Monday, 9 February 2015

Early Thoughts on Thief (2014)

I am the night! This is my thieving corset!
Thief: The Dark Project pioneered the concept of a stealth computer game; in particular a first-person stealth computer game. It wasn't the only game using stealth, but it was just about the only one where being forced to actually fight was a fast-track to a hole in the dirt. It brought us the light gem (a wonderful addition to a stealth game because it means that concealment is not reliant on your estimation of depth of shadow and at the mercy of your brightness settings), pickpocketing, lock picking and of course the sneaky blackjack to the brainpan. It brought us also Garrett, the master thief, a snarky loner in a city full of snarky loners. Finally, it brought us two sequels: The Metal Age and Deadly Shadows.

After a decade long hiatus, the franchise was revivied with Thief, and by many estimations immediately shove back into the grave again and the headstone defaced. Thief did not receive a standing ovation. I have only picked it up because it was cheap, and came with the original games for me to take another swing at.

My immediate impression was 'holy shit, did the franchise that Dishonoured knocked off come back with a serious intention to return the favour?' It's as if they took the basics of Thief and Dishonoured them up, from the illuminated stealable items (essentially there seems to be a particular lustre to items that are not nailed down) to the grittier incapacitation move (instead of a swift conk to the noggin, you move in for a choke before smacking them in some kind of nerve cluster.

The backstory adds some pointless emo (your disappointingly bloodthirsty student was apparently killed when some old dudes summoned a ball of energy bigger than their heads and you have some guilt for nicking her homemade climbing/murdering tool*) and the supporitng characters homage spit on the original game. In The Dark Project one of your missions is to spring Basso the Boxman, supposedly so you can get friendly with his sister; in a call back in The Metal Age you then have to help Basso spring his fiancee Jenivere from indentured servitude. In Thief, Basso is at best a seedy serial monogamist and at worst some sort of rapacious Bluebeard and Jenivere is his pet magpie.

The new Garrett has also been dressed by Man at image Comics.

The game also has a lot of supernatural gubbins, and yet drops the Keepers, the pre-existing explanation for Garrett's preternatural skills, in place of an as-yet unexplained 'focus vision' which makes enemies, travel routes and stealables glow blue and allows a degree of Matrix-y time dilation. The fact that this ability is fuelled by opium should be a warning.

The world of Thief is a gothic-industrial hellhole with elements of Steampunk. It's not a million miles from the original, but post-Dishonoured it seems a little derivative, especially with the original antagonists (the pseudo-Catholic Order of the Hammer) replaced by some bad aristocrats ruling with an iron hand (and admittedly some wizardry.) Remakes are difficult beasts, but all in all this Thief feels like it has less invention and innovation than the original, and that isn't a good way to go.

Still, I've got the originals now.

* Also, apparently Garrett the 'Master Thief' can't climb shit without 'the Claw'.