|System: PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC|
|Dev: Eidos Montreal|
|Pub: Square Enix|
|Release: February 25, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Becky Cunningham
Resurrecting a beloved old-school series is never an easy task, but Eidos Montreal has proven itself with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The studio's second project, Thief, will attempt to strike gold a second time by rebooting the stealth classic for a modern audience.
This time around, the road seems to have been a fair bit rockier. The Thief team is largely separate from the tight squad that created Deus Ex: HR, and rumors of tensions amongst staff, rotating directors with conflicting artistic visions, and repeated trips back to the drawing board have been filtering out of the studio for years. Although development began in 2008-9, the game remained entirely behind closed doors until early 2013, and has received a mixed reception since it began making its promotional rounds.
What is Thief, exactly? It's the story of Garrett, a master thief who operates in a Gothic/Steampunk city known simply as the City. It's a series that distinguishes itself by being almost entirely about stealth. While more recent games like Assassins Creed and Dishonored have a strong stealth focus, Thief's protagonist Garrett is no assassin. He has a few tools to distract or knock out foes, but he isn't a deadly foe and will be quickly defeated in most straight-up fights. The Thief reboot retains that focus, although Garrett appears to be a bit more powerful in combat than he was in previous entries.
This game reboots Garrett's story, bringing him to the City after a long absence, during which it has been taken over by a tyrant known as the Baron. There's a plague about and the citizenry is rioting, making the setup sound rather similar to Dishonored. Garrett doesn't care too much for politics, however, and is mostly interested in using the chaos to strike it rich. He'll likely still find himself mixed up in the City's fate in the end, though, as fans generally suspect that Garrett has a bigger heart than he'll admit even to himself.
The City will be an open hub that leads into missions or allows Garrett to perform lesser burglaries and take on side quests. The game's developers claim that most buildings will be explorable and that there won't be loading screens on the PC or the new generation of consoles. While there are many possible approaches to the game's theft missions, players won't be able to freely jump or lean around corners. These and numerous other forms of environment traversal will only be available as contextual commands.
Garrett has several flexible tools that form the center of his thieving arsenal. His collapsible bow can be fitted with arrows that are modified for numerous purposes. For instance, normal arrows can maim or kill guards, water arrows put out lights and candles from a distance, and smoke arrows provide cover and distraction. His blackjack is his main protection up-close, being most useful when guards must be struck from behind and unaware. Finally, Garrett's grappling claw will help him reach higher ground, making it easier to get around without being spotted.
Of course, the environment remains an important part of Garrett's missions, as managing light and sound are vital to staying hidden. UI elements will inform the player of how well-hidden Garrett is, and he'll make more sound running across tiles than across grass. The developers claim that guard AI is meant to challenge the player, as guards are aware of possible hiding spots and will search for Garrett if they catch wind of his presence or his handiwork (such as poorly hidden bodies).
The most controversial additions to gameplay were made in the name of modernizing its experience. There are some third-person segments and light QTEs that have been added to “mix up” the gameplay. Most importantly, Garrett now has an ability called Focus that allows him to slow down time during combat and pickpocketing and well as highlight important elements in the environment. Focus will show Garrett climbable pipes, drawers that contain particularly interesting treasure, etc.
The Thief team recognizes the preferences of original fans, having included an old-school mode that increases the game's difficulty and completely removes everything associated with the Focus abilities. While it won't make the game play identical to the earlier entries (the third-person segments, restrictions on environmental traversal, and QTEs remain), it's nice that the option is there. Will there be enough of a challenge and sense of free exploration to please these fans? Previewers thus far can’t quite seem to agree on the answer to that question.
No matter how Thief's gameplay shakes out in the end, there is one detail that will never sit right with fans of the original games. Eidos Montreal decided to ditch Garrett's original voice actor, Stephen Russel, in favor of somebody who could perform the stunts needed for full performance capture. Russel's delightfully sarcastic performance as Garrett truly defined the character, and it's criminal that he was replaced, especially for the flat, downright dull Garrett we've heard in game previews so far. If this is what performance capture has to offer, give me poor lip-synch any day.
If you loved Dishonored or Assassins Creed, don't mind a similar game with even less combat, and have no familiarity with the original Thief games, this could be a title to look forward to. If you're an old-school Thief fan, you probably already know that you'll want to approach this game with caution. Between its troubled development and its nearly impossible task to please series fans while simultaneously appealing to a new generation of gamers, it's quite difficult to tell just how good a game Thief will turn out to be.
Date: December 16, 2013