Though the Thief reboot hasn’t been universally panned — the general reaction seems to be good — the game definitely lacks some direction.
To be fair, the game had a lot going against it. Thief is a highly treasured game series, thanks to the first two games developed by the brilliant Looking Glass Studios. Reboots are almost always going to piss off purists because developers (rightfully) want to try something new.
Also, development was, in a word, bumpy. The game remained in the concept phase for a long time, and a wealth of ideas, such as a move to third person and even ditching series star Garret, ultimately bogged the project down.
At the end of the day, the Thief reboot, which is by no means a bad game, could have probably used more time in development. If the team had maybe thought a little less and simply looked outside of their studio for a little inspiration, the game might have turned out just a little better.
Here are five games that could have influenced the developers to bring Thief back with more flair:
What it could learn: How to handle an experience system
Though both Human Revolution and Thief were developed by Eidos, they were handled by different teams. When preview builds of the game were tested, Thief purists were dismayed to see that you would earn experience for killing guards, which didn’t at all gel with the Thief ideology, which emphasized sneaking around the guards, instead of killing them.
Eidos ultimately scrapped the XP system, opting to have players purchase upgrades with money gained from stolen loot. This didn’t have to be the case, though. Human Revolution rewarded players with experience for finding alternate paths, sneaking through a level without being detected, and also for not killing any guards. It wasn’t the experience system that was flawed – it was the implementation. An experience system could have fleshed the game’s mechanics out just a little bit more.
While many that opposed this system made a valid case by pointing out that Garret is a master thief and doesn’t need to learn anything, this wouldn’t be the first game to take a very capable tradesman and require you to net them experience or build them up. What about Metroid, which made you completely reconstruct your suit? Even The Witcher had players leveling up a totally capable warrior.
What it could learn: How to handle free-running
Sure, Titanfall is doing free-running now, but Mirror’s Edge did it first, and it did it damn well. Not only were the mechanics sound, but the levels were designed around them, allowing free-running to really be take off.
In an interview with Game Informer, Steven Gallagher, Thief’s narrative director, said that Garret was an “athletic” individual and he wanted the movement to reflect that. While the final product certainly hints that Garret is quite the acrobat, the levels in Thief are so small and cramped that freer movement is never fully explored. If they had taken notes on Mirror’s Edge level design and incorporated that into the game’s stealth mechanics, we could have seen a much more interesting amalgamation of gameplay influences.
What it could learn: How to make players feel the part
Garret is purportedly a master thief, and yet at very few points during Thief did I ever actually feel like one. Most of my thievery was, well, petty; swiping small trinkets like letter openers. Are these really the types of things that a master thief goes after on a job? Would he even bother?
What the developers of games such as Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City did was carefully study their character – nailing down perfectly what Batman would and wouldn’t do. After playing Thief, I wasn’t fully convinced that Eidos had really grasped what it means to be a master thief.
What it could learn: How to enable players to find creative solutions
Despite the hub world and semi-flexible level design, Thief was a fairly linear game that didn’t require a lot of thought outside of the basic ability to make environmental observations. Hitman games have always required players to really formulize their approach.
I recall one hit I did where I poisoned my target’s food, making him really have to go to the bathroom. While he was sitting on the can, I put a bullet in his head and walked out, cool as you like. This runs in stark contrast to the obvious “shoot water arrow here” “use claw here” cues that littered Thief’s environment. Let me do a little thinking for myself!
Thief: The Dark Project & Thief II: The Metal Age
What it could learn: Everything
I am all for reboots and their ability to redefine an already great series into something entirely new and refreshing. However, all that made the old games great had to be abandoned for some reason, and some of the subtle nuances that truly made you feel like a master thief in these first two games were unfortunately left out.
For example, some of the maps you were given were incomplete, and even wrong in some cases. In reality, master thieves don’t have a map all laid out for them. They get their information fromm many different sources: their surroundings, scouting, eavesdropping, etc. Sound was emphasized more, requiring players to listen for guard’s footsteps to indicate their position and even making it so that certain surfaces clanked or creaked when you walked on them. It was the minutiae of these first two games that made them so great. Thief 2014 ditched all of it.
What do you think? Do future Thief games need to look outwards for inspiration, or should the team be coming up with their own ideas? Were there any other games you think would have been better sources of inspiration? Let us know in the comments below!