Originally published on Pixelitis.net on October 10, 2013.
I should probably preface this preview by saying that I have yet to play any of the classic Thief games, although they do sit all on their lonesome in my Steam library.
Nevertheless, I do recognize them as pioneers of the stealth genre that weave steampunk into a dark environment filled with precious loot ripe for swiping.
Given the ten-year dearth of anything Thief-related, Eidos Montreal is not considering this newest entry as a sequel or remake of the previous games. This current and next-gen title is more of a reimagining, taking parts of the older titles and mixing it in with new mechanics.
You still play as a master thief named Garrett, and you’re still craftily sneaking about a damp and decrepit environment, swiping any valuables you can find while fulfilling certain quests.
The demo, which was an Xbox 360 build running on a PC, served as a glimpse into how the player will traverse the game’s city hub, which includes Garret’s hideout in a clock tower and various city streets filled with plagued up beggars and patrolling guards. One building serves as a place to accept quests as well as purchase upgrades, health items and other equipment for the protagonist.
While the average beggar or upstanding civilian will pay you no mind, you’ll have to keep your distance from guards, who will identify Garrett as a wanted man and will cut him down if seen. Trying to be gung-ho by pelting guards with arrows or a blackjack isn’t necessarily the most intelligent choice here; enemies hit hard and can cut Garrett down in just a few swipes.
Sleuthing around is a cinch in Thief. Aside from the usual crouch-walk, Garrett can do a quick “stealth leap” which doesn’t make any noise. He can also stick to corners to lean out and quickly dash from one point of cover to another. While this works easily enough, I didn’t find too many opportunities in the hub area to take advantage of it.
Many of the city hub’s sidequests required some manuevering around the city’s rooftops and bridges, requiring well-placed arrow shots to bring down ladders and crates for Garret to jump on. Interestingly, sprinting, jumping and climbing are all tied to holding the left trigger, which initially takes some getting used to. Those familiar with Assassin’s Creed’s maneuvering will find this to be second-nature.
There are a number of homes Garrett can break into to find random loot, and this usually requires a bit of lockpicking. The mechanic is a combination of Splinter Cell and The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, requiring you to rotate the analog stick and finding a vibrating “sweet spot” and pressing the right trigger to get through the lock.
Alternatively, you can make things easier by activating “Focus” mode, a new feature in Thief that enhances Garrett’s vision, highlighting points in the environment at the cost of his Focus bar. In the case of lockpicking, Focus zooms in on the lock’s mechanisms, requiring the player to press up on the analog stick and then time a right trigger press to bypass the lock.
Hardcore fans may be relieved to find out that Focus mode can be turned off completely, so those who hunger for a bigger challenge shouldn’t be dissatisfied.
Halfway through my playthrough, Thief producer Joe Khoury appeared in the room and watched me play, impressed by my passion for exploring the world and my ability in discovering some of the more secluded areas in the demo.
When he wasn’t spoiling things by encouraging me to look at certain objects to find hidden switches or platforms to fire rope arrows into, he shared some neat details about the game’s environment, mentioning how he had demanded that one section of the city, dubbed “the dark alley,” feature rats emerging from the sides of the street. While I think this might’ve made things too Dishonored-like, I will say that the game doesn’t hold much in common with the year-old title.
All in all, Thief is looking impressive. I found myself easily getting sucked into the game’s world, and it was enjoyable just to sneak around the shadows off the city, discovering various nooks and crannies that would lead me to more loot that would aggregate in Garrett’s empty treasure displays. The fact that my nearly hour-long playthrough only scratched the surface of the game in terms of exploration and sidequests, I’m looking forward to what the meatier story quests have to offer.
Thief is set to emerge from the shadows on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on Feb. 25, 2014.