I can’t really consider Thief (2014) a disappointment, since I wasn’t expecting it to be good. As many reviewers pointed out, Thief doesn’t even work as a standalone game, it has serious issues, many of them come from its troubled development at Eidos Montreal. But I’m going to focus on the reasons why I find Thief unworthy of the name Thief.
The biggest reason why the original Thief games succeeded was because they had a rich, atmospheric setting, unique characters and factions. In the new Thief, pretty much everyone is a backstabbing, selfish bastard or some sick, oppressed citizen. There was almost no implication that the City had a mythological past, other than a few fan-service references, there was no magical, weird stuff that made the original games so unique.
2. The philosophy behind the lore
In the original trilogy, The Order of Hammer, the Pagans, and the Keepers weren’t only there as factions, as set pieces: they were symbols of various philosophical ideas, and their conflict wasn’t only political. Dividing the City into factions that represent technology, nature, and balance may seem a bit superficial, but there were actually developed, well-written ideas behind them, they also had conflicts with themselves. Reading the precepts of the Hammerite order was enlightening: everything they stood for was logical, yet insane at the same time. It made me understand how people shape history and vice versa. None of this philosophical depth is found in the 2014 version.
3. Grittiness for the sake of grittiness
This has been said before, but it’s true. Garrett is no longer sarcastic because of his past, but because the sake of it. He’s bitter, he’s awful, he doesn’t actually care. He did care in the original trilogy, he didn’t talk like he did, but there were much more subtleties in his character. He had humor. The characters and the world of the reboot is just bland and dark. Despite the name, Thief: The Dark Project wasn’t actually dark. It’s world wasn’t violent, unforgiving, hateful. It was foreboding. It was a mystical, surreal experience, not gritty. I missed that in the reboot.
Big, sprawling levels with many secrets – they are gone. If technology doesn’t allow us to create bigger levels, the game won’t work as an immersive simulator. Exploration was the key of the success in previous installments, and it doesn’t work in the reboot: loading screens and points of no return tear the levels apart.
5. Lack of colors
I took this (mildly spoiler-y) screenshot myself:
You may notice that it contains circa two colors. This is actually really troubling, since the original games, especially Thief II played with warm and cold colors so well. Even Eidos Montreal’s first game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution had the “only one color” effect, but it was used for a reason. Here, you can see that Thief is just bleak, unimaginative, boring. Needlessly dark in tone, and not a single reference to the elemental magic and its associated colors. The vivid green of pagan forests. The blood-red flag of the Hammerite order. There’s no contrast between certain missions, and if there’s no contrast, you don’t want to explore new parts of the City. It’s all the same. The same atmosphere throughout the whole game. It’s nauseating.
I wanted to love the new Thief, even if it doesn’t have Stephen Russell, even if it doesn’t have the lore, the factions, but it misses so much more. The atmosphere, the uneasy feeling, the exploration. We needed that, no other franchise does these things this well.
It’s been a year since it was released, but I never bothered to try is again. Maybe I should, but it was so uninspiring, that I just can’t.