Review: Thief (PS4)

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Title: Thief
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (21 GB)
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Eidos-Montréal
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Thief is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A download code for this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 360 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
The fourth game in the series, Thief tells the story of Garrett, a master thief in “The City”, a semi-industrial Victorian looking world with a bit of magic thrown in for good measure. The game starts with a job gone bad, setting up the conflict and confusion that will consume Garrett throughout the main story.

When you arrive back in the City you find that something called “The Gloom” has overtaken the populace, killing off people by the hundreds. Baron Northcrest has largely disappeared from public life leaving his right-hand man, the Thief-Taker General (I know) and his lackeys to rule over the frightened citizens with ruthless abandon.

A stealth game a heart, Thief really gives you a skill set, an objective and the freedom to approach things any way you want. You can play through the entire game without killing or knocking out a single person, there’s even a trophy for it. You’ll be headed down that path anyway since you’re not really built for combat, making it best to avoid confrontation as much as possible.

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When you do come into conflict or feel that you really need to take a guard out, you’d be best served sticking to the shadows as much as possible and approaching from behind very slowly. The quicker you move, the more easily you’ll be heard and once alerted, the guards will come looking for you and even call out for help, alerting more guards to your presence. While it works pretty well, this is where the game runs into its first major problem; the sound design is a bit of a mess, but more on that later.

Sneaking through an area is complicated by fires, electric lights, guards, birds, dogs, broken glass and water. Making too much noise can disturb nearby birds in their cages which will alert guards, while just getting anywhere near a dog will set it off. It all presents a good challenge especially if you try to get through without alerting or knocking anyone out.

Things tend to be a bit buggy though which can put a serious damper on your experience. If you knock out a guard and don’t have time to pull him into the shadows his companions will find him and begin to search for you. If you can elude them they’ll go back to their planned routes… and then find the body a second time and freak out all over again as if they didn’t just see it moments ago.

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At least there are a host of options when it comes to customizing the difficulty of your game. Along with the standard Easy, Medium, Hard (Rogue, Thief, Master), you can customize you options to add permadeath, slower movement, remove resources, remove upgrades and more. You can also turn on or off pretty much every single element of the HUD to really make it your own. This really should be a template for all games at this point because the wealth of options available to customize the exact experience you want is nothing short of amazing.

Along the way you’ll be searching for loot (you are a thief after all) which can be sold for supplies and upgrades. There are a ton of collectibles as well, each with its own spot in your many trophy cases back at your hideout in the Clock Tower.

Making novel use of the DualShock 4’s new capabilities, you’re able to use the Touchpad to quickly select items from your inventory and it works great. The other little addition, which I found to be one of the coolest in the game, makes use of the Lightbar. As you move through the shadows, the Lightbar is its normal blue, but step into the light and it shines bright white. You can use the on-screen indicator for this, but having the Lightbar change so dramatically, especially if you’re playing in a dark room, really made a difference for me.

Unfortunately, one of the many little issues I ran into was with navigation. When you leave the Clock Tower you’ll be in a small section of the City usually with an icon guiding you to your eventual destination. What you’ll find is that moving between major sections of the City requires that area to load up, bogging down the game. There’s also nothing to tell you which section is connected to which, at least not that I could find. So if you want to go back somewhere after a mission, you’re stuck with a lot of guesswork and load screens.

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Challenge Maps are also available which make for a fun little diversion. These consist of modes called Chain & Gain, Chain & Gain Limited and Special Loot Hunt. Chain & Gain is by far the most fun as far as I’m concerned. You make your way through a map grabbing loot and avoiding guards. Each time you grab something, your countdown timer resets to 60 seconds. if it reaches zero at any point, the game is done. You’re then scored on everything you did, how much loot you got, how much you were able to pickpocket and so on. Chain & Gain Limited is the same but with a set timer that can’t be increased. Special Loot Hunt has you searching for, wait for it, Special Loot. Using hot and cold indicators, you’ll track down each piece of loot until the timer runs out, with the ability to increase it by grabbing coins.

There’s a lot to do here in terms of missions collectibles and replayability, but it’s just too buggy overall taking away from the experience and bringing the game down.

Visuals:
In previous generations, games within the first six months to a year of a console’s life cycle were a bit rough around the edges. Maybe we’ve been spoiled by the likes of Killzone: Shadow Fall, FIFA 14, Resogun and even Tomb Raider: The Definitive Edition and Thief ends up suffering by comparison, or maybe it was never going to be more than it is. Unfortunately, what it is tends to be a mixed bag of really good to mediocre at best.

The environments have some really nice detail to them but the characters tend to look shaky at times. It’s strange because in one cutscene, a character looks like they have the Lego snap-on hair while in a later cut scene the hair looks much more realistic. You’ll get that a lot, sometimes they look really good, sometimes just meh and there’s no rhyme or reason to it.

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There’s water all around the City but you rarely interact with it. It looks great until you’re in a boat. During a specific cutscene, the boat looks as if it’s sitting on top of a large pivot, rolling around in all directions, oblivious to the water around it with the characters sitting and talking as if they’re on a calm lake. I also ran into a number of instances where characters were hovering a few feet off the ground or standing frozen in place with stiff arms and legs like a voodoo doll. It’s just a lot of little things like this that add up and start to take away from the experience, pulling you back into reality which ends up hurting the game overall.

Audio:
This is the weakest part of the game which, for a stealth game, is pretty inexcusable. When sneaking around the City you’ll spend a lot of time in the shadows and hidden behind crates, walls and other objects. It’s absolutely critical to know where the enemy is based on sound alone. The placement of sounds in the surround is fine, it’s the volume of those sounds that throws everything off.

For example, I was sneaking through an alleyway and crouched out of site behind a cart when I heard a man speaking full volume right next to me. I spun, ready to attack or flee if necessary only to find that nobody was there. It took some doing to figure out that the character in question was behind the wall inside the house I was crouching next to and no threat to me whatsoever. Voices do get muffled when you’re listening outside a window or door but more often than not, the game ignores the basic principles of sound, throwing off the whole point of a stealth game.

This also becomes an issue when you’re involved in cutscenes and the character you’re talking to, the one giving you critical information about the story and your mission, is drowned out by a nearby, louder NPC who is simply repeating the same line or two over and over.

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Other problems with the audio include woefully limited lines for guards making their rounds. By limited I mean like one or two lines per guard which they repeat incessantly as you slowly try to make your way around all of them without being spotted. This became even more laughable later in the game when a different group is patrolling the streets… and they’re spouting the exact same lines. It felt like the developers just did a palette swap on the characters which may well be the case. I even ran into several situations where two characters had their audio doubled up. One was almost exactly doubled over itself while the other was on a 2-3 second delay. Many of these side characters suffer from very poorly delivered lines as well.

It’s a shame because the main characters actually have pretty good voice work and a lot of the other sound effects are great. Stepping on crushed glass or fumbling a lock-picking and alerting the guards really immerses you in the game… and then everything else comes along and ruins it.

Online/Multiplayer:
While game is single player only, there are online Leaderboards tied to the your statistics in each chapter and the Challenge Maps.

Conclusion:
Thief could have and probably should have been so much more than it is. It’s such a shame because with all the content and replayability, there’s so much to do here that it can keep you busy for well over 50 hours. Beyond the graphical issues, making it feel like a rushed port from the PS3 version, the sound issues are just mind boggling.

Audio is critical in a stealth game and the audio fails completely here, bringing down the entire experience and taking away from all the good that the game actually has to offer. In the end, it’s just too much to overcome. It hurts because under all the problems there’s a pretty good experience to be had but in its current state this is not a game I’d ever want to pay full price for.

Score:
6.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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  • ChazzH69

    This was high on my list until reading this review. Such a shame, especially considering the sound issues. I don’t think I could overlook that even if I found this game in the bargain bucket in a couple of months, which is probably where it’ll be soon. 🙁

  • David Freeman

    Bought it anyway, even after the average reviews … reminds me of a last gen game … taken for what it is it’s ok … it’d be a good game £25… or a free PS plus option … does feel unfinished in parts … oh and the lady that gives you the perks moves right after the cut-scene with her … just to keep things fun 😉