A simple stroll through a game store will bring you past title after title based on stealth action. The genre is becoming so popular that even Starcraft is giving it a shot with their upcoming Starcraft: Ghost. But the Thief series has an impressive lineage backing it up, stretching back to busting out with the original Tenchu and Metal Gear Solid…able to lean against the wall and tell all the younger, newer games “I was stealth before stealth was cool.”
The series continues with a jaunt over to the console market, a move many rabid fans were desperately waiting for. Once again you play Garrett, master thief and all around bad ass. The familiar groups from the previous games show up as well, the devout Hammerites, the wild Pagans, and the enigmatic Keepers. Garrett works his way around a medieval city, attempting to unravel a mysterious doomsday prophecy, and stealing as much as he possibly can on the way. His missions take him to some very impressive environments as well, such as an abandoned asylum, a sunken citadel, and a haunted ship. While there is significant gameplay time, with no multiplayer or Xbox Live content download, it may suffer at longevity for some.
The game begins with a tutorial, of course, though I was impressed that it was an actual mission. I understand the need for tutorials in games, but it is always so much more rewarding when instead of jumping around on boxes in a warehouse, you’re actually getting something done. The next mission is another linear crawl through a mansion, but after that the City with No Name opens up to you. From this point on, after you complete a mission you always return to your dingy apartment, and can explore the city as you choose. There are some entertaining respawns in this, for instance, I kept murdering the same neighbors over and over again…it must be hell to be a realtor in Garrett’s neighborhood. Throughout the game there are different missions you can take for different factions, changing your standing with them, as well as the missions you undertake to complete the main quest. As you explore, you find various black market shops scattered around the different zones of the city, so Garrett can unload his stash, and buy some more gear.
The gameplay is great, though not phenomenal. Moving Garrett is fairly intuitive; he moves on the same Deus Ex/Unreal engine most gamers are already used to. Melee combat control can be awkward, not that it matters, since Garrett really isn’t strong enough to go toe-to-toe with anyone in this game tougher than a drunken civilian. Most enemies are better off avoided, and when you have to strike, stealth attacks are the way to go, obviously. However, Garrett has plenty of escape gadgets, such as flashbombs and mines, to aid his getaway should a backstabbing or blackjacking go awry. Add some moss arrows, fire arrows, climbing gloves, and various other gadgets, and Garrett has a multitude of ways to approach a mission. As in most stealth games, the enemies follow predictable patrol routes making it easy to dispatch them, though there are some impressive AI additions, such as when a guard notices a window open or a chair moved.
My largest gripe with Thief is actually in the menu management. While the in-game item management is easy enough, using the black and white buttons to cycle through, if you wish to see your map or check your objectives, may God have mercy on your soul. It seems like it is a fairly easy interface, until you realize that the page of the map you wish to see is a second page of a sub-menu of a sub-menu. When you’re lost in the Pagan tunnels, it is inconvenient and annoying, to say the least. I just imagine a guard coming around the corner to see Garrett crouched along the wall digging in his backpack with a flashlight.