You probably clicked on the article expecting a sarcastic send-up of the Thief Reboot. It's not. I'm actually going to say nice things. Humor me.
Maybe I'm pushing my luck by writing about this game two weeks in a row, but I genuinely love the Thief franchise. I'm personally invested in it. I've played a lot of it and I'd put Thief 2 on my short list of favorite games of all time. I even loved Deadly Shadows (Thief 3) despite its flaws. Thief has given me the most frightening moments in gaming - more than Amnesia, more than any other "horror" game. Thief is smart and different and the world has a lot of cultural details that make it stand out.
This new Thief isn't some Duke Nukem Forever-style trainwreck. The truth is even more tragic. See, there's a good game somewhere underneath the bugs and stilted cutscenes. This could have been a great one, a natural evolution to a classic. It could have been to Deadly Shadows what Deus Ex: Human Revolution was to the original Deus Ex. We could have gotten a true successor to the franchise that brought Thief's unique flavor to a whole new audience.
I doubt Square Enix is going to want to fund another one of these things. They're not doing very well these days. If they were unhappy about how the well-received Tomb Raider turned out, then they're really not going to like what happens to Thief. But on the off chance that the team gets another chance, I thought it might be useful to tell them what they did right. Sure, they could figure out what they did wrong by reading reviews, but I'd hate for them to throw the baby out with the bathwater. So for the rest of the article we're just going to say nice things about Thief, just in case the developers give it another go and find themselves wondering what to keep and what to cut.
1) Bank Mission
Dear Eidos Montreal: You know that Bank level? The one people got for pre-ordering? That was proper Thief. Yes, it was on the small side, but it had everything you need in a Thief level: Multiple routes in, multiple routes through, mechanical defenses and traps, roaming guards, a few civilians, some secrets that could be uncovered by reading notes and paying attention to the environment, and a variety of movement challenges. If you'd made the whole game like this you would have knocked it out of the park. This is what we were looking for in a Thief game.
2) Sneaking Mechanics
The new game kept the focus on shadow that the old games were known for. And I think the new Thief improved on it in a few ways. In the old games, the player would sometimes run into a massive room of marble tile. The choice was to hurry over the floor and make enough noise to piss off every guard in the city, or spend several minutes creeping imperceptibly from one side of the room to the other. Assuming the room wasn't part of a patrol route, this wasn't exciting or interesting, it was just time-consuming.
In the new one, the dev team has done away with the tile floor and instead used broken glass scattered around key choke points. If it's in a pool of light or in an open doorway, then the player has to choose between making noise by hurrying over it or being visually exposed for several seconds as they creep over it. It's much more interesting to trade off visual exposure for audible exposure than to balance audible exposure with time.
Maybe the devs needed to add something besides broken glass so players can have noise hazards in places where broken glass wouldn't make sense. But it's good. Keep it.
3) Grabbing Animations
In this new game, Garrett no longer steals things by looking at them. His hands reach out, grab the thing, and then put it away. If it's really valuable, he might look at it for a second or two and say something about it.
Some people complain that this gets old. It's true. But I don't think it's a bad feature. It just needs to be toned down a bit. In this game Garrett steals all kinds of cheap crap. Rather than have a room that contains five items worth three gold each, how about we just have one item in the room worth 15? Those animations will feel special if we don't see them every few seconds. I like the feeling that Garrett is a person with a body and not a floating cursor that makes loot disappear.