Friday, December 19, 2014

Video Game Reviews: "Thief" and "Murdered: Soul Suspect"

Reviewed by T.R.
Note: Both of these games are rated M for Mature Audiences 17+.

Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with these two titles, published by Square Enix in 2014. Thief, which was developed by Eidos Montreal, is a reboot to the Thief series that began in 1998 with Thief: The Dark Project. The original game (which still holds up today, and I highly suggest you play) is a stealth-focused first-person adventure game. The game became a classic due to its wide open environments, which encouraged multiple playthroughs and exploration. Because of my love for the older version, I was quite excited to play around with this new adaptation of the franchise. I was a bit disappointed overall, but the game is still quite engaging regardless.

As I mentioned, the original Thief was highly praised for its open environments and wide, sprawling maps. Given that the game was made back in 1998, I was hoping that the 2014 Thief would introduce even greater amounts of exploration, with the benefits of 16 years of better technology. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Many fans of the old series will find the maps too linear and cramped. Despite this, I believe that the new iteration does do a lot with the new technology at their disposal, even if it wasn't in map-design.

For starters, I was quite impressed with many of the audiovisual improvements made on the original. I've always had trouble with stealth in first-person games. I find that a third-person perspective allows the player to analyze their surroundings better for stealthy maneuvers. Yet, I never had any trouble in Thief (2014), mainly due to the shadows. Whether intentional or not, the developers did a great job with using shadows and audio cues to alert the player to his surroundings. Despite my first-person perspective, I was usually able to understand everything going on in the rooms around me just by observing the shadows of guards and scenery passing by or by listening in on chatter by bystanders. On many occasions I found myself, rather than peaking around the corner to see if a guard was there, simply listening at the doorway for his footsteps or heavy breathing. While these seem like relatively minor things, they made the game a lot more enjoyable.

As far as the story goes, I'm rather mixed on it. On one hand, they do very well in giving all of the characters personality and charm. The voice-acting is above average, and each character and guard seems to express themselves very uniquely. On the other hand, the overarching plot is confusing and a bit trite. So while I enjoyed individual interactions with characters and eavesdropping on guards' private lives, I never felt a strong compelling reason to keep progressing through the story.

On the whole, Thief is all about the gameplay. The stealth mechanics are top-notch, with many minor touches that add to their enjoyment. I simply wish that the setting and environments could have been better polished to complement the stealth. Any hardcore fan of stealth games would probably find this game rather enjoyable, but it lacks the story and polish to really draw in a larger audience.

Murdered: Soul Suspect, developed by Airtight Games, is entirely another can of worms. Murdered is about a Massachusetts detective who dies while on the hunt for a mysterious serial killer who has been plaguing the town of Salem for a while. However, he can't pass on to the afterlife until he is able to solve the murder.

Overall, I was completely drawn in with this game. It is an adventure game where you must use your newfound ghostly powers to possess and poltergeist your way to the truth behind your own death. It’s a pretty straightforward game, but one that I have been completely unable to tear myself away from.

Unlike Thief, the story is top-notch, and it is the chief reason I am suggesting this game. Each character initially seems like a generic archetype, but they are very well characterized throughout the game and each become very intriguing the more you learn about them. For example, the main character Ronan seems like your typical film-noir style detective (complete with the signature fedora), but over the course of the game you discover more and more about his past and about the life he is leaving behind. In addition, his ghostly state allows him to spy on people when no one else is around, meaning that you also get to know all of the other minor characters throughout the story pretty well, too.

Meanwhile, the mystery is pulpy and addicting to discover. The gameplay revolves mostly around exploring the different environments, finding clues, and drawing conclusions from the presented evidence. While I found very few of the puzzles to be particularly difficult, I still was hooked the whole way through. The story is further complemented by the well-designed setting, which is a hard-to-describe mix of homely and creepy.

That said, the game does have its faults. The PC version of the game (which I played) is horribly ported from the console versions. Many of the menu commands are confusing and took me many hours to figure out entirely. Thankfully, I noticed fewer issues throughout the game, but navigating the menus and reading up on your clues is surprising difficult on the PC version. In addition, there are many segments of the game that feature you having to perform stealth attacks on demons that come out of nowhere. The demons are quite creepy, both in looks and sounds, and I would have loved to see them in a horror title. Unfortunately, these stealth/combat sections are actually kind of painful to get through in this particular game, and I wish they had been better implemented or else removed altogether.

Nonetheless, I still loved the game in spite of these hiccups. The game is not technically impressive or ambitious, but it is one that I thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in a supernatural pulp fiction thriller. You won't be disappointed.


Product Name: Thief
Publisher / Developer: Square Enix / Eidos-Montreal
Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: Feb. 25, 2014
Price: $49.99 (PC) - $59.99 (PS4 / XB1/ PS3 / 360)
Rating: Mature
Summary: Garrett, the Master Thief, steps out of the shadows into the City. In this treacherous place, where the Baron’s Watch spreads a rising tide of fear and oppression, his skills are the only things he can trust. Even the most cautious citizens and their best-guarded possessions are not safe from his reach.

Product Name: Murdered: Soul Suspect
Publisher / Developer: Square Enix / Airtight Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date / Window of Availability: June 3, 2014
Price: $49.99 (PC) - $59.99 (PS4 / XB1 / PS3 / 360)
Summary: Murdered: Soul Suspect is a new take on the action/adventure genre. Players take the role of Ronan O’Connor, a detective with a checkered past, whose life is brought to an untimely end by a brutal and relentless killer. Unable to move on and stuck in the limbo world of Dusk, he won’t find peace until can bring his killer to justice from the afterlife.

Disclosure: Complimentary copies of these games were provided to facilitate their honest review.


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