Simulators have come a long way over the years. What was once an arguable training tool has become an incredibly strong niche, with several fantastic offerings. The latest Microsoft Flight Simulator, for instance, was released on PC last year and having played it, I can confirm it’s as good as you have heard. Xbox gamers will get to enjoy that later this year, but in the meantime, the folks at Noble Muffins, Console Labs and publisher Playway have brought along Thief Simulator to hopefully steal our hearts.
Now, this name may sound familiar to our long-time readers, or those who have chosen to peruse the Xbox Store. This game actually launched back in February of last year on Xbox, and earlier on PC. However, we received a code for this game now, likely in anticipation of the forthcoming Thief Simulator 2. Well, like with most cases, there is never a right or wrong time to jump into a good game. The question is: is Thief Simulator good? Well, this is where the answer becomes a bit murky.
I’d like to start with the positives, as I genuinely believe there are some here. The stealth is mostly satisfying, and while it’s no Hitman or Dishonored, it does the job well. Additionally, the AI for tenants is top-notch with each one following a pre-determined pattern, but diverging from it as necessary. The police AI, while a bit aloof on Normal difficulty, does its job well and ironically fares far better than the police AI in the significantly higher budgeted Cyberpunk 2077.
Another thing this game does better than Cyberpunk, funnily enough, is the driving controls. Driving in the first person can be difficult to pull off at the best of times, and to Thief Simulator’s credit, it handles the mechanics very well. The rest of the control scheme is somewhat of a mixed bag, with our titular thief’s jump in particular very lacking, which can make the game’s few platforming segments all the more frustrating.
Finally, when it comes to the act of stealing itself, Thief Simulator does a lot right. Picking locks is ripped straight out of Skyrim and Oblivion (easy locks following Skyrim’s system, harder ones Oblivion’s) and the latter minigame is actually an improvement over its inspiration. Stealing items is also a load of fun, with careful consideration needed for inventory and carrying larger items. You can also steal cars and rip them apart to sell at a junkyard in a surprisingly robust disassembly simulation. A simulator within a simulator if you will. Hacking is also a lot of fun, and the game even features a black market that reminds me of the one in Obsidian’s underrated gem Alpha Protocol.
However, all of this fun comes at the cost of a truckload’s worth of jank and bugs. Firstly, the framerate is capped at 30fps which can feel rather sluggish, but is the least of the game’s issues. Lighting bugs are plentiful, and texture often clips through each other. The game itself is also downright unpleasant to look at at points, with some extremely low-res textures. A Series X showcase this is definitely not.
I would also be remiss not the mention the pop-in. Thief Simulator has, quite possibly, the worst pop-in I have seen in a modern release. Civilians, buildings, and vehicles all fade in like it’s a PS1 game. Not only is this incredibly distracting, it also compounds the game’s presentation problems.
Then there is the reality that the gameplay loop, while fun, has its limits. After a while, having to rob the same houses just to grind EXP to progress the story becomes tiresome. The game only has two maps, and most of the big-ticket items stolen do not replenish, so you find yourself going back to steal basic items like vases and statues in its place. It can get tiresome after a while, and after 7 and a half hours with the game, I was ready to be done.
Little did I know, however, that the game was coming to a close. Yes, as it turns out, this is a port of the original version of the game, and the third act content added in a patch on PC is missing in action here. Given that the game actually costs slightly more on Xbox, I would not recommend this version on that ground alone, but if it’s your only option, I suppose it will suffice.
All of this being said, when Thief Simulator clicks, it clicks like a successful combination of a safe. There were some times when I really did have fun with this game, but a lack of content, poor presentation and a plethora of technical issues hold the game back from reaching its true potential. There is a gem in Thief Simulator somewhere, it’s just one that you need to dig really deep to reach. I hope the forthcoming sequel builds upon this foundation, and thankfully early signs do indicate that it does, so I will definitely keep my eyes peeled. But for the original game, its not quite stolen my heart.
If you think Thief Simulator is a steal, the Xbox Store will provide a download