Last week Justin Clouse reviewed the new Thief Game. The consensus on this game is decidedly mixed. I think I liked the game better than Justin did, although I agree with the points he made. It's a flawed, frustrating reboot that feels off.
One common element in everyone's criticism is that they can't stand the story. A lot of people are saying that the plot is dumb or boring or cliché. I'm going to ruffle some feathers by saying that I think the story is basically par for the course for the Thief series. Allowing for the fact that my nostalgia goggles probably aren't calibrated, I'll go out on a limb and say Thief 2014 might even be better in some ways than the previous games when it comes to story. (At least until the final act, where it feels like the cutscenes don't fit together because of re-writes.)
But Shamus, people love the story of the previous games and they hate the story of this new game. How can you say the new one is better?
I think the problem with this new game is not the story, it's the presentation.
See, the series has always been about nonsense ancient prophecies, cryptic oracles, stock boogeymen, magical macguffins, and very arch characters, all forming a plot that drags the reluctant Garrett into a situation where he'll save the city. In fact, Thief 2014 is basically a re-mix of elements from the previous three games:
- The Primal Stone is a mysterious artifact like The Eye from the first game.
- Thief-taker general is a corrupt and brutal law enforcement guy, pretty much like Sheriff Truart from the second game.
- We've got the battle between the spiritual Graven and the technology-minded cult, which is clearly lifted from the Pagans vs. Hammerites conflict from all the previous games.
- We've got an insane asylum where we have to investigate what happened to an important character, which is almost a beat-for-beat recreation of the Shalebridge Cradle of the third game.
- There are a bunch of mechanical mannequins (that the story never does anything with) that are strongly reminiscent of the Servants of Karris in Thief 2.
- A major ally is revealed to be a traitor, which is basically required in these games.
- The Keepers are gone, but in their place we have the Queen of Beggars acting as the soothsayer and conscience of the city.
Those are the major elements, but you can find plenty more if you look. The point is, this new Thief is nothing new. And I'm fine with that. The problem here isn't that the story is bad, it's that the story gets the spotlight. I talked about this a year ago. The developers are using a full-performance capture technology that's expensive and time consuming. It means all of your performers have to get on a mo-cap stage and act out the scene together while the computer captures body movements, voice, and facial expression. It's impressive when it works, but this is not a game that needed it.