So, whilst trawling for interesting stuff to write about right here in the very hallowed virtual halls of Touch Arcade, I stumbled across this small gem of a game that I just couldn’t let fly below the radar.
Master Thief ($0.99) is inspired by classic stealth games but the one that really stands out to me as the spiritual predecessor is Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions.
The aim of the game, as the title suggests, is to steal. In each stage there are several pieces of golden goodness that need to be collected by our hero, um, I mean, criminal, before he makes his way to the exit. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple, as the owners of the building have hired a bunch of pesky security guards, who patrol the rooms and halls with their flashlights.
The beams from the guards’ flashlights work much in the same way as the AI characters’ field of view in any other stealth game. This is a great bit of design as it gives an obvious visual representation of what the enemy is goggling at, without doing anything silly like having beams of light shooting from their eyeballs. It also adds an extra dimension, as the beams sway left and right as the guards sweep the rooms.
The guards aren’t the only obstacles in Master Thief, either. In later stages you encounter laser beams and pressure pads, trigger either and the alarm sounds, resulting in scary shower time behind bars. The lasers are deactivated whenever a guard approaches, so you’ll need to stay close to follow him through. As for the pressure pads, walk on them and you’re toast, but luckily the developers threw in a handy little dive roll feature that allows you to cross the pads quickly enough for them not to activate. But be warned, this uses up energy and needs to be recharged, so you’ll need to use it strategically. In some of the stages, the pressure pads turn on and off in pre-defined sequences, meaning you’ll have to time walking through them, all the while keeping an eye out for your blue-shirted friends.
Visually, Master Thief is an attractive package. The cel-shaded models are well animated and the overall look of the game is relatively simple, yet pleasing to the old occular nerves.
The audio side of the game is again simple but efficient. Sneaky secret agent music sets the scene here, and the security guards simply yell “hey" when they spot you trying to make off with their trinkets. A nice touch that shows attention to detail is that there are a variety of different voices just for that one word.
The controls in Master Thief are handled by the age-old method of a joystick and a single button. The joystick controls your character’s sneaking and the button triggers the roll/dash. I’m not a huge fan of onscreen joysticks, but it gets the job done here, albeit with the odd bit of frustration from perhaps not being quite precise enough with the stick. Overall, it’s pretty well executed. Unlike other games of this ilk, there are no attack moves, leaving you to rely solely on your light-footedness.
On the whole, Master Thief is a thoroughly enjoyable title. The levels are well thought out, the AI (or at least, pathfinding) does a great job of making the game challenging but never becomes a chore. Master Thief has one of the most beautifully balanced difficulty curves that I have encountered and it clearly shows that the guys from Universal Chicken have some mighty design prowess.
My biggest gripe is the length of the game. Upon purchase, you are presented with five levels and an extra five are available via IAP, with more to come. Playing through the whole lot isn’t going to take much more than twenty minutes or so, allowing for the compulsory level-learning and mistakes. Longevity is increased by the want to better your best times on each level but the game still leaves you for wanting more. I also had a few issues with the IAP system itself, resulting in needing to delete and reinstall to be able to play the game at all.
I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for the next DLC packs (at least two more due over the coming weeks, according to developer Richard Taylor) as Master Thief is a well executed title that’s a whole lot of fun, there just needs to be more of it.