Eidos Montreal’s Thief is perhaps one of the odder releases of the year. It’s been delayed an umpteenth number of times, gone through several design changes and was changed from being a simple sequel (Thief 4) to receiving the full-blown reboot treatment.
Of course, other issues arose in the meantime – originally, Thief was to release for the Xbox One, PS4 and PC but popular demand facilitated a release for the Xbox 360 and PS3 as well. Utilizing Unreal Engine 3, Thief is somewhat stuck between catering to the larger market while trying to push boundaries using the technology that next gen affords. Then of course, there’s catering to PC gamers.
"It’s the PS4 and Xbox One which presumably try to show off the full visual grandeur of Thief. Both versions run at 60 frames per second with the PS4 version running at 1080p while the Xbox One runs at 900p."
The first thing to note is that if you want to enjoy Thief – broken AI, confusing mechanics and troubled gameplay aside – it’s best that you avoid the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. Frame rate issues abound in all versions of Thief, save for the PC version, but it’s the current gen platforms that have a hard keeping relatively stable. The real time lighting also leaves much to be desired – shadows from characters look odd and roughly hewn while environmental shadows are passable if not realistic.
While it’s unsure if adaptive v-sync was established to prevent drops in frame rate, the overall screen tearing in the PS3 and Xbox 360 version seems to indicate the same. Then there’s the pop-in and overall reduced depth of field compared to the next gen versions. You’ll only really notice it while quickly gliding through your surroundings and it just sticks out all the more on the PS3 and Xbox 360.
It’s the PS4 and Xbox One which presumably try to show off the full visual grandeur of Thief. Both versions run at 60 frames per second with the PS4 version running at 1080p while the Xbox One runs at 900p. In terms of smoothening out the rough edges, both versions use fast approximate ant-aliasing (FXAA) and while it works to a very strong degree, you’ll notice some artefacting in the Xbox One version due to the reduced resolution. This AA solution is bit of surprise since the PS4 is very much capable of expensive anti-aliasing solutions.
"You could also opt for FXAA and SMAA on PC if you don’t have the memory or graphics horsepower to spare but the difference from the next gen versions is as clear as day and night."
Frame rates are also far from stable. Both versions lose frames when the action gets intense, with the PS4 losing a handful at a time while the Xbox One’s lost frames range in the double digits. It’s just enough to be annoying rather than making the game an unplayable mess but it reflects the overall lack of optimization on Eidos Montreal’s part. Unreal Engine 3 is hardly next-gen and shouldn’t have issues on powerful hardware like the PS4 and Xbox One. Ideally, Eidos should have gone with Unreal Engine 4 for next gen versions. Frame stuttering also appears to be an issue at times, similar to what was seen in games like Knack and Need for Speed Rivals and it’s far more distracting than the frame rate dips.
To further prove this point, the game runs incredibly well on the PC, with a full HD resolution and a near 60 FPS on even mid-range hardware. There’s sadly no support for TXAA (exclusive to NVidia-supported titles), with AMD users receiving the biggest benefits in SXAA (spatial anti-aliasing).
You could also opt for FXAA and SMAA if you don’t have the memory or graphics horsepower to spare but the difference from the next gen versions is as clear as day and night. Stuttering issues, screen tearing and whatnot are also very visibly absent, and you don’t need to highest possible grade of hardware to achieve a good frame rate. The PC version also supports tessellation to allow for higher grade and smoother surface textures overall.
"While the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are near enough to a lost cause as can get, the PS4 and Xbox One versions have their own issues in terms of real world performance."
But which version is superior between the PS4 and Xbox One? We’d opt for the PlayStation 4 version in this case. While the Xbox One looks above average, it suffers from a spotty implementation of parallax occlusion mapping (which serves to add more definition to bumpy surfaces). The PS4 version is more uniform in that respect and suffers less from pop-in.
This is most noticeable in areas with multiple light sources, as you’ll be able to visibly notice how well the shadows materialize as you move forward. Thus environments in Thief look noticeably more realistic and immersive. The Xbox One version is more awkward in this respect, and this doesn’t include the frame rate issues and artefacting.
Overall though, Thief is a very visually unbalanced title. While the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are near enough to a lost cause as can get, the PS4 and Xbox One versions have their own issues in terms of real world performance. It’s the PC version that ultimately dominates the exchange but if you want the best next gen console for the experience, opt for the PS4.