It won't be called Thief III when it finally ships, but the third game in the Thief series will feature the same sort of innovative stealth action gameplay as its predecessors, along with a much better, more atmospheric presentation. We recently previewed the game extensively, but are here with additional hands-on impressions. The improved graphics and lighting aren't just window dressing, since Thief is all about using your environment to your advantage.
We deftly slipped into the boots of Garrett, the master thief who is the game's main character, and were pleased to find that the game is pretty easy to pick up and play. It's looking great, and it offers unique play mechanics that are quite different and in many ways better than those of most other stealth games.
The controls in Thief are reminiscent of a first-person shooter, though this is no shooter. Garrett needs to get the drop on his opponents to survive his dangerous missions, and to do so, he'll be able to blend in with existing shadows and often make shadows for himself by taking out light sources in the environment. One of those nifty water arrows can easily douse a torch, while an oven that's giving off a warm glow can simply be closed shut. You can manipulate most of the objects in the environment, which gives Thief a very tactile feel. You truly get the sense that you're Garrett, since you can even look down and see the character's leather armor and such.
We were impressed with the new look of the game's lock-picking mechanics, which are central to the gameplay. You can look side to side even as you're manipulating a lock mechanism, to make sure the coast is clear. We also tried out Garrett's explosive fire arrows and knocked someone over the head with the blackjack. The game uses some convincing physics for the objects in the environment and for the enemies who get knocked unconscious.
Thief is looking good for both the PC and the Xbox. The game will feature more advanced artificial intelligence than its predecessors, so, for instance, if you shoot out a torch, a guard will come grumbling in to light it back up. The developers are still debating whether dynamic shadows will figure into the gameplay, as far as whether enemies will or won't be able to detect Garrett's shadow. It might make for a challenging tactical consideration, since the dynamic lighting means an opponent might spot your shadow as you creep up on him. Thief is scheduled for release this winter, meaning there's a chance it will ship this year, but Eidos and Ion Storm are reserving the right to ship it early the next. At any rate, we liked what we saw of the game, and eagerly await its completion.