Thief (2014) (AKA Thief 4) is an immersive sim developed by Eidos-Montréal and published by Square Enix for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One in 2014. Vaguely following the ending of Deadly Shadows, the titular master thief Garret embarks on a job together with his protégé Erin to steal from Baron Northcrest, the ruler of The City. The two end up fighting while observing the baron undertaking a strange ritual. The fight gets them to fall on top of a magical blast, which results in Erin disappearing and Garret waking up a year later in The City, which has been besieged by a plague.
Thief 2014 holds the questionable position of being both a reboot of the Thief franchise, as well as its canonical fourth entry somehow. At first, I thought it obviously followed the teaser from the end of Deadly Shadows due to Garret's protégé Erin being part of the plot. But no! This Garret is some sort of reincarnation or descendant of the original (known now as the legendary "Sneak Thief") that just happens to have the same name and his own young female sidekick. This confused premise speaks volumes for the story and game as a whole.
There are some fun nods to the past games, but they are very tertiary and nothing from those games matter to the plot at all. As such, I assume the game was pitched as a fresh start for newcomers, hence the cowardly and non-committal reboot name. But if you're gonna bulldoze all over the setting and kill off all the major factions, why plop in a Garret clone instead of making a new character the master thief? If you made the girl at the end of Deadly Shadows the protagonist in a new country, you'd have a new trilogy on your hands!
What we get is a dilluted mix of what's come before stretched thinner than the game can handle using a presentation that exchanges minimalistic style for a lot of fog and blue polygons. Plus cutscenes that look terrible in motion due to the framerate cap on them.
Ok, so what actually happens in this game then? Well, after Garret wakes up after the explosion, he gets a job helping the resistance leader Orion oppose Baron Northcrest by stealing a magical book. This sets him upon the path to figuring out the mystery of the Gloom plague, what happened to Erin during the ritual and gets him in a series of scuffles with the resident Thief-Taker General, because of course. Add some cryptic magic mumbo-jumbo that doesn't mean anything and a wet fart of an ending and you get the idea.
It's so weird, there are only 8 main story missions (that are pretty long, admittedly), but the game still feels so overly long. I'll get into why I felt like that further below, but even ignoring that part of the game, I still think it uses too many words to say too little. The originals are mysterious and minimalistic games that paint pictures broader than their frames, whereas this game spends so much dialogue on what amounts to nothing. It's really disappointing to see the series end on this bloated note.
The central conceit of the series still holds true. You're a thief and you need coin, no matter what's guarding it, be it traps, guards or loud birds. As such, the indirect and evasive approach is usually the way to go, though Garret's blackjack has been buffed to an absurd degree in this game, making it easy to beat down singular guards who have seen you until the endgame rolls around.
I don't approve of the change (or how you can burst out of closets to easily trigger finishing moves), but sneaking around is still pretty fun. Actual theft is kind of annoying though, as there are tons of low-value items hidden in (often locked) drawers and cabinets, making it a bit of a chore to collect everything you find, especially with the new "thieving" animation Garret has. As is customary for a game of the era, Garret has detective vision as well, which helps highlight interactables within the grimy environment.
Thankfully, it's beeen somewhat limited, as you can't look through walls without upgrades and it drains rather quickly even when upgraded, making it something best used selectively in short bursts. I'd have preferred it if the game was designed to not need it, but it's at least not as unhinged as the Dark Vision power in Dishonored proved to be.
As expected, light and darkness is still vital to the proceedings, but due to the way the visuals are handled, it's kinda difficult to accept that you're actually hidden in shadow even though the light gem on the hud tells you so. As I said before, the game is very blue, when it should be pitch-black in a lot of areas. That's obviously to make navigation in darkness easier, but the old games made it work.
And with how cramped the levels are (being smaller and more linear than Deadly Shadows, which is an achievement), there really isn't much room for light sources to be obstacles. If anything, they're placed in inane locations (like in deserted hidden rooms) just to help you see some loot. There just isn't space for the guards to have long patrol routes full of torches that you need to selectively extinguish with your limited water arrows to sneak around. If a torch is gonna cause you trouble, it's going to be very obvious, making the puzzle aspect very trivial.
Again building off of Deadly Shadows, Thief (2014) has a hub for you to run around in. But unlike Deadly Shadows' depiction of The City, this incarnation is a nightmarish slog of a location hellbent on wasting as much of your time as it can. Compared to the similar hubs in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, it really sucks to navigate this hellhole.
First of all, in order to make this game work on seventh-gen consoles, the hub is littered with annoying loading gates not only separating the different districts like in Deadly Shadows, but even individual houses! So when exploring, you have to needlessly mash a button so Garret gathers the strength needed to pry up a window or push a piece of wood.
But that's not what I actually hate about this hub, that honour goes to the actual design of it. It's so bad that you're given a map to try and help you out. Which it doesn't do, since there's a lot of cramped verticality and you can't swap between different altitudes on the map without actually moving up and down physically. The game doesn't even have the common courtesy to mark the location of area transitions, which really grinded my gears once I realized that an area cramped with guards could be easily avoided by going through an area transition hidden in an apartment.
So, what's the point of this hub then? Well, beyond connecting the story missions and letting you replay them for the sake of collectibles and challenges, there are a ton of side quests. These quests come in two flavours, simple jobs within the hub and bigger 15-25 minute jobs for a pair of clients. The client jobs are fine, there are even some fun ideas that wouldn't fit within the larger story missions there, like robbing a deranged aristocrat or tailing a drunk.
But the smaller ones really came to annoy me, as they don't pay enough for the amount of grief they caused me. Actually doing them rarely requires any skills beyond using Focus to find the odd hidden room, but to actually get to them within the hub is the absolute worst. Due to the way the hub is designed, there is never a direct route to these side jobs. Instead, you have to scope out a 50-meter radius centered around the map marker and look for hidden switches or poles to fasten rope arrows to. Even when I caught on to how deranged the designer was, I was still perplexed by how well they managed to hide these entryways.
The whole hub is so unpleasant and claustrophobic, not to mention that the NPCs have a habit of endlessly repeating a dialogue about someone not smelling like piss for once, which gets subtitled even when you are nowhere near being able to actually hear it. Maybe I should have started on that point. I think it perfectly encapsulates the experience of playing Thief (2014).