Rebooting a game is never easy. Rebooting a game that has such a strong, cult like following is even trickier, and Eidos Montreal seems to like these types of challenges. They failed to disappoint with the rebirth of the Deus Ex franchise, but I would be lying if I said there was the same amount of enthusiasm surrounding their new take on the beloved stealth franchise, Thief. From third-person to first-person, action stealth to hardcore “stick to the shadows” mechanics, Eidos seemed to be a bit lost for a while, unable to pinpoint what exactly they were trying to do with Garrett. And while we still have to wait a month to see the end result, the early signs of change show some real promise.
Thief was delayed to February of this year, not because of polish issue, but rather design. Eidos received some harsh but seemingly extremely valuable feedback after showing the game off last year at E3, and have spent the months since then adding in what hardcore fans of the franchise deemed missing. These changes can be seen from the minute you start a new game, with four distinct difficulty setting welcoming you. The Easy, Normal and Hard variants are there with their own versions of flavour text, but the most interesting of the lot is the Custom option right at the bottom. Here you can tweak your Thief experience to be whatever you like. Take out the aiming reticule, limit yourself to combat only when you’re anonymous, disable the new Focus system or even commit yourself to hour upon hours of torture with a “one hit means death” setting. All of these limitation help make Thief the game you want to play, without hampering those who have never run on a rooftop in Garrett’s shoes.
It’s a great system that not only opens up the game to two distinct audiences, but also provides some form of replayability for the single-player only title. Activating certain limitations will add to your score multiplier at the end of each chapter. When you finish, scores are uploaded to an online leaderboard and compared against friends. This system could end up encouraging players to replay certain stages with more increasingly difficult multipliers activated in order to best someone locally or even globally. Sure, it’s not for everyone, and I know most people would want to limit their Thief experience purely to make the game more challenging for themselves, but nevertheless it’s a feature that doesn’t go unnoticed, or unappreciated either.
As for Garrett himself, he’s looking a bit different. After some misfortunate events transpire at the beginning of the game, Garrett is left with two different eye colours and a new found ability to concentrate, or focus, better on his surroundings. Of course this plays into the newest feature of the Thief franchise, which is like a really watered down version or, say, Batman’s Detective Mode. Activate Focus and points of interest are highlighted in a blue hue for you, giving you a clear glance at an open courtyard or cramped up corridor. Not only is this sometimes useful for seeing things in general, considering just how bloody dark all of Victorian England seems to be, it also highlights important items and collectibles that you probably might have missed. During my time with Thief I often used Focus merely to see surroundings a bit more clearly, as well as analyse which painting I could interact with or not. Aside from that, rarely did I feel the need to use it as a crutch during infiltration and combat, meaning most players might feel right at home turning the entire thing off from the start. Much like Listen Mode in The Last of Us.
Of course this takes a chunk out of progression as you are no longer giving money away in order to upgrade you Focus abilities, but thankfully Thief seems to have an array of various different tools for you to sink your teeth into instead. The series staple bow is back and, despite looking like a compound bow you’d buy today, it just does what it regular bow is meant to do. The trick comes with what it shoots, and that’s where things get a bit interesting. Blunt flat heeded arrows, the pointier and sharper variant, fire arrows, water arrows, choking arrows, arrows that don’t even know they’re arrows. There’s literally anything you’d think of on offer in the Black Market, which you’ll be visiting a lot it seems. Combinations can be chopped and changed depending on how you play too. If you’re going for the more stealth and less lethal approach, something which Thief encourages around every single corner, you’d probably choose more flat head arrows for distractions and water one for putting out illuminating fires. Go the more direct and violent approach, and you’d probably opt for sharper arrows with greater range, as well as some fire ones to ignite some rather conveniently placed oil lamps. In a sense, Thief replicates the variation found in similar titles such as Dishonored, but manages to keep the entire thing grounded and realistic.
This is all good and well, but how exactly does Thief play? Well in my three hours with the opening segments of the game, Thief really began opening up. The prologue is tight and confined, which is a good way to teach you all the necessary mechanics but terrible for setting a tone for the rest of the title. Things really open up after that, when you realise that Garrett essentially has a Victorian playground at his feet. It’s not a massive, sprawling open world for you to explore, but rather smaller little hubs that require you to remain undetected, but still offer a lot to keep you off the story path. And by that, I mean actual thievery. Windows that are ajar, jewellery stores and more are all ripe for the picking, unless you don’t have the required tools yet. All of these riches go towards upgrading abilities, armor, weapons and purchasing new tools. Not only that, but it’s an absolute joy to run around above everyone as Garrett, with some smooth movement controls allowing you to effortlessly hop between rooftops and ledges. Unless you’re trying to hit a thin beam. I often fell to my death trying to jump between certain support beams and more narrow ledges, and it often felt more frustrating than anything else. Also, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to walk down a ladder, considering you have to hold jump to actually ascend the things. Odd design that.
But to be frank, the most engaging part of Thief had nothing to do with being a reboot or a sequel. It had to do with the fact that Garrett is a thief, and the game made me feel like one every chance it got. Chapters begin slowly, with you infiltrating a warehouse or library in search of a ring, book or blueprint of some kind. Areas are open and the guards feel sparse. Slowly, it begins getting more and more cramped, spaces to hide in are few and far between and guard numbers begin increasing. Finally, after acquiring your treasure, Garrett is always discovered, leading to an intense and climatic chase segment that not only puts your stealth skills to the test, but also how quickly you can change to more alert and wary patrols. It feels just right, and I think that’s what Eidos was struggling with in the past. When you play Thief you want to feel like the master infiltrator that Garrett is, and so far that’s exactly what I’m getting with the admission fee. Seeing his hands brush around the frame of a painting to look for a switch, or the way he marvels at a unique treasure he’s just discovered help immerse you in his world, making you understand the thrill of stealing.
Of course, there are a lot more aspects to this game that I haven’t yet had the chance to see fully play out, such as the story that links all of Garrett’s jobs together or how deep and complex his tool set will really be. That’s all waiting at the end of the tunnel come February 28th, when Thief releases on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. But I think nothing could have been better for this game than the short delay Eidos took to redirect and focus themselves. Thief feels like something fans of the series can now get excited about, while making the game welcome enough for those new to it. And that’s something not a lot of developers can boast about.