While taking notes for Thief of Thieves: Season One, the first words I wrote down were “Fuck me, this is stylish”.
The introduction to this episodic stealth-narrative game is pure Instagram noir. Protag Celia strides across an airport terminal drenched in the languishing evening light. Purples, blues and oranges swirl into each other like a fading dive bar fight bruise. Graffiti-esque command prompts blend seamlessly into the environment. Classic comic style talking heads confer via sharply voice acted dialogue as Celia makes her away along the shadow bathed, cel-shaded airport.
Thief of Thieves makes a great first impression. I was going to use some sort of sexy crime simile here to drive that point home, but it’s quite late and I can’t really think of one. I’ll give it a go because if there’s one thing better than a crime simile, it’s a big, wet, sexy one.
“Like a lithe, prowling, cat burglar making a very good first impression, Thief of Thieves makes one hell of a first impression.”
There. Nailed it. It’s a great introduction, basically. So good, in fact, that it convinced me to keep on playing for quite a while after I stopped enjoying myself, in the hope that the game would live up the promise made by it’s gorgeous visuals and atmosphere. Unfortunately, like an oiled-up, well-toned cat burglar not doing something, it did not.
Everything starts off promisingly enough. Celia is brought in for questioning by some sort of crime-investigating agency whose acronym I can’t quite remember, and there’s some clever lies-within-lies story framing accompanied by great artwork. The problem comes when you start to realise that the 2D comic panels extend their flatness to every other aspect of the game.
Sneaking sections are initially quite rewarding, as the level design is interesting enough, but open environments belie the fact that this a very simple, linear puzzle game, with a few distractions here and there. You move Celia around with the analogue stick or WASD, and a button press reveals interactable parts of the environment.
For a section in the second level, I had to spot and mark cameras. But whether I was given the contextual button prompt to do so seemed completely arbitrary. What first looks like a sleek, simplified interface is nowhere near as intuitive as it should be. Frequently, these contextual prompts float out of shot, with no clear indication of how they relate to the environment.
There’s also very little reason to give a solitary biscuit about the story. The villains are flimsy archetypes. Neither menacing enough to stand out or inept enough to get a cheap laugh out of. None of your crew have any defining traits aside from a variety of silly accents. Hacker Chip, especially, boasts the single worst British accent I’ve ever heard. On missions, dialogue reverts to bland imperatives and tensionless intrigue. Off, characters zig-zag between hostility and pouring out emotions to each other. There’s plenty of dialogue options, but none seem significant, more just a choice between what flavour of sarcastic you want to fine-tune your responses to.
By the time I got done punching out a kindly old man in his own home in the middle of the night as his Scottish terrier fearfully borked away in the background, I started to feel less like a master thief, and more like a total, irredeemable master shithead. I stopped playing shortly afterwards and went back to feeling like a shithead on my own time, for free.
Thief of Thieves season one is available from Steam.