Thief: Reboot Gameplay Detailed
Also read our Thief interview with producer Stephane Roy and lead level designer Daniel Windfeld Schmidt.
“From the beginning it was 100 per cent sure that [the goal was] to restart it, to reinvent it, to make sure that you are going to perceive us as a part of the future and not part of the past.”
Those are the words of Stephane Roy, producer on Thief. Eidos Montreal has recently managed to successfully navigate the difficult task of developing Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a sequel that drew in a new audience while keeping die-hard series fans happy.
So it makes sense that the studio is now looking to repeat the trick with Thief, which is a reboot rather than a sequel but answers to fans who are equally passionate.
“It’s a big task, especially with Thief because people hate or love this franchise – it really is a polarization,” adds Roy. “We have to be really solid when we make a decision; we have to be able to explain why and be sure it supports the DNA of the franchise. It’s been a big challenge to find all the elements, because making a game is one thing, but really making sure it’s Thief and not just another game – that one takes time.”
Thief: Where Stealth Began
Thief: The Dark Project was the first game in the series, releasing on PC way back in November 1998 and just a few months after Metal Gear Solid made stealth trendy with PlayStation owners.
Thief was, in the crudest of terms, a first-person shooter without any shooting, the emphasis placed on avoiding confrontation rather than actively seeking it.
This was mostly achieved through sticking to shadows and not making any sounds. You have water arrows to extinguish torches and a blackjack to incapacitate enemies, both tools remaining key parts of Garrett’s arsenal throughout the series.
Two sequels followed – Thief II: The Metal Age (2000) and Thief: Deadly Shadows (2004). While some elements have been added and dropped throughout the series, such as the supernatural enemies (removed from Metal Age, returned in Deadly Shadows) and a third-person view, the aim has always been the same. Remain quiet, remain unseen, pinch loot.
Thief Drawn Out Of The Shadows By… Dishonored?
That formula won’t change for this Thief reboot, which sees Garrett returning to The City only to find it being run by a tyrant named ‘The Baron’ and the city itself infested with a plague. It’s the perfect opportunity for Garrett to reach into the pockets of the rich and pinch loot. But a lot of time has passed between Deadly Shadows and this project, scheduled for release next year. The games industry has changed and a lot of games have been released.
One game, in particular, proved the time was right for Thief to return.
“Between the last Thief game and the one we are going to release in 2014, a decade will be between the two games,” explains Roy. A lot of players on the forum will ask us to just remake the first one, and we really believe if we do it would be a mistake – the way we played games then and the way we play games today has changed a lot. It is subtle evolution.”
“I think the best proof is Dishonored,” continues Roy, answering our question of ‘why now?’. “Dishonored proves that the interest is there. Obviously, there is a lot of comparison; for me it’s amazing to see how Thief has been a good inspiration for Dishonored, because Thief is the godfather for that type of game. Definitely the timing for us is just perfect, because the door is wide open.”
“A lot of people heard about Thief but never played it. The Thief universe has a lot to offer,” adds level designer Daniel Windfeld Schmidt, before Roy jumps back in. “You know [as a veteran player of the series] that Dishonored has been inspired by Thief. But for a lot of players they are going to see us and think, ‘oh ok, the inspiration is Dishonored’.”
The House Of Blossoms is the hedonistic playground for the rich of The City, run by ‘Madame’ Xiao Xiao. Its seedy décor and opium haze suggests that this is a place The City’s law can’t or won’t reach, and its patrons are hardly the most attentive bunch. In attendance on this particular night is Theodore Eastwick, principle architect of The City who has a glittering medallion dangling across his neck.
There’s a problem. The House Of Blossoms locks its doors at midnight, which means Garrett would need to find another way in if he misses that window of opportunity. Dawdling is an easy thing to do. In Thief, as with previous games in the series, there are plenty of distractions around. The City is full of NPCs, whose chatter fills you in on the backstory. It’s not just the sound either, as the gloomy atmosphere created by the rainfall and shadows is engaging. If you’re one of those gamers who likes to slow down to gawp at the visuals, Thief lays on plenty of visual candy to distract you.
But hurry he must. Garrett heads to The House Of Blossoms by picking through guards on the streets who stand in his way. There are several options available – distraction (throwing a bottle to create noise), arrows (to the neck, not the knee), stealth (sliding under wagons and behind cover) or third-person takedowns (think Deus Ex: Human Revolution).
There are plenty of deft touches here that enhance the immersion. Birds scatter when Garrett breezes across rooftops, the noise catching the attention of guards below. Garrett himself puts his hands out to steady himself behind barrels or walls, a nod to Mirror’s Edge. Eventually, Garrett reaches his destination.
Garrett’s New Abilities
If outside The House Of Blossoms was a demonstration of Garrett’s new moves, then inside is a showcase of the master thief’s new abilities.
First up is Focus, which flags up objects of interest, NPCs carrying valuable items and increases the speed with which Garrett can pick locks and pick pockets. Focus replaces Garrett’s mechanical eye (something that goes back to the story of the original Thief outing) but Eidos Montreal won’t elaborate on any plot specifics regarding this.
The logbook reveals what room Eastwick is staying in but as you realise that he’s not at The House Of Blossoms for its simple hedonistic pleasures. He desperately inspects the walls after killing his girl a chloroform handkerchief, muttering to himself that “it has to be this one.” He leaves the medallion unattended, which Garrett snatches away. At this point you can leave with your prize…
Or you can use Focus to see what Eastwick is looking for. It turns out an adjacent room is hiding a glyph, which can be entered into the medallion. The medallion whirrs into life but at the same time, Eastwick discovers the medallion is missing. The alarm is raised.
If you paid attention to NPC conversations, you’ll have overheard a conversation about a previous disaster at The House Of Blossoms, when an abundance of opium caused the guests to pass out. Garrett springs to the opium chambers and using this knowledge, sets a trap for the investigating guards to stumble into. The opium is triggered and the guards pass out.
Garrett then shows off more of his offensive abilities to dispatch of guards. One arrow knocks a statue into a guard, crushing him. Focus allows Garrett to pinpoint attack points on the guard’s body, as he chains attacks together and dispatches three of them in a violent sequence of moves. Outside once more, Garrett dissolves into the shadows, leaving behind a chaotic House Of Blossoms, drugged guards and furious Eastwick.
Action Versus Stealth?
It’s classic Thief – open-ended missions influenced by your actions with unpredictable outcomes.
One potential concern is how action might override the stealth aspects of the game but it’s a worry Eidos Montreal is aware of and has addressed. “The objective is never to assassinate anybody, never to be aggressive – that’s not the main purpose of the game. But for some players, they find satisfaction in completely removing everybody from an entire playing field,” says Schmidt.
“You can play our game completely without killing anyone; this is something that’s very important for us. The Blackjack doesn’t kill anybody, it only makes them unconscious, [though] you can go through without knocking anybody out, too. Can you get through this without ever being seen or heard? Now we are bringing a whole new level of difficulty.”
Oh, and another potential concern has been ruled out. It has been confirmed that there will be no multiplayer.
“We don’t support multiplayer,” says Marc Benoit. “We want to build the best single-player experience we can. We don’t want to waste resources. We have another game mode, but it’s not multiplayer. But we are really, really focused on building the best single-player experience we can, so no multiplayer.”
Garrett Doesn’t Have A Facebook Account
Following on from the no multiplayer revelation, it turns out Garrett doesn’t have a Facebook account either. We know! We’re shocked too. You might have pictured Garrett as your typical social media-obsessed thief from Victorian times – scrolling through his Facebook news feed or retweeting animated dog gifs between pinching jewelry – but apparently that’s not the case.
“Garrett is quite anti-social,” explains Steven Gallagher, narrative director on Thief. He doesn’t talk to a lot of people, he doesn’t have a Facebook account and he doesn’t shake hands very much. But he’s incredibly intellectual and he would be amazing to talk to, so luckily for us he talks to himself.”
But one technological aspect that is up to date is the choice of platforms, with Thief coming to PC, PS4 ‘and other next-generation consoles’
“Next gen is really interesting to us for the immersion. Now if you peak and you check something there are no pixelated textures or something like that,” explains Roy. “The dense city – the immersion – this is where the next generation is really great for this type of game. It’s not a question of having more polygons or big explosions – no, no, no. You are going to be Garrett in The City, and when you are going to see his hands peaking it will be your hands. This is where next gen helps us. We are going to be able to avoid the ‘loading, loading, loading’. Now there’s no more loading, because next gen is here.”
And so is Thief, which looks like a textbook example in how to reboot a franchise without alienating fans. As Roy says himself – this looks like part of the future and not part of the past. Here’s to the future, then.