Thief Simulator

Thief Simulator is kind of a weird game – it’s got the overall style of the “having a job simulator” games that’ve become more popular recently, with a first person perspective that emphasizes a high degree of granularity in actions. For example, in order to drive somewhere you have to use the interact key to open your car door, get in your car, and turn on the ignition, and only then is your control scheme switched from on-foot to in-car, and your perspective remains in first person inside the car rather than zooming out to a third-person vehicle perspective.

Except, of course, the job it’s simulating is being a thief, so it’s actually a stealth game about avoiding cameras and guard patrols and stuff. It’s more grounded than most stealth games, as a major part of the early game is in observing the routines of tenants of various houses you’d like to rob so you can find a window of time where the house is deserted or, failing that, at least when everyone is asleep, then break in and steal everything with no risk of someone walking in on you to interrupt (so long as you don’t trip any automated security features like cameras or window alarms). It’s only in the second half that the game throws you at buildings which are continuously patrolled by security guards, a staple feature of your average high-adventure sort of stealth game.

And the introduction of those guards also marks the point where the game starts to get kind of boring. In earlier parts of the game, there were always multiple options for how to burgle a building, which made it feel organic, like you were penetrating defenses set up with a limited amount of resources. This camera scans between two different entrances because they couldn’t afford to have two different cameras permanently camping on each of them, that window has no shutters that prevent you from unlocking and entering because it’s on the second floor and the owners didn’t think second story window security was important, the car gate isn’t visible from the house which means you can open it up from the inside to create a getaway route and no one will notice unless they happen to be walking up the driveway at that exact instant because this is a house, not a fortress, and people like privacy.

This starts to fall off in the second neighborhood’s larger, higher-end buildings, but those at least feel like they’re run by people with enough resources to invest in as much security as they want, balanced out by the fact that their houses are enormous and by now you’ve got hacking tools that help you disable a lot of the automated security from at least a small distance. There’s exactly one way out of house 202, the car gate in the front, but the building is big enough that there are at least a lot of options for how you’re going to navigate between the mansion’s three security guards while you’re inside.

In the third neighborhood, though, it starts to feel like the defenses are impenetrable except for one very specifc route that was left open to you by the developers of the game. The whole game is about being a thief exploiting gaps in defenses, and of course the maximum difficulty is going to be buildings with exactly one gap in their defenses to exploit, but the increased difficulty comes at the expense of the feeling of simulation. Some of the third neighborhood buildings are more like the last few buildings of the second neighborhood: Lots of guards covering a large floorplan. Not all of them, though.

There’s also an element of home decoration that’s a lot of fun, where towards the end of the game you can buy a house and then arrange furniture and stolen items inside of it, replacing the grimy industrial safehouse you’d been using for the first half of the game with an empty house that you can fill up and turn into something that looks just as lived-in as the houses you burgled in the first two neighborhoods (which look pretty good, and the third neighborhood isn’t a decline in the quality of building layout or doodads, either, it’s just an industrial neighborhood full of warehouses and server farms and stuff). You don’t have to pay any attention to it if you don’t want to, and it’s annoying that the only items you can outright buy to decorate your house with are furniutre pieces that you can’t steal – any stealable objects must be stolen and then placed in your house rather than sold.

I imagine this is to try and tie the home decoration side-activity more firmly into the main theft gameplay, so that a nice-looking home will necessarily be full of nice-looking TVs and kitchen appliances and stuff that was stolen from specific houses, rather than stealing a bunch of cheap but portable junk like toasters and broken iPhones over and over again until you can buy your own TV, but I would’ve appreciated being able to go on a spending spree and make my house look cool in one two-hour block of home decoration rather than having to make a shopping list of appliances I need to steal and doublechecking against the wiki to make sure the items I’m looking for actually exist.

Thief Simulator does have some janky rough edges. The game is often quite finnicky about exactly where you’re hovering your cursor to interact with an object, which can lead to annoying situations like absonding from a house with a bag full of stolen loot while the police are on their way, and then accidentally ramming your hand into the window a couple of times becuase you’re struggling to get the door handle in the exact center of the screen. The physics of carryable objects like TVs or printers (they make you more visible and also bystanders who would otherwise ignore you will call the police if they see you hauling a printer out to your creepy windowless van) is acceptably functional, but barely, with lots of little annoyances like having to get a running start up a staircase to ram your way through some kind of catch at the bottom stair, and if you drop or throw an object at the wrong angle, it can get launched into the stratosphere.

The lack of fall damage on objects is also weird and annoying. I’m willing to accept no fall damage for the thief as an acceptable break from reality because the game has no health system, the maximum drop in the game is three stories, and depending on how you land and what you’re falling on, a three story drop is potentially manageable (the thief is depicted as quite nimble by the end of the game). No fall damage on objects means that throwing a television out of a second story window to climb out after is not just possible, but frequently a good idea – it means you don’t have to sneak through any first floor defenses while slowed down by a large object. For a game whose whole selling point is that you’re playing as a mostly-realistic thief whose abilities are limited to things that a real world human thief could probably accomplish, it’s kind of annoying that tossing valuable electronics out of second or third story windows is not only effective, but that later buildings are built around this (I’m 80% sure that the intended way to get a server or an office shredder out of building 303 is to toss it out of a second story window).

Despite the jank, I think Thief Simulator is pretty good at doing what it sets out to do. If the premise of being a more-or-less realistic human thief burgling houses in a regular old town somewhere in regular old America or Canada sounds cool, Thief Simulator delivers. If that premise isn’t reaching out to grip you, though, it’s not the kind of Hollow Knight-grade masterpiece where I’d recommend it to basically any gamer.

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