Posted: March 2, 2014
I had my qualms about Dishonored when I first played it, because of the plot (that ping-ponged you on the outskirts of a real story, leaving you no real choices) and and its decorative, linear world. But compared to Thief remake, Dishonored is a masterpiece. And the sad thing is, Thief is totally playable, solid game - but slightly annoying in all possible ways, and also completely ridiculous. Slightly amusing TL;DR next.
Thief is not a horrible game - rather, it's quite mediocre, despite all of the evident labor that went into its making. The source of the most excrutiating pain is the game's plot: it's all incredibly half-baked, illogical twists and baffling characters who are all over the place. Yes, including Garrett, who is part action-star jock (delivering one-liners in the most inappropriate situations), and part piece of wood, that chooses all the worst moments to insert a meaningful silence (so they all look like bug-eyed weirdness). All in all, Garrett reminded me of Shia LaBoeuf, which is Eldritch enough in itself. I won't even get into the game's half-♥♥♥♥♥ attempt at political commentary, because it's clearly pulled straight from other movies and games without any thought. Dialogue is simply very bad (though overheard "flavor" conversations are perfectly OK). For me, the highlight of writer's craft was when chief of criminal police explained to a notorious thief the meaning of the ubiqitous in-game word meaning "thief" (along the lines of "You see, when they catch thieves, they scald their hand in tar, so thieves are often called blackhands. Did you know that?") The ending is so muddled and confounding, it's almost high-art surreal.
OK, let's disregard the plot (and we can, literally, since there are several nice little, interesting side missions to play). Game mechanics (like the plot) is a smorgasbord of Dishonored, Hitman: Absolution, Assassin's Creed and others. Each one contributes a lovely bit of gameplay - and almost all of these bits don't work. Including the bits from original Thief. For example, Absolution-style closets for hiding are so completely useless, developers made them double as save points. I beat the game on Master using stealth, and I used the cabinet for hiding once. And I could do without it that time. And you can save anytime anyway.
Stealth is not very good: on one hand, enemies are deaf and dumb, on the other, there are only two lighting situations for the player: brightly lit and totally obscured by darkness. The end result looks rather ridiculous, player prancing around people, snatching earrings out of their earlobes and cups before their eyes, hiding behind a coffee table in a lit room, hiding in plain sight in the middle of the stairs and so on. Another example of (Dishonored-)pulled mechanic is the Swoop - a cool accelerated stealth motion that is almost silent for some reason. Again, it's sometimes cool, but it undermines the tension and calculations of stealth: if there is a danger of detection, you just swoop around enemies like a terrified jetbike caught in hostile waters.
Close combat leaves you feeling like an idiot: to make Garrett more thievy, they denied him the use of any edged weapons, so even if you make a tough moral decision to murder the guy who discovered you, you will have to hit him repeatedly with a small club until he is too tired to block. Yes, I'm not joking, it's the only kung fu in Garrett's arsenal.
Open-world navigation is incredibly infuriating. In attempt to make the (very small) town into kind of a puzzle, developers closed off 90% of the roofs and plotted extremely arbitrary and convoluted paths, without any consideration for how the hell could anyone live in this city at all. And where is everybody. The "overheard conversations" mechanic always works as disembodied voices from inaccessible Nowhere, SOMETIMES EVEN IF THE CONVERSATION IS INSIDE THE APARTMENT YOU'RE IN. And it glitches sometimes, so you hear the same chat about a nice-smelling sex-worker all over the level, like it's a ghost that haunts your undersexed thieving self. Apartments that you rob, meanwhile, are always ominously empty. The nail in the coffin is arbitrary window-portals and "narrow-passage-portals" between maps, that never tell you where are you going. They're slow, annoying, and for all of their lengthy animations, they still end up showing you a loading screen.
And several hours into the game, you realize that you're stealing everything from everyone, from lowly vagrants to artistic types to dead people to nobility. That's because neither Garrett or the game itself do not differentiate. For them, it's like collecting rings in Sonic.
Oh, and Garrett can't jump. It's OK as a design choice, there are a lots of designated climbing points... but Garrett also can't jump over small and deadly pressure plates. He just expires, raising his hands in despair (that's his dying animation, for some reason).
Anyway, it all comes down to the plot. You could gladly trod though not-so-perfect-but-totally-OK gameplay if you didn't roll your eyes every half an hour, or if any of the NPC's caused f***-giving counter to show of the myriad readings not amounting to zero. I certainly trodded through Thief all the same, and went away with something to tell - like the SUDDEN Silent Hill revival in the mental institution, or the need to set up precise soft flesh headshots, or cool side missions, or the HONESTLY COOL peripheral/central vision stealth mechanic (when enemies' reaction time depends on how peripheral you are to their vision cone). I have the utmost respect to its developers who churned out this enormous amount of content and threw in a couple of good ideas.
There is a lot of things in Thief, and many of them are righteous. But the demonic side won.
***I should clarify, after reading other reviews, that there are many smart bits about new Thief's stealth. Detection of open containers, peripheral vision, multi-level alert, cumulative alert and so on. At the same time I should add that the game world (which is part of the plot, so it's covered in the review) is not very convincing. It's 1920's (or later) technology, household items, fashion and overall aesthetics in a sorta medieval world. Rachmaninov playing on voxophones but lighting with torches. Wirecutters that cut rope. Rope that controls electrical machinery. Ratchet wrenches, metal ductwork and compound bows, and no firearms.