Reboots are often a tricky proposition from the outset. The content creators, no matter the medium, have to reinvent and reinvigorate a wealth of source material, and also be mindful that the existing iteration most likely has thousands, if not millions, of adoring fans whom are skeptical of your every move.
That's why I cringed when Eidos Montreal announced that they were rebooting Thief, a franchise that is often cited as the grandfather of the entire stealth genre. While Metal Gear Solid and Tenchu: Stealth Assassin brought the idea of stealth to the spotlight, it was 1999's Thief: The Dark Project that cemented the mechanics that went on to define the genre as a whole.
Not only was it the first game to introduce a light and dark mechanic for hiding in shadows, it was also the very first to use audio cues to alert enemies based on what surfaces you were walking on, or items you may have knocked over in the game world. It was also one of (if not the) first stealth game to take a first-person perspective, and it was the first game that had sound bend around corners and through rooms, allowing you to eavesdrop on important conversations.
Thief: The Dark Project was kind of a big deal. It was inducted into both the IGN and the GameSpy Hall of Fames. It was listed as one of the best 100 video games of all time by TIME magazine. It laid the important groundwork that continues to define an entire genre the same way that Super Mario Bros. defines 2D platforming.
And now Eidos Montreal have unleashed 2014's Thief reboot. The critical reception has been underwhelming to say the least, but as a fan I can't say that I'm entirely disappointed by a game that at its core, still manages to capture the heart and soul of the franchise I still love.
I'm not saying it's a great game, far from it actually. The story destroys everything about Garret as a character, changing his motivations entirely and mixing some weird kind of loyalty and lust into his psyche. The hub city is beyond atrocious, adding in unnecessary dilly-dallying in an attempt to pad out the game, or perhaps to make it feel much bigger than it actually is.
What Thief still does exceptionally well, despite its myriad of shortcomings, is allowing the player to feel like they are skulking in the shadows. Light and darkness is still a central theme to the gameplay, and with the added horsepower of the current platforms available, there were times that I found myself enthralled at my sneaking abilities. Taking out a guard and hiding him behind some barrels was one thing, but literally sliding from shadow to shadow, only to loot the treasures from my would-be assailants was a fantastic feeling.
The reboot still manages to pack in a robust selection of arrows, each with a specific purpose that at least rivals the original Thief games. Water arrows quickly regained their rightful place as one of my most used gadgets, and it brought back memories of the old Garret, the one I used to stalk prey with before poisoning them with a moss-covered tip from afar.
For the most part, the stealth in the main missions is almost spot on, offering something akin to the original format. When I was following a set path, I was content that this was a decent, if not good Thief game. Not as good as the originals, but still worthy of the name.
But when I started to think about the freedoms that I had lost, like the ability to shoot a rope arrow into any surface instead of a rigid, "YOU MUST SHOOT HERE," approach, I became a little disheartened. I also missed being able to use a dagger or swords, although I almost want to believe that the studio wanted to avoid as many comparisons with Dishonored as possible (interestingly, Dishonored's development team was made up of former Thief developers).
Is Thief the reboot it deserved? No. Is it a great game? No. Does it deserve to have the Thief name? Yes.
Despite its many flaws, the missions are a great deal of fun, and the side missions really capture the essence of what a Thief game should be about. They missed the mark, but not all hope is lost. With a dedicated team, a more streamlined system, and a story that plays into the Garret we all know and love, I really think they could bring Thief back to its former greatness.