A tourist walks through a city and sees only scenery - picturesque architecture, souvenirs, things to go "ooh" and "ahh" at. But a Master Thief, like the little-spoken and permanently behooded Garrett? A Master Thief sees objectives, options. Scratch marks denoting walls that can be climbed. An opportune sinkhole of shadow in the middle of a well-lit room. The twinkle of valuables, yes, but more alluringly, the glimmer of buried secrets. Eidos Montreal's Thief reboot is a valiant effort and often, a memorable one, but it feels more like a tourist in Looking Glass Studios' world than a thief.
The ingredients are all there, at least. Garrett returns with most of his old tools either as they were, or reincarnated with mild variations: water arrows with which to extinguish torches; lockpicks with which to open doors and strongboxes, given a few seconds away from prying eyes; fire and blast arrows that ignite pools of oil; gas arrows that now briefly paralyse rather than downing their targets; and, of course, Garrett's trusty blackjack, effective when wielded against an unaware target from behind, next to useless when applied from the front.
Glance down to the left, and you'll see an iPodified version of the stealth-assisting Light Gem, which brightens along with your surroundings - it's complemented by a new HUD mechanism, the "shroud", which wreathes the view in mist when you're in shadow. Eidos Montreal has also hiked up Garrett's speed a tad - he can now "swoop" to cross small distances without attracting as much notice, and is equipped with a Claw that can be thrust into a grill to scale a high wall. Last but not least, there's an entirely optional Focus view mode that paints interactive objects and enemies a spectral blue. These new tricks may sound obnoxious on paper, if you're the kind of infiltrator who takes pride in every millimetre of in-game travel, but they're solid, unobtrusive enhancements in the main.
So where does it all go a bit wrong? Your first clue is the "return" of the Rope Arrow, beloved of the first two games, which now only works on bits of conspicuously bundled scaffold. There's also the new grappling line, which is only used during the linear third-person climbing sequences that ill-advisedly book-end certain dungeons. To put the cherry on the cake, Garrett can no longer jump - he's got an Assassin's Creedy high profile mode instead, which auto-jumps or auto-climbs the player where the designers allow for it.
The new Thief wants you to explore, dangling the lion's share of the loot and special collectables away from the beaten path, but as the mechanical "refinements" suggest, it also frequently insists that you walk that path, narrowing the options till there's no room to breathe (literally, in the case of one, especially frustrating level). Too often, you're given no more than one or two ways to pass through a particular area. Too often, chapters build to brain-dead escape sequences (cue agonising electronica) or confrontations - there are boss battles here that make those of Deus Ex: Human Revolution look impressive, though thankfully they're nowhere near as abundant.
It's a shame, because when things do open out the game can be marvellous. As in 2004's Deadly Shadows, the City is your hub environment, broken up into quarters of greater or lesser affluence, which in turn feed into setpiece levels. It's packed with side areas and things to pinch, and while some of the smaller item drops feel a bit scattergun - e.g. silver goblets in beggar's hovels - others arrive care of worthwhile micro-narratives, either handed to you as secondary quests by your fence, Basso, or stumbled upon by listening to NPCs converse or picking through diaries.