- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A legendary burglar searches for a missing protege while pilfering a city on the verge of chaos in the return of the stealthy game franchise Thief (Square Enix and Eidos-Montreal, Rated Mature, $59.99).

Once an innovator of its time back in 1998, the cult classic arrives on PlayStation 4 with a huge legacy to live up to and delivers less than stellar results.

From a first-person perspective, a player becomes the honorable but often too-greedy master thief Garrett, a hooded, pale and emaciated fellow with too much eye make-up and suffering from a case of amnesia.

I found it amusing that for the staunch reputation this guy amassed, according to his contemporaries, I often found myself a third-class criminal, pick-pocketing citizens, rummaging through drawers for any type of junk, rifling through bodies and picking up gold coins off the street.

As I explored the city through numerous missions to actually acquire more loot for my clients, life was as gloomy as Charles Dickens’ novel, if he had dabbled in Steampunk lore.

Specifically, a plague-riddled urban wasteland controlled by a ruthless baron who smothers the streets with his soldiers, forcing Garrett to almost always hide in the shadows or traverse from rooftops.

The beauty of the oppressive cityscape, variety of objectives and potential for unlimited exploration offered great promise.

Right from the beginning, I was hoping Thief would harness the power of the PS4 and offer a seamless, cinematic adventure that sucked me into its dreary world and out of too-standard gaming mechanics.

Unfortunately, excruciating load times (even with the full game downloaded to my hard drive), a boring story and zero innovation to the stealth genre took away my emotional immersion into Garrett’s experience.

Alas, I was still stuck playing a video game. That’s not bad, just underwhelming, disappointing and not expected for a touted PS4 release.

However, the game has its moments.

Garrett arrives armed with a bow that eventually uses enough arrow tip types — from explosive, gas and fire tips to even water pouches shot to extinguish lanterns and torches — to make the Green Arrow giggle.

It was fun to pop up and snipe the opposition. At first, I was able to irritate with less powerful arrows but eventually I was able to take down the bad guys with a well-timed head shot using a sawtooth arrow.

Of course, sneaking is a way of life and a player can craft a way to escape or infiltrate by monitoring a meter above enemies or dial on the corner of the screen to know if he is seen or can be seen.

Our reluctant hero can creep up behind a soldier and bludgeon him with a blackjack (even grabbing and hiding the body), can also speedily burst across the landscape unseen or use a claw to quickly climb predetermined areas.

His bursts of Focus vision, practically cheating, glows and highlights important items, paths and obstacles in an environment.

As with game fare of this genre, collecting coins and antiques or mission success translates into buying more supplies or upgrading equipment and powers.

Now, about the only harnessing of the PS4 comes through the use of the mighty DualShock 4 controller. Its touch pad at the top allows for the easy access of weapons and health-restoring items (activated with a touch) while the headlight on the controller changes color when Garrett is visible to the Baron’s goons.

Gamers who have delved into the wonderfully creative, interactive universes of Dishonored and Assassin’s Creed will find Thief a time-stealing experience unworthy of its predecessors.

Most egregious for me is that developers played it way too safe in a next-generation gaming era that demands an evolution.

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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