chapters, but I thought it has nice graphics, the control is fine, and it’s fun to go stealth and steal things from every nook & cranny.. I just went and ordered the Thief artbook lol..

      http://www.amazon.com/review/R1NK55Q8P8QH8W/ref=cm_cr_pr_viewpnt#R1NK55Q8P8QH8W

      • Göran Isacson

        Alright, a game that emphasises stealth and thieving mechanics, but flubs up the enemy AI and plot. I guess that judging from most impressions I’ve got, it’s that the game is DECENT. Not exactly GOOD, but decent-ish. But it was a reboot game that modernizes a game that a lot of people have very fond memories of, and who WERE in fact good. Going from good to decent-ish probably won’t win it much praise.

        • Aoshi00

          I had never played the original, maybe that’s why i’m enjoying this so much. I didn’t feel it’s as horrible as everyone says. I’ve only played three chapters and thought the story was pretty intriguing so far. somehow I liked this better than dishonored and i’m not a first person fan.. Some said if people looking for open world like Skyrim this is not it. But for each mission, there’s still several ways to get to a goal without being detected.. I like the details and reading the documents that shed light on the world

  • Eilanzer

    I hated this game…Man, what an uninteresting world…And WHY there is stuff to steall IN EVERY F´ corner?! ¬¬

  • dannyhibiki

    “Audio queues were repeatedly bugged”

    You mean audio CUES. This has been driving me nuts on the internet lately.

  • Yan Zhao

    This is a shame, I was kind of interested in this game. But reviews everywhere seems to share the same consensus that this game is a flop.

  • UUDDLRLR BASTART

    That spot on description of the time worn average PC gaming experience complete with game breaking bugs, constant crashes and a general accepted lack of polish is why the smug attitude of PC gamers is always so hillariously ironic.

    One almost feels too sorry for them to wipe the oblivious shit eating grin off of their faces.

  • Kei-chan

    Opinions.
    I like the game; I’m 6hrs in and the art style and sneaking keep me interested in it a fair deal. The story ISN’T THAT BAD, its light thats for sure but its nothing to take that much negativity with. The game has its bugs and issues but patches should iron these out a bit. I’ve pretty much disagreed with all reviews expect for Game Informers and Neo Seeker’s take on the game.

    Reviews. Take them with a grain of salt.

  • Kevin Schwarz

    I think this is a great game. I mean, there aren’t many alike out there, if you think about all the JRPG’s for example, you can find countless clones of classic FF out there, but Thief… It makes me only think about Dishonored in a way, then I can’t find another game alike. It will surely be worth my money!

  • http://girly-gamer.blogspot.com/ The Girly Gamer

    I personally think this game is fantastic. The audio drives me a little crazy sometimes, with people repeating things time and time again. And since I have to sneak about slowly and stealthily, I hear their repeated lines a lot until I’m finally far enough away. Sometimes, they say it so soon after they said it the first time that there’s less than a one second wait before they say it, making it sound like a weird annoying echo. But really, the repeated dialogue is the only thing I don’t like about this game. I really love the characters, even though this is my first Thief game. Garret is likable and made me smile quite a few times. The other characters can be quite charming as well. And one mission made me jump quite a few times, and nearly cry once. Haven’t been that freaked out by a video game ever.

    So far, my favorite game on the Xbox One.

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