Thief preview: out of the shadows

The team at Eidos Montreal has a tough road ahead with its reboot of Thief. On the one hand, it must face the expectations of old-school players who loved the original Looking Glass and Ion Storm games. On the other, it must appease newer gamers who may have limited experience with stealth action. So what does the studio do? Producer Stephane Roy said they plan to stick to their own vision of what Thief should be.

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The team at Eidos Montreal has a tough road ahead with its reboot of Thief. On the one hand, it must face the expectations of old-school players who loved the original Looking Glass and Ion Storm games. On the other, it must appease newer gamers who may have limited experience with stealth action. So what does the studio do? Producer Stephane Roy said they plan to stick to their own vision of what Thief should be. For those familiar with the franchise, he said, "this is not a prequel or a sequel. It our interpretation of what is Thief. The original Thief had more of a magical feel. This is more mystical." A 25-minute hands-off gameplay demonstration introduced us to the medieval Victorian city that Garrett calls home. The city is run by a Baron trying to push the city into the Industrial Age, while a shadowy charismatic leader seeds revolution among the populace. As the cynical dark anti-hero, Garrett is caught in the middle of this struggle between rich and poor. Several of Garrett's tricks of the trade return, including his blackjack and bow. Roy was quick to point out that, while many games have added bows recently, Thief has used bows since the beginning. "This is not the flavor of the month," he joked. New to Thief is "focus," an ability that can speed up or aid certain skills. For example, if a player chooses to use focus while lockpicking, it can be done faster. If used while picking pockets, Garrett can walk away with more items in a faster time--or pluck expensive earrings right off a courtesan while her back is turned. And if Garrett needs to get out of combat, focus can be used to pinpoint key areas on an opponent to take him down quickly. Roy said focus is not unlimited, however. "You must use it like a powerful chess player. You must find the best tactical move." The demo offered an impressive look at these and other abilities in action. Garrett would throw objects to distract guards, avoid detection by running across rooftops, or use a special arrow tip to extinguish a fire for added darkness. The goal was to follow an aristocrat and relieve him of his belongings. The entire time, the player is crouching, dashing, and dousing lights to avoid detection. Roy said there is also a sense of voyeurism, as Garrett eavesdrops on conversations and spies through peepholes to gather information. Thief is played from a first-person perspective, although the game will shift to third-person when Garrett scales walls or goes into combat. Throughout the demo, you could see Garrett's hands, something that Roy said emphasizes the "tactile world" and the thief's primary tool in his arsenal of stealth.

Click to see all the concept art

Square Enix chose to show off a non-lethal playthrough, and Roy was careful not to divulge what other deadly weapons would be available (if any) in case Garrett got into a situation where he was severely outnumbered. Another aspect that Eidos Montreal is keeping mum about is how Garrett will use his ill-gotten gains. Throughout the demo, items of considerable value were stolen and a running tally was kept of the gold gained. Roy said there will be a use for the money that will be discussed at a later time, but a store where Garrett can upgrade his gear and items is a logical assumption. With Garrett already being a master thief, it begs the question of what the player's motivation is to play through the game if he is already at the top of his field skill-wise. Roy hesitantly admitted that there will be some sort of progression system in the game, although he did not specify what form that would take. "There will be an incentive to steal things and an incentive to continue through the game," he said. After the gameplay demonstration, Eidos Montreal presented a tech demo showing off the game's heavily modified Unreal Engine 3. This area was meant to show how well the engine handles light and shadow, "the DNA of the franchise," according to Roy. He said that it was important to get the ambiance right to feel like a Thief game. While it looks very good, it doesn't look particularly next-gen.

Click to see all the new screenshots

Based on the presentation, Eidos Montreal is on the right track in building a proper Thief game, mood and all. However, it's hard to ignore comparisons to last year's critically acclaimed Dishonored. This demo required Garrett to infiltrate a brothel to follow a wealthy individual, much the same way one Dishonored demo had Corvo finding a way into a bordello for a similar purpose, using similar skills. Garrett's dash and grappling hook--called The Claw--easily replicate Corvo's blink ability, although Roy said Garrett's abilities are meant to be "grounded in reality." Even the cities from the two games look and feel the same. It doesn't damn the game by any means, as a likeness to Dishonored is not a bad thing, but the similarities are there. While it remains to be seen if Thief can shake the shadow of Corvo and Dishonored, Eidos Montreal is definitely moving in the right direction. There are still plenty of unanswered questions, although one was just answered with the reveal that Romano Orzari would be taking over for Stephen Russell as the voice of Garrett. But it appears Eidos Montreal is definitely trying to cater to old-school Thief fans, and that's only a good thing.
Contributing Editor
From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 4, 2013 6:00 AM

    John Keefer posted a new article, Thief preview: out of the shadows.

    The team at Eidos Montreal has a tough road ahead with its reboot of Thief. On the one hand, it must face the expectations of old-school players who loved the original Looking Glass and Ion Storm games. On the other, it must appease newer gamers who may have limited experience with stealth action. So what does the studio do? Producer Stephane Roy said they plan to stick to their own vision of what Thief should be.

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      April 4, 2013 6:35 AM

      "With Garrett already being a master thief, it begs the question of what the player's motivation is to play through the game if he is already at the top of his field skill-wise."

      The motivation used to be...the game itself.

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        April 4, 2013 6:37 AM

        I think the idea of achievements and instant gratification killed that awhile ago (sadly).

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        April 4, 2013 7:19 AM

        Agreed. I'm expecting a skill system similar to Deus Ex Human Revolution, which is a bad thing for Thief in my opinion. I They should give the players numerous tools, not skills. "Focus" feature sounds cheap too.

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          April 4, 2013 10:35 AM

          They've already confirmed an "old school" mode of sorts that removes visual elements and tones down some abilities.

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        April 4, 2013 7:33 AM

        Given their recent track record I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

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          April 4, 2013 8:00 AM

          DX was a bit more gamey and had a theme and style that were more palatable to the mainstream. Thief's pacing, difficulty, and tone were all hardcore PC stuff from the MIT graduate developer team.

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        April 5, 2013 8:10 AM

        [deleted]

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      April 4, 2013 8:10 AM

      I'm getting a lot less excited the more I hear.

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        April 4, 2013 10:11 AM

        Agreed. :(

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        April 4, 2013 11:21 AM

        Why?

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          April 4, 2013 11:47 AM

          because it means the sequel to Deus Ex is even further away

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            April 4, 2013 11:55 AM

            Eidos Montreal has 350 employees. I'm sure they can handle two projects simultaneously.

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              April 4, 2013 12:06 PM

              yeah these fuckers fill my metro station, the whole metro works there

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          April 4, 2013 12:17 PM

          Sounds like it's going to be a run of the mill modern game instead of the hardcover first person sneaker I was hoping for.

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            April 4, 2013 12:19 PM

            Plus I'd rather not see their version of the world Garrett inhabits. I love the world that Looking Glass created. I'd rather see a new story starring the classic Garrett.

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            April 4, 2013 12:24 PM

            Why do you hate the children of tomorrow, Haku-Jin? Please, press X for salvation.

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        April 8, 2013 9:12 PM

        Ditto.

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      April 4, 2013 8:23 AM

      Keef I have a question about those last two paragraphs. Who are you trying to appeal to there? Why would you bring up the similarities with dishonored without acknowledging the fact that Dishonored was/is heavily influenced by thief - you make it sound awfully one sided. It's not like thief was some niche franchise no one played, it's just older.

      Can you elaborate more on the "The Claw"? Exactly how much does it at like blink? Because if it's even remotely similar then they basically ruined the game, as blink was pretty much the one thing that held Dishonored back from being a proper stealth title (if you chose to play it that way that is).

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        April 4, 2013 9:08 AM

        Not really trying to appeal to anyone. Just trying to explain that while us old-school gamers appreciate Thief and its history, newer gamers unfamiliar with stealth action will only have Dishonored to go by. As I said it the preview, though, the game is a nod to the old-schoolers. I debated whether to put that part in there, but as I watched the demo, that was my first impression.

        With the Dash and Claw combo, dash blurs the screen a bit and you get to a place quickly without being seen (like blink). The Claw is a grappling hook the also takes you up higher to places you couldn't normally get to. Again, grounded in reality as Roy said, but the combo of the two has a blink feel, but falls firmly in the tools of the trade for Thief.

        And keep in mind that I don;t find those as bad things. But having a bordello to show off the game, much like The Golden Cat was shown in DH, it was deja vu all over again.

        That's the explanation. I erred on the side of offering my first impressions rather than holding it back, but I tried to make it clear that I felt the demo was still very good.

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          April 4, 2013 11:28 AM

          That's disappointing about the claw (which i don't have a fundamental problem with if would have behaved somewhat akin to rope arrows used to, but can latch onto stone), but the focus powers have me thinking that they went in the wrong direction completely with this game. The original thief was inspired by submarine combat, it seems like they've dropped all of those parallels in favor of making a more action focused stealth game, which is a bit of a misnomer. The amount of suspense in moment-to-moment gameplay that is lost by basically allowing the player to "cheat" with magic powers is sort of antithetical to the genre. The more I learn about this game the more I don't want it to exist = (

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            April 4, 2013 11:54 AM

            Yeah one of the things that separated Dishonored from Thief was that you could get from point A to point B without worrying about the points in between. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but it is definitely a different feel from Thief's more rigorous sneaking.

            I liked Dishonored a lot, and I'm not in a tizzy about the new Thief game yet, but the sound of the dash/claw mechanic is a little disappointing to me too.

            Eh, we'll see how it works out.

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              April 4, 2013 12:07 PM

              Just as a clarification. Dash cannot be done up a wall. It is meant to get from point A to point be in a short spurt on a horizontal plane. The Claw adds the vertical element, essentially replace rope arrows (although we didn't see much in the way of game play with it)

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      April 4, 2013 11:12 AM

      Did the demo encounter any drunk guards? I always loved the drunk guards. "Doe dee doe doe -hiccup- is anyone there? Aww it was nothing." The angry guards calling out "You can't hide from me ,Taffer!" were awesome too.

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        April 4, 2013 11:20 AM

        Not that I saw. These guys were pretty alert and responsive to noise. Garrett used an arrow to shootout a bonfire and the guard re-lit it after looking around.

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      April 4, 2013 12:28 PM

      From the sounds of it, while I think the game may be fun, it doesn't seem like it is really going to capture the essence of what made Thief so memorable.

      I always thought of Garret as just an ordinary guy with some cool tools of the trade, combat was something that was a last resort cause he really wasn't a fighter. From the little I am seeing of this version it seems more related to Assassins Creed than Thief. So probably a fun game in the end, just not the game I suspect most Thief fans were wanting.

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        April 8, 2013 9:17 PM

        Exactly what is running through my mind. Deus Ex could get away with alternate mechanics due to the older tech of it main character, but this is Garrett. Garrett is being changed. This in my mind is always a massive mistake. They are also adding third person elements which destroys ones disbelieve in any game. The only reason I post is because I see them destroying what was once golden.

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      April 4, 2013 12:56 PM

      Shots are hot, the fact that this is a Eidos Montreal game has me super excited. Deus Ex: HR was an awesome revival of the franchise.

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        April 4, 2013 2:25 PM

        ^^^ I agree, it's going to be good, I hope.

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      April 4, 2013 1:08 PM

      There is a preview on eurogamer that makes it sound like every other game. It even has that "scan the environment to see interactive objects" thing, which is just a excuse for lazy design and is in every damn game these days. Even tomb raider. They are even removing the risk of being caught by making you a better fighter. I found very little to be excited about.

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      April 4, 2013 1:59 PM

      More like OUT OF THE CLOSET

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      April 4, 2013 5:29 PM

      Bunch of pessimists up in here. You guys are turning into Rock, Paper, Shotgun readers.

      Look, I'm not denying that they might mainstream some things a bit compared to the old games, but I read nothing in this preview to make me think this isn't going to turn out fine. What happened to giving the benefit of the doubt to a proven, top-notch studio working with a top-notch franchise?

      If Keef says this looks like a proper Thief game so far, then I'm inclined to believe him.

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        April 5, 2013 6:20 AM

        I agree, a lot of people were bitching about HR before it came out. When it actually did release it was pretty damn good and in some respects better than the original.

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        April 8, 2013 9:19 PM

        More like I think we are all tired of all the releases of late. Turned gaming into boredom. I have what? 300 Steam titles alone and most of them are ho hum. I am dying for a real game like Thief or System Shock. I am slowly losing my interest in this hobby due to the crap being released these days.

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      April 8, 2013 9:11 PM

      although the game will shift to third-person when Garrett scales walls or goes into combat.

      Ugggh. Fail. 3rd person totally suspends your mood.

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