Thief 4. Thi4f. Thief (2014). whatever

For completeness: I played this on Master difficulty, mostly after the 4th patch (the one that "fixed audio issues", a-ha-ha-ha. It's still "wait, are my headphones in the right ears?" bad). Spoilers, obv.

I like the old Thief games. I have the Standard Thief Opinions: Metal Age is the best, Dark Project has too many non-human enemies, Deadly Shadows is good but hamstrung by technical issues. I bought Thief 2014 cheap-ish after a friend who also has Standard Thief Opinions recommended it with the common "Not really a Thief game, but pretty good (if a bit linear) on its own merits" disclaimer.

Welllll. Yes. OK. The actually blagging-centric parts are great. It's a shame there's so few of them. Let us proceed methodically.


Tutorial. Garrett's protégé Erin dies (or does she? SPOILERS: no). It's entirely her fault and you will not feel guilty at all.

Chapter One:

Tail end of the tutorial. You get to break into a two-storey jewellers house on your way back home, and that's pretty much it.

Chapter Two:

Infiltrate a morgue to nick a dead man's ring. A solid enough level, but with too many points of no return.

Chapter Three:

Break into a brothel that is on top of an old Keeper library for some reason and steal a book. The first real hints that the main levels are going to have serious issues.

The brothel part is mostly fine, but very linear. An amusing part is that there is an option to flood the hotel with opium to knock everybody out (Garrett is immune because... he... has a magic rock in his eye? Perhaps?) leaving you free to pick the place clean at your leisure. However, Master difficulty forbids knocking out any civilians so this instantly ends the level. It did give me the Steam achievement for knocking out X people using "environmental hazards". Congratulations! MISSION FAILED

You then enter the compound beneath it, which is mostly enemy-free puzzle-based wandering around until you reach the very end and have to escape. It's OK, but has a generally sloppy and unfinished feel. If you read reviews and watch videos the odd thing about this game is not that it's buggy, but everyone is hitting the same bugs in the same places, so QA can't have missed them. They're not hard to reproduce at all. In this case, it's a baffling part where Garrett peers through a peep-hole and says "whatever that thing is, it's not human". I couldn't see anything. No-one else appears to be able to see anything. Why wasn't that fixed? It's very hard to believe no-one on QA found that issue given how common it is, or that it was a particularly difficult thing to fix.

This is also the point where I realised the story was going to be hopeless. At the very end of the level the cartoonishly evil Thief Taker General is menacing a prostitute. Garrett, as he is climbing out of the compound below the brothel, just happens to stumble across this. Garrett's hiding under the bed, the prostitute sees him, screams, the whole thing threatens to turn into Carry On Thieving, and the overall impression you end up with is that the Thief Taker General's main reason for hunting down Garrett throughout the rest of the game is that he cockblocked him.

Chapter Four:

After several red herrings that are probably due to the development hell causing plotlines to be abandoned, Garrett goes to an architect's house. This is so he can get plans so he can break into the keep where his chum Basso - incidentally, the Garrett/Basso banter throughout the game, while predictable, is the one of the few success of the writing - is being held. This is infuriating.

The start of the level, the actual house, demonstrates that the actual thieving and stealth mechanics largely work and can be used to build a very successful and tense level. After that there's a chase sequence that I actually liked as

a) Garrett crashing through a roof onto a table in the middle of a group of astonished guards and greeting them with a cheery "Evening!" made me laugh
b) It only lasts a minute

Then it all turns to garbage. Garrett infiltrates the keep, a tiresome gauntlet of environmental obstacles. Throughout this the keep is exploding/falling apart/generally on fire in a very inconsistent and disorienting way, oscillating between "blown up real good" and "reasonably good condition" as various cutscenes play out. And finally, Garrett attempts to open a safe and there's a sort-of stealth-boss fight when the Thief Taker General - with his magic end-of-level sensing powers - finds him and sics six always-alert guards on him. Another sloppy point: listen when you finally complete the safe combination and end the level. There's screams as the game audibly kills off the remaining guards so they don't interfere with the cutscene.

Chapter Five:

Failbridge Cradle, more like.

OK, that's not entirely fair, but this is a spectacularly point-missing attempt to "do" Shalebridge Cradle. Interesting: I found out I'm immune to jump scares when sufficiently bored: "Hmmm? What was that? Oh, it's just another scripted squawking crow-disturbance.". Here we get the first real appearance of the Not-Zombies. I got fed up of waiting for them to slowly shuffle past and praying their patrol route wasn't going to crap out again and leave them blocking the way, so I ended up legging it to the exit. If there's no ranged weapon enemies about (and you don't care about the ghost bonus) this is often a viable strat, even on Master.

This level also made me realise how non-creepy this game is in general. Even outside the obvious deliberate scare-levels, Thief games previous to this had a surprising amount of body horror. Viktoria's transformation and attack, the Servants, and the Hag's true form are all vivid and memorable. This game has a couple of swift man-to-zomb transformation scenes, but nothing that sticks in the mind like the earlier games.

Chapter Six:

More proof this could have been great. The Baron's Mansion is a fine, fine, level, but bookended with another boring "stuff's on fire and falling to bits" escape sequence.

Chapter Seven:

Largely a linear trudge to - good lord, did you not listen to the Deus Ex criticisms? - a proper boss fight. To their credit, you can at least walk away and leave the Thief Taker General without killing him. To their discredit, this fight seems impossible if you've not got arrows of some sort left, either offensive ones or water arrows so you can work away on locks in the dark. Also, you can't save during it. Thief prevents you saving at all while combat is occurring, possibly to disguise the fact the generic guards have a habit of changing their models on a reload.

I had to jump through hoops at one point as a guard got stuck in a vital doorway. Not-Zombies make a very brief appearance again for some reason.

Chapter Eight:

Further Not-Zombies to start with, this time in narrow tunnels so more praying their patrol doesn't crap out because if they stop in the wrong place you're completely hosed. Then we get onto Orion's boat that he is building for some reason. Another trudge, then Erin - oh, she wasn't dead - creates even more Not-Zombies (still don't feel guilty about what happened to you, Erin), there's a boss fight that's easier than the previous one, Erin dies again (or does she? SPOILERS: still no), and the game just kind of stops. Oh.

Well, so much for the main campaign. What else do we have?

The City hub: an exercise in finding the safe routes over the rooftops and then using them over and over again. A slightly-better map would help enormously.

Basso missions: a series of small "find this flat in the overworld and nick something from it" missions. Entertaining enough, but largely just "how do I get to that window?" platform-puzzling. The answer is usually "rope arrows".

Client missions: The biggest success of the game, these are six (split evenly between two clients) medium sized missions. These again show the basic mechanics of the game are sound. If I have any complaint, it's that the Vittori missions end queasily with "oh-ho-ho his lover is the bearded lady!!!!!". Ector, the other client, unfortunately has his missions tied in with the goes-nowhere Baron's Automaton Army sub-plot so they just stop with no real pay off.

And that's the rub of it. If you're happy with disparate, unconnected, Thieving levels why not just play the tons of good fan stuff for Old Thief, or the Dark Mod? This is a badly hacked about with and stitched together Frankenstein's Monster of a game. There clearly were going to be other plotlines, but they've been inexpertly excised leaving the remainder a confusing mess of anticlimaxes. I'd like to know what the original story, or stories, were going to be, especially in light of Rhianna Pratchett's distancing of herself from the while thing. If I had to speculate wildly, the "city as living organism with a life force" theme at the end sounds a very Pratchett Sr. idea.

Oh, and it has a very odd idea of what "equally" means.

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