The first full mission of Thief has you literally following a rail. It's set in a factory designed to assemble mannequins, transported through the building along a line of hooks connected to the ceiling. This line you must obediently follow, sometimes even hooking up to it yourself, dangling helpless as the game carries you through the level to the next objective marker, scattered like breadcrumbs through the mission's progressive structure.
It is the worst possible start for Square Enix' reboot of one of gaming's most revered series', and had this games critic ready to take a blackjack to his own braincase. Fortunately, Thief improves as it goes along. In fact, there are moments when it rivals the best of what Looking Glass and Ion Storm had to offer. But it doesn't half take its time about getting there.
Thief departs from the canon established by the three previous games. It leaves the Garrett of old with his story concluded, and instead brings us a new take on gaming's greatest pilferer who, aside from his fascination with chin-based attire, is largely similar to the Garrett we know and love. The voice-actor who replaces Stephen Russell gives a similarly strong performance in capturing the master-thief's mannerisms, gravelly tones and sardonic wit.
Yet while Square Enix get the character right, Thief's plot seems determined to undermine this success. It revolves around Garrett attempting to undo a mistake made in an earlier heist which caused the disappearance of a fellow filcher, while simultaneously saving the city from a mysterious disease called the Gloom, and the misuse by a powerful noble of a recently discovered crystal which gives its owner all the power ever in the history of the universe, or something.
It's a quiver full of nonsense that ends up shot in all sorts of daft directions. It forces Garrett into a traditional hero role and plays heavily on the supernatural, which was always the weakest part of Thief's fiction. It's also dreadfully written. The main antagonist, the Thief-Taker General, is the most appalling example of videogame characterisation we've seen since Call of Duty: Ghosts. He's capslock EVIL in completely silly yet predictable ways, like brutally murdering a subordinate for the most minor of infractions, and slapping women around for no real reason. His tone is too serious to be fun and too pantomime to take seriously. There's also a moment when the phrase "We're not so different, you and I," is used in complete earnestness. At this point good, writerly procedure would be to step away from the keyboard, walk into the kitchen, and cut off all your fingers with a bread knife.
It's an unnecessarily crass game too, the guards make lots of "jokes" about willies and cock-rings and having sex with prostitutes which are all depressingly unfunny and unimaginative. Meanwhile the game can't decide whether it wants to say "frick" or "f#ck", like a teenager experimenting with swearing for the first time. Again, it seems intended to make almost everyone in the game appear less moral than Garrett, which is to miss the point entirely. What's most annoying is, when Thief drops the adolescent coarseness and attempts a little more subtlety, the writing quality improves significantly.