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September 2, 2014
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Review: Mediocre story robs game of quality

"Thief"

Developed by Eidos Montreal

In the inky black corner of a city alley, a thief skulks silently. A guard on patrol meanders past him, oblivious to the intruder’s presence, alone underneath the awning of large gothic fortress. In a split second, the thief has ducked into another shadow across the way, remaining unseen. This high-tension stealth is standard faire in Eidos Montreal’s “Thief,” an action title that gives players control of Garrett, an ice-cold klepto with endless pockets and a knack for dodging trouble.

Sadly, what can’t be dodged is the title’s confusing plot, which attempts to juggle numerous narratives at once, rather than honing one refined plotline. The game opens with Garrett and his reckless confidant, Erin, in pursuit of a valuable, mystical artifact, the Primal Stone. But as a supernatural ritual causes the heist to go south, Erin and Garrett are both thrown into the aura of the mystical gem.

Storylines in “Thief” tend to get tangled, and tragically so. Rather than working together to craft a potentially engrossing story arc, each issue tends to trade off importance throughout the game. As players find themselves jumping from one issue to another, each problem begins to feel less urgent, and the potential for an interesting story from any of these narratives vanishes.

Garrett’s motivations are also never fully fleshed out. As the shadowy pickpocket reluctantly does favors around the gloomy, maze-like metropolis, he complains constantly about the money owed to him. This contradictory characterization lacks believability, and ultimately makes the “master thief” feel more like an errand boy and less like a notorious sleuth.

Things only get worse during cinematic cut scenes, which ultimately feel mediocre thanks to “Thief’s” flat voice acting. Unfortunately, the worst of the bunch is Garrett, voiced by Stephen Russell, who delivers lines with a robotic coldness that strives to seem world-weary, but ultimately makes him sound brain-dead. Smaller roles occasionally boast convincing voicing and may leave players wondering why the game’s main protagonist couldn’t have been voiced by a more convincing actor.

Thankfully, while Garrett feels less than dangerous in conversation, his ability to exploit the shadows through the game’s mechanics turns him from clumsy wordsmith to silent predator. “Thief” may lack a strong story, but it carries a punch with its stealth mechanics, allowing players to steal, stalk and silently dispatch guards with expertise. Most satisfying is the “swoop” mechanic, which allows players to dart among shadows silently with the press of a button. This aspect provides a sense of immersion and makes Garrett feel like a fully realized saboteur, dodging between guards and patrols — an urban ninja in his own right.

This immersion is stifled, however, by muddy graphical textures of the game’s objects and a painfully drab color palette that hangs over the city. For a title where players spend a majority of their time nestled into corners and peeking around walls, the developers at Eidos Montreal put surprisingly little attention into detailing the game’s walls and floorboards, all of which become nothing more than splotchy messes as the character moves closer to them. Most areas, especially the urban environments, are gray, maze-like and without fine detail, resulting in a visual experience that feels entirely lackluster and unremarkable when compared to recent releases.

“Thief” is an action-stealth game, but it doesn’t serve as much else. While it makes for a fun romp through the world of sleuthing, it lacks an engrossing plot to tie its positive mechanics together. In combination with shoddy voice acting and underwhelming visuals, the title ultimately finds itself just barely rising out of the realm of gaming mediocrity.