In preview after preview for Thief I see the same idea – the new Thief sure looks a lot like Dishonored. After playing the game, I'd say that's a misconception. This fourth Thief game – a reimagining of the Thief franchise – is still Thief through and through. The similarities to Dishonored are the same similarities previous games in the series had: a dark hero, stealth gameplay, and a steampunk world.
When I got my hands on the game, I wasn't reminded of Dishonored. I was reminded of Thief: Deadly Shadows and the last time I experienced this franchise.
"It's tough to communicate that when no one has really played it, but a lot of games distinguish themselves when you’ve played them," producer Joe Khoury explained at a recent Square-Enix event. "There's that and there's some ex-Looking Glass guys that worked on [Dishonored]. If you blink really quickly, their hero looks a little bit like Garrett. There's always these comparisons between games, and when you're compared to a great game like Dishonored…all you can say is play the game and hopefully you will find the differences."
The differences start with Garrett himself, a thief whose toolset is built around stealth rather than choosing between stealth or action. “When you look at Garrett's tools and abilities, they shine the most when you’re in the shadow and trying to be sneaky,” said Khoury.
In the demo, this became clear the moment I got caught by a pair of guards. Sure, Garrett was capable of taking the two guards face-to-face with his signature Blackjack, but it didn't feel right to stand over a pair of guards and bludgeon them to death while taking a beating myself. It felt sloppy, and that's the point. Fighting a guard should feel like a misstep.
"Garrett doing what he does, he might make a mistake," Khoury explained. "He might bump into a guard here and there. He should be able to get out of trouble. But getting out of trouble against one guard and getting out of trouble against fifteen are two different things. Garrett has the skills to eliminate one guard, two guards at once, but once it starts to get to three, four guards? His reaction would be 'No, I need to get out of here,' or 'I need to manipulate the situation in order to manage it properly.'"
The result is a game that feels like it offers players more than a fail state in the face of getting caught, but not nearly on the kung-fu badass level Dishonored approached. One problem with Dishonored is that if you do play as a complete ghost, you don’t get to make use of all the lethal tools at your disposal. In Thief, all of your tools are designed to augment stealth, so you never feel like you’re missing out by playing methodically.
Tthe tools Garrett does have are very much the tools you've come to expect from Thief. Water arrows, fire arrows, and rope arrows are all represented, along with more lethal tools like toxic gas arrows. "There are certain cues from Garrett when we played the first games that we found were so memorable that they would definitely make that blend between the old generation and this generation," said Khoury.
Garrett can also navigate the environment in a free-running Assassin's Creed-esque style by pulling on the left trigger (I played on a 360 controller). This was a fun, smooth, and immediately intuitive way to get around, even in first-person, but it did have its issues. In the demo, I hit one too many moments where I was sure Garrett could make a jump, so I ran for it and he simply dashed off the edge to his death. Since the demo area was a non-final version of the game, hopefully navigation quirks will be ironed out.
On the ground, in the thick of the guard patrols, Garrett can stick to cover and peek around corners for a better view without being seen. Additionally, if another piece of cover is within sight, he can jump to that cover with a simple tap of a button. The system isn't unlike Splinter Cell: Blacklist's cover mechanics, except in first-person view. Lastly, he has a sort of dash or lunge designed for quick movements through light or a guard's line of sight. Unfortunately, due to the demo level's vertical design, I didn't have much of an opportunity to use this move, but I can see it being a handy way for skilled players to move through the environment quickly and quietly.
As I spoke with Khoury about the game, I thought back to Deus Ex: Invisible War and Thief: Deadly Shadows, two games that, like the original Deus Ex and Thief before them, shared much of the same development blood. Now we have Deus Ex: Human Revolution and this new Thief, both developed at Eidos Montreal, and I wondered if we'd again see some of that common blood between the games. “Not so much in terms of mechanics and gameplay, but definitely on the learnings of how to make a game with a very, very passionate community.” said Koury. “Both of them are games that each team feels very passionate about.”
It may be too soon to call Thief one way or the other, but the demo I played felt faithful to the previous games in much the same way Human Revolution was both modern and honorable to its past. We can only hope the final version of the game lives up to that legacy.
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