Content of the article: "Thief 2014 – Smothered Love"
I loved the Thief reboot when it was released in 2014, and I'm loving it now as I replay it one more time after so many years. It feels like a slower-paced Dishonored, more focused around calm, silent steps than grand powers, fast teleports, and fancy assassinations. The moments of tension are great. Gently nudging your joystick to quietly slink over cracked glass, desperately twisting your lockpicks as you hear the footsteps of an approaching guard, snuggling in a corner hoping that the darkness is enough to hide you from the soldier walking right past you. It's great.
It also feels like there's some actual love put into this game. One example is the animation of the main character's hand movements as he picks locks and opens safes are wonderfully detailed. Garret holds tools and pulls vaults daintily with the tips of his fingers, like an artist carefully and delicately practicing his work. Another example is almost every place you can enter and rob has little notes and environmental details dictating a story for that place, whether its the story of a man hiding his valuables as he gets more sick and paranoid by the day in his tiny apartment, or a secret room in the house of a noble woman, with nothing inside but a chair and a famous painting. Where the developers could, they put a bit of love and detail that really makes this game feel special to me.
However, there are plenty of places where that love seems completely absent and neglected. Thief 2014 is not known as a masterpiece, and for good reason. A forgettable story, low-quality cutscenes, a convoluted hub world filled with empty rooms and loading screens. So many spots in the game feel like they've been rushed or forced in there haphazardly and at the last second.
And while I have no evidence, I would guess that this is exactly what happened.
I feel like I can imagine the board room where corporate suits are yelling at designers and developers all the "cool" and "popular" things that they need to add for advertising and marketing purposes. "It needs a hub world!" "More dramatic story!" "Put in a female character!" "Kill off the female character!" "We need it shipped next week!" Everything from the forgettable story, to the boring characters, to the messy hub world, and the distinct lack of final polish in the form of glitches and loading screens galore. It feels like advertising and release dates pushed this game into a state where it is significantly worse than it could have been.
I think the best example is in one of the middling missions known as "A Friend in Need". This mission is about breaking into an architect's house, and then breaking into a prison afterwards.
This mission was the worst experience I had in the game. The level design was cramped and frustrating, and the house I was breaking into was small and linear, with almost no interesting areas, secret pathways, or fun opportunities to break in.
After finding the loot, the mission ends with a chase scene where Garret is running across rooftops, past blazing catapult fire, into and over guard rooms, through flocks of distracting crows, all ending off in a cool shot where he jumps off the top of a building. The whole segment itself was as boring as holding the run button and pushing the joystick forward for a minute straight sounds like.
This mission was presented to us first in a trailer in 2013 (here's the trailer if you're very curious:
). It showed off a lot of things that Ubisoft wanted Thief to be about; chaos, riots, action, chases. Everything the released product of Thief 2014 isn't actually about.
Sections like there are often shoehorned in to games for the sake of having something to put into trailers. Again, I can practically hear corporate suits demanding the developers to add "action" and "explosions" somewhere in the game so that they can have a shiny new trailer to show off to the masses, even though the game as a whole suffered as a result.
Basically, I want to say that I'm sad about the state Thief 2014 is in. It is one of my favorite games, and I still have a blast playing it today, but it's held back by so many issues that I feel could have been easily sidestepped if it wasn't for the way video game development is managed these days. Rushed dev cycles, a focus on things that aren't important, and a desire to modify the game and ruin the fun for the sake of trailers and advertisement. If it wasn't for all the things managers and advertisers did to try and make the game sell better, I bet Thief 2014 would have actually sold way better than it did.
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