Video games are a unique medium. They combine the storytelling of a novel and the look of a movie with the ability to interact with the character and story line. This makes for a unique challenge for the creators. Not only must the characters be compelling and the story line exciting but it has to challenge the player with ever more difficult levels and puzzles. Finding the right balance is difficult at best. With the advances in technology the new ‘next gen’ games not only have better graphics, but increased levels of storytelling. Titles like The Last of Us, The Witcher, Bioshock Infinite, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and Tomb Raider were all contenders last year for the VGX awards and BAFTA Games featured complex characters and memorable characters. This doesn’t happen by accident.
Since Jan 1 there have been approximately 159 games released among them titles like:
Thief (Xbox One, PS4, 360, PS3, PC) – February 25 Titanfall (Xbox One, PC) – March 11 Infamous: Second Son (PS4) – March 21 Child of Light (PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, PS3, 360, PC) – April 30 Watch Dogs (Xbox One, 360, PS4, PS3, PC) – May 27 Murdered: Soul Suspect (PS4, Xbox One, PS3, 360, PC) – June 3
Thief was one of the more highly anticipated releases, being the reboot of a classic and one of the few games available on the new consoles. Early buzz was all over the place and reviews continue to be such though the majority are now leaning toward positive. The rest of this article will not be spoiler free so please read no further if you have not played the game and do not wish to be spoiled as to the plot.
Something many reviewers and players have complained about is the difficulty in understanding the plot of the game and relating to the main character, Garrett. Something this game has done differently is spread out the story line over various media. Reading the prequel comics is nearly essential to understanding the relationship between Garrett and his apprentice Erin. Even so, it is not crucial to playing the game. However, if you truly want to achieve Master Thief status in the game it’s highly recommended that you read every thing you come across. As for relating to Garrett, I will be honest with you, a lot of you simply won’t. Garrett is a very quiet, introverted and private person. However, if you give him a chance you will see a very deep thinking, intelligent and witty man.
What we are going to look at now is each of the cut scenes in an effort to not only disect the plot but to understand Garrett better. One of the key things about Garrett; you must watch his face. He doesn’t speak much and communicates mostly through facial expression and his eyes. And this is what makes me personally so excited about next gen games. This level of detail in the graphics opens up so much more story telling wise. Before a character like Garrett, who doesn’t speak much was difficult to get to know, though Garrett Sr (as he’s affectionately known in fandom) was/and is much beloved. With the new graphics characters who are quieter and communicate more through body language and facial expression will hopefully become more common since not all of us are tall, broad-shouldered, sandy headed extroverts.
This analysis was conducted in partnership with my dear friend Jean M. who has played Thief for many hours and has joined me for much discussion of the game.
Prologue: The Drop
Location: Unnamed Building along the Thieves’ Highway
Scene: Garrett and Erin have been looking for information on the location of the Primal Stone Basso’s client wants. In this scene they’ve just discovered a clue to its location and a short conversation ensues.
Jean: Up until the point where Erin laughs, she sounds uncertain – almost like a little girl playing games. Thieving is a game to her. Right up until the point where she see’s Garrett’s face, she’s playing a game of “I can steal more than you”. Except that when Garrett shows up, she can see that he’s refusing to play. I imagine that would make her feel embarrassed. I suspect seeing him reminds her of her shortcomings. I get the impression that she rejects Garrett’s idealistic perfection, not because she doesn’t value it, but because she’s too impulsive and too impatient to be able to mimic it. And looking at him reminds her of what she can’t be.
Davonne: What she doesn’t know is that while she pilfered the obvious chest, Garrett found the hidden safe and valuable ring and necklace inside (This is achieved in game, there is a hidden switch that reveals the cache). He might be slower but he’s also more thorough and more cautious.
Jean: I’m interested in why Garrett’s first appearance at the top of the stairs is of him facing back down them. Was he having second thoughts about taking part at all? I see a mask of indifference. It’s been a while since he last saw her, so given that he has always cared to a certain extent (as he admitted in the final cut scene) it has to be good on a certain level to get to see her, even if he has no wish to work with her. There’s reluctance to get involved with her, but it’s muted because he’s playing nice for Basso’s sake. Although it’s impossible to resist the temptation to play the teacher and lecture her a bit.
Davonne: He’s in full on thief mode complete with mask. He seems to be checking to make sure no one was alerted by all the noise Erin made.
Jean: Erin still doesn’t sound like she’s taking the job seriously. She’s waving the particulars sheet around like it’s some kind of trophy that she gets to read and he doesn’t. There’s an odd edge of almost laughter in her voice. She’s enjoying this, and enjoying the idea of working with him. Waving around the sheet of paper means that Garrett can’t ditch her and do the job solo, because she’s the only one who knows what the job is. It’s not so much about independence, but more about wanting him to admit that she’s as good as he is.
Davonne: The way she keeps the paper from him…it’s a control gesture. I think it might also be her trying get him to see her as being at his level that she’s in control of the situation.
Jean: Garrett’s getting increasingly frustrated and annoyed with Erin. He turned up for a serious job, and she’s playing control games and making fun of his profession. After all, we know that thieving isn’t just his job, it’s his whole life. She’s playing games, but from his point of view she’s laughing at him. The confident mask is still up. This is the Master Thief we’re watching. Garrett the person is somewhere safely buried.
Davonne: I find it interesting how confidently he holds himself. Even though he’s irritated with Erin he’s still very much in control of himself and the mask is firmly in place. Her dropping the paper out the window with that head tilt is a clear challenge. It’s almost antagonistic. She’s having fun with this but also wants to appear to be in control. Dropping the letter prevents Garrett from having access to the information and as Jean said, it plants her solidly as the one in control, the one who Garrett needs, not the other way around.
Jean: More of the same, although the glance down suggests to me that he’s started thinking about all the various things that could go wrong. Possibly starting to formulate plans on how to cope with them.
Davonne: yes I think so, and the look of irritation as he turns to face Erin. I agree that he’s beginning to get worried. Not only is the Baron’s mansion sure to be heavily guarded he’s probably worried about Erin’s attitude toward the whole thing as well. This is not a job to take lightly and he knows it and as stated earlier this is all just a game to her. A fun distraction not a potentially life and death situation.
Jean: Erin stares at Garrett for a few seconds before responding. She’s looking for something. I think she’s starting to realize that things are more serious than she’s acknowledging, but she’s not ready to admit it. So she makes light of it instead by asking him if he’s worried – if he admits to being worried, then he must be admitting that he’s not as good as she is, because he doesn’t think he can do it. It’s a tense mixture of wanting his approval, wanting to needle him, wanting him to take her seriously, but hiding it by refusing to take him seriously.
I’m reminded of the comparisons we often draw between Garrett Sr and Garrett Jr – how he’s all about the challenge, and about pushing himself to match the idealized perfect thief, and the accompanying fear of failure and goes alongside it. Erin’s the same, only she’s not able to focus enough to keep pushing for perfection, and she’s not comparing herself against an ideal – she’s comparing herself against Garrett. So she gets angry and blames him for it.
Davonne: Lots of internal conflict here. She’s desperate to prove herself without actually appearing to be so. Garrett is less than amused and it’s starting to show. He’s keeping it reined in for the moment. Despite their not having worked together for a while and his disagreement with her choices he does seem to be comfortable with her for the moment. At least more comfortable than we see him with other people except Basso.
Jean: The line “yes and so should you” interests me. Garrett’s tone of voice changes. He’s suddenly no longer a deep bass – his tone rises, and almost softens. He’s trying to persuade her, not order her. Maybe he thinks that by admitting what sounds like a weakness she’ll realize that it’s not a failure to feel worried. But as a tactic it relies too heavily on her still being in the protégée mindset, because to come to that realization that it’s not so bad to admit to worry depends on her believing that he is the ideal to be imitated, including in the admission of worry. That’s why it falls flat as an overture. She’s an independent thief now. She has her own solo jobs. She’s still desperate for his approval, but she no longer uncritically soaks in everything he offers her.
Davonne: That interested me too he’s definitely trying to appeal to her. He is still very much in the teacher/student role with her while she’s moved on and sees herself as being nearly on par with him. Why he chooses this particular line and delivers it in such a way is important. There are other ways he could have got the point across but he choose not to adopt the chiding tone from the earlier ‘it’s not what you steal’ line. The inflection also gives away that he really truly is worried, not just saying so for her benefit. This job is potentially dangerous enough that he’s willing to put aside his pride for just a moment to try and make the point clear to her. It’s NOT a game and YES she should be worried.
Jean: The line about “I’ll pick up your slack” suddenly offers what sounds to her like an admission from him that he’s not perfect. Even though he’s never claimed to be or pretended to be perfect, and that being worried about the job would be a good idea. Erin and Garrett are heading off on a joint mission where suddenly she’s the one who knows all the details, where she’s the one who isn’t worried, where she’s the one who is apparently in control. She feels that the dynamic of their former joint missions has changed, and now she’s the one in charge. The protégée is suddenly able to control the master. This is also probably why Erin reacts so badly when Garrett tells her later on in the prologue about how she’s not in control.
Davonne: She does seem to get rather excited in contrast to Garrett’s growing reluctance. It’s probably a rather heady feeling for her to have the Master Thief having to follow her for once. She’s already baited him about being slow, challenged him to a game of who can steal the most and deliberately chose a route that allowed her to show off her particular skill set while forcing him to find his own slower route.
Her ‘we’ll be fine’ sounds overconfident and almost flippant. She’s feeling very in control now especially with Garrett’s admission of being worried. She doesn’t wait for him to follow her and doesn’t even look back as she heads out.
Jean: Throughout the scene, Erin and Garrett are not talking with each other. They’re talking at each other, and neither of them are listening. The scene culminates with the final jab in the conversation being Garrett’s line delivered to the empty air after Erin has already left. She didn’t listen when she was in front of him, so saying his final piece to the empty air after she’s gone is about as effective.
Davonne: This, I think, is indicative of their entire relationship. She listens when it’s convenient or suits her and he doesn’t communicate what he’s actually thinking at least not where she can hear it. He did this several times before the scene.
The whole tone of this scene is one of increasing tension.