The fourth in its own series, and the latest in a growing list of franchises so long in the tooth that no one bats an eyelid at a non-sequential reboot, Thief takes the series to new heights.
Despite widely broadcasted fan concerns - and probably in part because of them - the game Eidos Montreal recently invited us to preview on PlayStation 4 improves on the series' core elements while introducing some new styles of gameplay, weaponry, and more detailed visuals. Thief’s game director, Nicholas Cantin also was on hand to give insight into the game's five years in development.
As in previous Thief games, Garret returns as the master thief, the man with half the Robin Hood complex. In his dreary and plague infested hometown, the aptly but unimaginatively named City, Garret seeks to expose the rich and earn a lot of money along the way.
The game is first and foremost a stealth title with action-stealth elements giving players the choice on how they would like to tackle objectives. Thief encourages as much stealth as possible but offers the choice to face enemies head to head if so chosen. Instead of sticking around and fighting to the death the mechanics incentivise a hit and run scenario.
“We encourage the stealth gameplay in Thief, this is the philosophy of the game, but we provide all the tools for the player to play the game how they would like and we think this is the beauty of the gameplay,” estimates Cantin.
Very early on, Garret learns to move swiftly and dash across short distances. He also obtains a claw that allows him to climb to heights not normally possible. The blackjack is also back, a simple club-like weapon that can knock an enemy out with one blow. Focus mode is introduced early as a hint marker that can visibly highlight paths to the objective, however it doesn’t highlight every single possibility - just because a ladder and a drain pipe light up in focus mode doesn’t mean there isn’t another way through a crawl space or narrow alley. Taking time to explore the environment can reward players with stealthier options and even some superior items.
Cantin was keen to draw attention to the level of detail contained within the game. Garret’s bow, for example, was first designed and sent to a bowyer in Canada to create a life size replica version to be used in the live action trailer. The bowyer had to make significant changes to the design to make it mechanically functional, and his revisions were subsequently reflected in the digital weapon Garret uses.
In the game itself, the bow plays a key stealth role, and an array of arrow types become available while traversing The City. Blunt arrows serve as a distraction, and water arrows can be used to put out fire lit lanterns. Other arrows such as sharp, fire and explosive offer an offensive approach to completing objectives.
“We had one tester who decided to throw a bottle into the air above a guard, use Garret’s focus to slow down time and shoot the bottle mid air," Cantin told Gameplanet. "When that happened the guard looked up and Garret was able to move along undetected. It’s surprising gameplay styles like this that make us proud of what this game has become.”
Equally impressive is fully customisable difficulty settings. There are the usual defaults allowing gamers to select between easy, medium and hard but there is another dimension within these difficulties that allows fully tweakable ‘Thief Mods”. These mods give players the options to up the ante by removing features such as chapter saves, reticules, the ability to takedown enemies outside of stealth and limiting the usage of arrows to special types. This can add another layer of challenges to the game and Eidos Montreal hopes to see players seek out combinations of customisable difficulty. "We can’t wait to see what players do with these Thief Mods - especially with the share button on the PlayStation 4 - we hope to see many videos that show how gamers beat objectives under the most difficult of settings”.
Thief is scheduled for release on PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Playstation 4 and Xbox One on February 27.