Errant Signal: Thief (2014)

  By Shamus   Mar 20, 2014   58 comments


Link (YouTube)

The frustrating thing about this game is that it’s interesting for all the wrong reasons. I could probably do a half dozen articles on its gameplay, disjoint story, tonal deficiencies, clever ideas, mixed level design, long dev cycle, confusing approach to canon, regrettable attempts at melodrama, unintentionally comical villain, and earnest attempt to live up to its legacy as a Thief game. This isn’t a game, it’s a crime scene. “What happened to this franchise? Who did it, and why? Will they strike again?”

But there’s no reason to write those articles, because nobody cares. Nobody is playing it. Two weeks ago my column on the game got just 12 comments, which is the equivalent of having the internet nod its head reflexively while not actually listening to me as I prattle on. The game is less than a month old, and the story is over already.

Sometimes a flawed or broken game comes out and the outraged consumers can sustain a nice round of podcasts, video rants, webcomics, blog posts, and animated .gif memes. It happened for Aliens: Colonial Marines. It happened for Duke Nukem Forever. But it’s not happening here. Nobody cares. The sales figures on this thing must be abominable.

EDIT: I looked it up on VG Charts. They don’t have PC numbers, but according to their figures Thief has sold 771,036 copies so far across all console platforms. For comparison: On the PS3 this month, it sold less than Skyrim.


20201858 comments. It's getting crowded in here.


  1. kikito says:

    For the record, I would read, comment and enjoy any article you wrote about thief, even if I don’t have (nor plan to have) the game. I think that a careful explanation of the hits and misses would be enjoyable to read and useful to others.

    I don’t comment on the Escapist because it requires facebook. I like commenting here were I don’t have to log in or anything. But if it helps you, I will create a facebook profile just so that I can comment on your escapist articles too.

    • Dreadjaws says:

      The Escapist doesn’t require Facebook. It requires an Escapist account. It just so happen that the comments section for each article is separated (you can access it from the speech bubble next to the article’s title). The bottom part allowing Facebook comments is relatively recent and allows for extra comments for those who want to make a quick one.

      • kikito says:

        Well, that kind of made my point even clearer. Commenting is difficult there. Just give me a text box at the bottom, and I will comment. I don’t need to all those other “social” things.

  2. preciousgollum says:

    The new design for Garrett looks like he was a rejected character from The Dark Brotherhood in Elder Scrolls games, so it’s quite fitting that Skyrim sells more copies.

    I think I know why the titular Thief feels the need to skulk around in the shadows; he’s just too embarrassed to want or allow anybody to see him.

  3. Dev Null says:

    I’m interested in what you thought too – though I recognise that asking you to write full articles just for me and a handful of others is probably selfish of me. I’ll definitely play it… in 6 months to a year when I can get it on Steam for $10. Besides, I’m still playing my preparatory re-run of Thief 2 and… damn! I forgot how _long_ this game is, if you squirrel around looking for secrets and treasures. It may be 6 months before I get there anyways…

    • rofltehcat says:

      Uhm they talked about it on diecasts and Shamus wrote articles about it on the escapist. Or did I misunderstand who you mean with “you”?

      Other than that, the game is already extremely cheap. Reimported keys are currently starting at 13€ and I’d say despite its flaws it is definitely worth 15-20 €.

      • Humanoid says:

        I think the point is whether it’s worth even bothering with writing articles and/or posts on the topic in light of the perceived lack of interest. Not back when the previous content was done, but now. For a blog post, the only real restriction is the time spent writing it, but for a weekly Escapist column, opportunities are more limited.

        It’s not just a perception either, my interest in the game, both in terms of potentially playing it, and of watching a potential SimCity-like trainwreck were both pretty much dashed on the day the review embargo lifted. Nothing left after that, and even these Thief-related blog posts I really only read for the tangential comments.

  4. krellen says:

    Well, of course Skyrim is selling better than Thief. The current season of Spoiler Warning is Skyrim, not Thief; Skyrim’s getting the Spoiler Warning Bump!

  5. BeamSplashX says:

    I think the press about how incomplete the game is has gotten around to the point that people want to wait on Thief’s equivalent to Witcher: Enhanced Edition.

    That said, the original edition of The Witcher was actually successful enough to warrant making that.

  6. Confusing approach to cannon? There are cannons in this game? Redeeming factor right there.

  7. Dev Null says:

    As an aside, I’m not sure how much I trust those VGChatz numbers; it appears to be claiming that the PC version has sold 27,000 copies?

    • Drakhoran says:

      VG Chartz is considered so reliable that citing their numbers in a post over at NeoGAF will get you banned. If a publisher makes an official announcement about how much a game has sold the VG Chartz numbers will usually be adjusted to match said statement, otherwise they seem to be based primarily on guesswork.

  8. Am I the only one that began reading this in the voice of Chris for a moment?

    I kind of miss the small icons..
    Shamus isn’t there room to put a icon to the left of the title, category it looks to be about 48pixels height so a 48×48 could probably be aligned to the left there (shifting article title and category to the right a little).
    Maybe recycle the Diecast “heads” for the icons?

    • ET says:

      You could resize the Diecast image with fancy tech!
      This site looks like an implementation that runs in your browser, and uses your local CPU.
      Works well enough, as long as you remember to start with a reasonably-sized image.*
      Actually, I ran it on the image from the Spoiler Warning link on the site here, and it works suprisingly well, even down to 48×48 if you rescale it first.
      Only took about thirty seconds to analyze the image!
      (The slider at the top and left of the image are maximum squishitude.)

      * Yeah, I totally had my computer running in freeze-frame mode (after uploading a full-size/resolution image from my camera) for about a minute until I realized my derp.

    • Humanoid says:

      It’d also provide a nice visual break between the previous post link and the body text too – not so relevant in this post perhaps given there’s a video embed in between, but often there’s nothing separating them but insubstantial white space.

      Reckon the previous/next post links would also look better if vertically centred in their cells – looks fine for long post titles that span both rows, but looks a bit unbalanced otherwise.

  9. Akuma says:

    Ouch. That’s always been interesting about the gaming community and how some games can literally just drop off the side of the world.

    I do think it’s a shame however how we dont look back more often at… uncooked games and go over what lessons they left behind. For example I dont know if you ever heard about Haze for the ps3, it was a launch title made by the guys who did timespilters and it was terrible. People hated it for a short time then voip, off the cliff of the internet.

    I saw it for sale for like nothing and thought what the hell. Now, it was terrible, but there were parts I could see the dev team coming up with good ideas… but bombing the execution so badly. I think it makes for a fascinating look at how good ideas can turn on you, and people making fps’s could have a look just to learn it’s mistakes.

    • ET says:

      I too, would like more post-mortems.
      I’ve only ever read…one?
      This type of info is very useful for new people/games/companies, so they don’t reeat the mistakes of the past.
      (I’m only an armchair dev, but someday I hope to get off my butt and make some decent 2D games.)

  10. Unbeliever says:

    Just because we have nothing to add, doesn’t mean we’re not interested in hearing more from you on Thief! Tell us more! Commentary like this is one of your Best Things! :)

    [I prebought Thief to get the extra level, but haven’t installed or played it yet. Too busy with Eschalon 3…]

    • modus0 says:

      Here’s something that might be annoying.

      The Bank Heist was made available as a paid DLC for everyone just shy of 2 weeks after the game’s release.

      And if you bought it for the “inspired by the bank mission in Thief 2,” you’re going to be disappointed. Mainly because it’s so…tiny when compared to the Thief 2 mission, being about 1/3 the size.

      And I’m not even going to go into the 3 separate “pay to be better” DLCs geared toward a specific playthrough. -_-

  11. Dreadjaws says:

    “The game is lass than a month old”

    So, are you comparing the game a little girl or something? That’s a mean thing to say… for the little girl.

    Snobby-little-typo-complaining aside, while I do have this game I haven’t even touched it yet because I just recently started playing the original for the first time, and I intend to play them in order. But what I’ve seen about the new one… well, it doesn’t give me much hope.

    As much as an old game is, though, the original Thief is quite fun. I don’t know why I never played it before. I’ve played hundreds of game from that time.

    • modus0 says:

      While the story is indeed rather abysmal, the gameplay (at least to me) feels very much like Thief.

      • Lisa says:

        I’m in agreement. I’m having a lot of fun with the “thiefy” parts. Mostly I’m concentrating on Basso’s side missions as some those really bring out the Thief feeling of the game.

        I’m not going to say the game is a perfect “Thief”, but it’s not completely horrible either. I can’t help thinking that if they’d picked a solid direction to go, it would have been a lot better.

        • modus0 says:

          Oooh, that gives me an idea: Thief 5 should primarily be side missions (possibly made available in a structured, but random-seeming manner so you don’t get quite the same mission order each play-through), with some of the side missions also unlocking the “main story” missions.

          It would certainly feel more… organic, and allow an smoother ease in to the primary story.

          And if they wanted to, they could do a dev-kit, structure the game to allow “slotting in” more side missions, and let fans expand what they want.

          That could even reduce the fake door and window issue, by allowing people to utilize those for their fan levels.

    • Amazon_warrior says:

      I’m strongly considering doing a Let’s Play of all the Thief games in order. No idea what it’ll be like (never done one before), but a friend of mine liked the idea enough to bung me the £23 to buy FRAPS. :p And hopefully by the time I’ve trawled through T:Gold, T:TMA and T:Touchscreen Edition, Thi4fourth4fthth will be a sufficiently low price on Steam that I won’t mind buying it. (Heck, T:5 and flying cars may well be out by then…) And the internet totally needs another rabid fan having Opinions all over the place. XD

      Anyway, on topic: I did read your post on the Escapist, Shamus, I just almost never comment there despite having an account because I’m a lazy sod I can never be arsed to remember my password or retrieve my login details. Also, for some reason I didn’t see the article when it came out and only caught it because I happened to see the link here (which is odd because I’m a reasonably regular visitor over there to acquire my RWA of Jim and Yahtzee). I also hate bumping threads when the OP has already posted a more recent article. :/ I wish I could get on with podcasts, but it’s a format I really really dislike so I miss out on all the Diecast stuff.

  12. karthik says:

    The podcasts I listened to all had more to say about Thief before it launched than they did after. One podcast in particular had Simon Parkin (who reviewed it for Eurogamer) say “Eh, it’s fine” and use the reactions his review got as a springboard for some general ranting on Internet discussions of games.

    Your Diecast on Thief was the most detailed discussion I could find.

    So… yeah. It seems particularly uninspired, and I doubt anyone will remember this game a year from now. The sales might have a long tail, though, the way other buggy games at launch have had. (Alpha Protocol, Vampire: Bloodlines, etc)

    I do want to try it, so I’m a little glad the price is going to drop like a rock in a few months. I wouldn’t be surprised to find it at $7-10 by Dec on Steam.

  13. Wulfgar says:

    and publisher and developer will draw all the wrong conclusions from this failure.

  14. Groboclown says:

    I’m struggling to play the game, myself.

    At first, I thought the game was a clever puzzle game, where you start out in a completely black room and have to find your way to the main menu. Turned out, I had hit the “blank screen” bug.

    Then, I was able to get passed that one with the 1.2 patch. Then I hit the “game crashes when loading a save” bug.

    With the 1.3 patch, I still can’t load a save. I’m really, really sick of Erin’s whine and goth looks.

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Honestly though,I prefer the mediocre mess like thiaf than infuriating one like mass effect 3.

  16. BitFever says:

    It really saddens me to see the sales for this game so low. I’m not saying it should be hitting it out of the park but I’d really hate to see this franchise die or worse the studio that made it go under. I thought Eidos Montreal did an amazing job on deus ex and that they very easily could make more amazing games.

    • Jacob Albano says:

      Nobody from the Deus Ex team worked on Thi4f.

      • Tom says:

        Did anybody from Looking Glass or even the Thief 3 team come anywhere near Thief 4?

        • Karthik says:

          Randy Smith, designer on Thief 1 & 2 and the lead on Thief 3, spent all of two hours at Eidos Montreal giving pointers on Thief’s design… once in 2010(ish).

          That’s the extent of the Looking Glass connection.

          Now I have to quote something Smith said on the design:

          “In looking glass games it’s like: Here’s a bunch of stuff, throw it on the pot; swirl it around and hope the player has a good time! That’s a deliberate game design aesthetic there. Very deliberately trying to give the emergent narrative of gameplay back to the player and have them tell their own stories in these worlds they created. They really believed that the role of a designer is to put the player on the stage, not themselves on the stage.”

          {sigh}

  17. Abnaxis says:

    Holy cow, this post confused my. An Errant Signal here, and not on Chris’s site first? Also, since it was an Errant Signal post, I thought it was Campster writing the forward–then got confused because the tone sounded off.

    “Wait, ‘my column’? Who wrote this? Did this video come out two weeks ago and I missed it on RSS? Oh, Shamus wrote that…weird.”

  18. Kal says:

    I was hoping for a Thief game resembling Human Revolutions. Reasonable level sizes, some winding paths, sneakiness, slightly more than we got basically. I’ll admit that my hopes weren’t high but apparently they weren’t low enough.
    On the bright side, someone’s now brought out a hd graphics patch for the original Thief, so I suspect I’ll be spending quite a lot of time replaying that and enjoying the sandboxishness of it. Well, as close to a sandbox as you got back then – here’s your storyline, here’s your objective, here’s a huge building, go for it.

    • Tom says:

      Not just HD. Try turning on bloom (I think you have to add a modded DLL to do it, but it can be done) – it’s AMAZING what that simple change does for Dark Engine games.

  19. RTBones says:

    I do wonder if the story (and game in general) incongruities are at least partially the result of the customization you are allowed in the game. Consider – Eidos has grand plans for the game, announces bits and pieces of it only to hear the community eviscerate what they had planned, so they tell their coders to allow the removal of a feature or design they just spent six months developing. How the hell do you develop a game in that type of environment?

    • harborpirate says:

      Probably by not trying to make a completely different type of game with the name Thief pasted onto it in the first place.

      Once they’d gone far down that road and announced all these terrible ideas, the predictable backlash put them in an extremely difficult position.

      Oddly, they might have been better off producing a pile of garbage. SimCity sold well, despite essentially flipping the bird to longtime fans of the series. But this tepid thief game that neither truly pleases long time fans nor closely follows the cookie cutter format of modern AAA games? It isn’t moving units by getting deluged with praise, like X-COM, nor is it selling on the strength of controversy.

  20. Nyctef says:

    I’m really looking forward to playing Thief .. a few months from now when it’s on sale for cheap

  21. Jack Kucan says:

    I hate to be off-topic, but are ya’ll going to talk about Deus Ex: The Fall at some point? Because that game… I’d love to hear ya’lls thoughts on it (or even see you do a short Spoiler Warning series on it at some point).

    • Humanoid says:

      Perhaps on how Steam has somewhat shadily banned the custom tag ‘mobile port’ from it. You can have all sorts of silly and nonsensical ones, but god forbid an accurate one….

  22. Lalaland says:

    I’d be very wary of VGChartz numbers as no major publishers or retailers report numbers to them and they refuse to publish detail on how they perform their statistical sampling. They’ve been wrong often enough that honestly it’s hard to take their numbers seriously, for what it’s worth bringing them up is a bannable offence on GAF.

    I think the apathy towards Thief has built up over time with the worry over direction, news of turmoil at the developer and then the bad reviews just killed it. I wonder if its UE roots will allow for people to mod it in the future or at least remove the sea of abandoned valuables in the slums.

  23. Robert B says:

    You changed the website layout. and its looks pretty good.

    I like the link markers and tabs at the top of a post, it kinda makes the other articles pop out to the viewer, which is definitely good for exposure to them.

    And you changed other stuff too, but I don’t know what they are. just that the rest looks nicer

    that’s good.

    if I can’t place what was changed, that means it is unobtrusive and doesn’t detract from the experience in anyway. I just know I like the look to it.

  24. Dude says:

    I’m currently playing this game. Now, I’m not as rabid a Looking Glass Studios advocate as I was when Thief II and System Shock 2 came around. If I were, I would have set this game aside within one hour.

    But as a modern incarnation, it’s not really a rubbish game so far. I have a feeling that not playing Dishonored has kept my first person psuedo stealth itch unscratched, which helps.

    Also, it’s just nice to play a Thief game again, even one that seems so flawed.

    Shame it won’t happen again this decade. My sympathies to Eidos Montreal. I’m sure no fan of the series must be as disappointed as those guys are.

    Also, please don’t make System Shock 3, anybody. I couldn’t take that kind of disappointment.

  25. kdansky says:

    Honestly, I blame marketing for the bad sales numbers.

    1. Thief is not a franchise well known by young gamers. Deadly Shadows came out TEN YEARS ago. Anyone who played the third (!) game is at least in their twenties by now, anyone who played the first one is actually in their thirties or even older. It’s not a strong franchise to move millions of copies.

    2. Sim City didn’t even work when it was released, and still sold a ton of copies, because of the power of marketing. Thief didn’t get much, and therefore didn’t sell. I mean, it’s a mess, but it’s hardly any worse than one of the crappier AssCreeds and those sell a crap-ton.

    • Tom says:

      I blame them for apparently thinking, like many others seem to, that if a franchise has gone long enough without a sequel to have passed out of the current generation’s awareness, then you *have* to do a reboot. This is wrong. You just need to do a sequel in such a way that it reintroduces the originals. Rebooting is only strictly necessary if the franchise is still well known but considered to be stale, and I think the original Thief still had a lot of potential left in it.

  26. Cuthalion says:

    Just started watching and noticed that Youtube has an ad on the video. (Lower third, not video ad.) Wanted to check and make sure that’s Chris’s doing and not some third party!

  27. Duoae says:

    Wow, it’s a real shame about the sales figures – seriously, it is!

    I mean, no more attempts at this type of game… And I actually am really enjoying Thief 2014. It’s not as bad of a mess as many people make out – I find that most people are judging it against rose-tinted memories of Thief (the original). I mean, articles about how getting stuck on janky, flat geometry in The Dark Project is world-building and immersive is about as close to gaming Stockholm syndrome as you can get.

    So far, I think I’ve actually enjoyed Thief more than Dishonored because of the style and mechanics more than the power set you get in one over the other. I also find that the current developers of Thief 2014 really gave the player a LOT of options for how they want to play their game. I mean, I REALLY appreciate that. A lot!

  28. Alec says:

    Hi Shamus!

    I, for one, would really enjoy a proper old-school-Shamus 9-part deconstruction of why Thief failed, what it got right, and speculation/induction on what went wrong behind the scenes.

    After all, that stuff is the reason I started visiting your blog / following your stuff in the first place and…um, with zero offense intended, I just don’t care about Spoiler Warning.

    Let’s Plays – even really top-shelf ones like you guys’ – hold no interest for someone who has 10 minutes to read an article. 10 minutes of reading an analytical piece on something is a huge amount of brain-fodder for the time spent. 20 minutes of LP is 1/10 that content in 2x that time, or 1/1000th that content if it’s a vapid, pewty-pie type piece of shit.

    I’m not saying don’t do them – they’re obviously hugely popular for you and heaps of people enjoy the hell out of it, and that’s great, and I *wish* I had the time to watch one through; since watching people rant about things you agree with is basically slightly more satisfying masturbation. Sadly my solo-love time is reduced in recent times :)

    But I’d love to see a little more of your older type content, especially about a franchise your older-type of fans are so interested in.

  29. Phillip says:

    Well, I guess one beneficial side effect of Thief 2014 being “ignored” and not selling well is that there’s no people going “stop liking something I hate.” Personally, I really like Thief 2014, and if people started attacking me for liking it (and I’ve opened myself up to that on Facebook and the official Thief 2014 forums) I would have even less faith in the gaming community than I do now. Thankfully this isn’t the case; people who loathe/despise Thief 2014 have been content enough to leave me alone.

    The “stop-liking-things-I-hate” syndrome, if you ask me, is what’s really killing gaming these days. It makes it impossible to be a gamer because you’d be attacked no matter what you buy, do, or say. I’m just glad it’s dying down and in Thief 2014’s case it’s not as prevalent.

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