Thief: In with the Old, In with the New

The newest Thief is very much a modern game--but it hasn't forgotten its deep roots.

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Before Sam Fisher, before Agent 47, before Corvo Attano, there was Garrett.

Garrett was introduced in 1998's Thief: The Dark Project, the first stealth game to feature a first-person perspective, and one of several games that made the now-defunct Looking Glass Studios so beloved among PC game enthusiasts. With the plainly-titled Thief, Eidos Montreal resurrects a series left untouched since 2004's Thief: Deadly Shadows for a gaming public apparently ready for the next step in stealth. Of course, the question for concerned fans becomes: will the new Thief be enough like the old Thief, or will it be diluted by modern elements that diminish the challenge and the tension? In other words: Is Thief really, well, Thief?

The answer isn't yet clear, but with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, developer Eidos Montreal has already proven their ability to modernize an older franchise and still retain much of what makes the series unique. During the week of San Francisco's GDC, I met with producer Stéphane Roy and lead level designer Daniel Windfeld Schmidt for a private demonstration of Thief and the technology bringing it to life. And while many modern concessions were clear--I noted similarities to Assassin's Creed and, unsurprisingly, Human Revolution--what I saw of the game seems to have retained the series' soul, which came as some relief. And of course, the games I mentioned above owe enormous debts to the original Thief, so it's only appropriate that a new Thief game should emerge to remind us of the stealth genre's origins.

It all begins with Garrett, whose mysterious ways and hushed monologues have made him a popular figure. He is part of what makes Thief what it is, along with The City--that is, the dark, corrupted, pre-industrial metropolis where Garrett makes his home. And while it might be a cliche to call a setting the "real" star of a game, given how often such claims are made, Thief makes a strong case for that old chestnut, for what I saw of The City looked phenomenal. The City is about contrast--the interplay between light and dark, between hot and cold, between rich and poor--and the demo exhibited that contrast in a number of ways, both visually and narratively.

If there was one such element that was abundantly clear from the moment the demo started, however, it was darkness. Garrett's approaches The City's gates hidden in a merchant's cart, narrating the circumstances of his past while brief flashbacks hint at shaded memories. It is frighteningly somber. Thunder and lightning are an old narrative trick used to communicate fear and dread, and Thief uses this trick to its advantage, allowing brief flashes of light to illuminate the sharp angles and heavy iron details of its architecture. So, too, is The City's malice illuminated. The signs of oppression are everywhere, from the sights of men secured by stockades, to the corpses hanging from rafters to remind the populace of the consequences of wrongdoing.

Oppression comes at the hands of the Baron and The City Watch, but fortunately, the autocrats do not rule unopposed. An opposition force, and its charismatic leader, have called for a revolution, and like it or not, Garrett finds himself drawn into the imbroglio. And if he hopes to thrive, Garrett must use every tool and skill at his disposal. Thief is built to support a three-way gameplay loop. First, there is infiltration--the ways you exploit the shadows and the enemy AI to express your stealthy creativity. Then there is theft, which requires skill and dexterity. And finally, you have escape, in which Garrett shows of his daring, agile side. From these three pillars arise focus abilities, which allow you to spend a resource called focus in order to expedite and enable your thievery.

Focus is one of Thief's clear nods to gameplay mechanics associated with more modern games, though it's worth noting that series purists can choose difficulty levels that disable focus if they prefer (along with vision cones, markers, and any other assistance). But what are these focus abilities? Well, there's The Eye, a sight mode that highlights fingerprints and interactive objects in the vicinity. Or how about lockpicking? Using focus this way allows you to speed up the process of attaining precious jewels when under duress. Alternately, you might use focus to enhance your pickpocket skill, which allows you to nab more items from your hapless victim in a slick, single move.

You can also use focus in combat, though you shouldn't take this to mean that Garrett is a sword-wielding menace, prepared to slice his foes Ezio Auditore-style. But there are times when you might need to disable or distract a guard that's caught on to your wily ways, and focus allows you to pinpoint and exploit an enemy's physical weaknesses, thus giving yourself time to flee. Of course, a proper thief avoids even the keenest of eyes, and Garrett has a variety of gadgets at his disposal, each of which aids in his sneaky pursuits. What would a Thief game be without the blackjack? Try using it to break a window and distract a particularly annoying sentry, or to perform a takedown from behind or above. Of course, you get a bow as well, along with various types of arrows, such as a dry ice arrow that reflects light--a useful tool for throwing a nosy foe of your scent. Garrett also possesses a claw, which he uses as he did the rope arrow or vine arrow in previous games: as a means of navigation to higher places. The claw also has a narrative purpose, though for now Eidos Montreal is keeping such details close to their chests.

Such gadgets and abilities make Garrett the ultimate voyeur, so it's only appropriate that the demo requires that he infiltrate a pleasure palace called the House of Blossoms, though reaching that opulent destination means slinking through The City's sinister streets. You sneak and peek, watching your hands grasp corners as you scope out any danger lurking ahead, and ultimately climbing a rooftop so that you can identify the red light that marks the brothel that houses your target. The House of Blossoms now in sight, you fall onto a guard below for a debilitating takedown and rush towards your goal, rushing ahead as if you are a speeding Cinderella, hoping to make it home before the clock strikes midnight.

Thief is still about freedom, so it's only sensible that you might try the front door or some other route, though in the demo's case, following a guard towards an alternate entrance provides the right kind of opportunity. Using snuff arrows to veil your careful movement, and firing broadhead arrows to smash vases and make a little distracting noise, you make your way across beams and rappel to solid ground when you get the chance. The camera occasionally moves from the standard first-person view to a third-person perspective for a bit of Assassin's Creed/Uncharted-style platforming, as you snake across ceiling beams before dropping down and peeling back a velvet curtain.

What you see inside illuminates the lifestyle of The City's privileged. Outside, the rain-drenched alleys and overheard conversations betrayed the strife playing out on the streets. Inside, you take in the other side of the class war. Courtesans and their escorts sashay about the elaborate mansion, and hedonists lounge around, high on opium. Of course, a sleepy sensualist makes a particularly vulnerable target, so it's only appropriate that you silently approach one and pilfer a few things from his person before sliding away. You also relieve a few bureau drawers of their contents before making your way into the House's opium dispensing room. Here, you activate focus to reveal some objects to clamber up, and make your way into a ceiling grate, across the attic, and into the more private regions of this den of iniquity.

I didn't play the demo--I only watched it being played. But every movement seemed to have a tactile smoothness to it that made me wish to feel the game under my fingers. Occasionally, the demoer would activate focus for a momentary boost of speed, which gave the tense-looking exploration an additional sense of urgency. As Garrett stepped across different textures--stone, carpet, wood--the sound of his footsteps changed to reflect the new surface. It was difficult to tell if the AI reacted to such audio cues, though I saw no obvious AI flaws that disrupted the immersion--no guards seemed overly doltish or supernaturally aware of Garrett's presence. Roy told me that consistency is key. While some types of foes will be smarter than others, their actions must align with player expectation; after all, stealth gameplay is about observing and exploiting AI behavior. Too much deviation from expectation, and frustration ensues.

The House's inner sanctum contain some of the sensual sights and sounds you might suppose you would encounter. Couples united in congress tend to vocally express their pleasure, after all. The business' flamboyant proprietor isn't much of a threat--he's more concerned with his shallow, gluttonous lifestyle than with keeping a close eye on nearby valuables. That's just as well: you spend some focus to efficiently open a chest and pocket the jeweled egg contained therein. Soon after, however, you glimpse something even brighter than those jewels: a glare of light shining from a hole in the wall.

What you see within contrasts with the luxury surrounding you: your target, an architect called Theodore Eastwick, is smothering one of the House of Blossoms' courtesans. Seemingly satisfied that his crime has gone unnoticed, Eastwick leaves an odd-looking medallion unattended, giving you the perfect window of opportunity to nab it. Once you have it in your eager hands, however, a new mystery arises: the dials of the medallion have glyphs etched upon them. What can they mean--and how can these glyphs be aligned to reveal even more secrets?

The answer, as they say, is staring back at you. And all it takes to discover it is to activate The Eye. Peering through gaps and at the walls and ceiling of nearby rooms reveals the same symbols you see on the medallion, so naturally, you turn the dials to match the clues. The medallion shines and the series' mystical qualities come to the forefront, but just for a brief moment: Eastwick has noticed that the medallion is missing, and the head of this extravagant House announces that a thief is hiding among the clientele. The ambient music breaks into an insistent, uncomfortable rhythm, and you know you must make a hasty departure. But what to do about the men and women milling about? As it happens, it's a great opportunity to turn their hedonistic ways against them.

It's off to the opium dispensing room, where the turn of a valve and the shot of a single arrow cause thick, narcotic clouds to waft through the establishment, causing anyone that catches a whiff to fall unconscious. (Note, however, that this isn't always an option; if you have eliminated the NPCs that refill the dispenser, this method won't be available to you.) Garrett can hold his breath, but not forever--and not every guard has been affected by the drifting gas. Speed is of the essence. And so with an arrow, you bring down a chandelier onto the foes below; activate focus to identify a pesky guard's physical vulnerabilities; and disable him long enough for you to speed away from the House of Blossoms and into the blackened streets.

The demo ends but not before Garrett delivers an important message: "I am Garrett. What's yours is mine."

Is Thief a reinvention, as Eidos Montreal claims? It certainly looks the part. Roy seems to understand the value of scale and freedom as they relate to the franchise, and what I saw of The City made it look truly alive. Of course, Thief is a game about illusion, and that sense of a populace at work and at play might itself have been a highly scripted mirage. But one thing was clear: this was a gorgeous demo, as was the tech demo that followed, featuring amazing amounts of textural details that made me wish I could reach out and feel the crumbling walls and iron balustrades for myself. Rain flowed naturally through the gutters, and light reflected and refracted authentically. The City was frighteningly beautiful, and I can't wait to return to it.

Of course, nothing can keep me from the visiting The City as it existed in previous Thief games, so that might be as good a way as any to pass the time until the new Thief's release. How long will that be? Well, here's what I know: it's coming in 2014, and it's coming to the PC, the PlayStation 4, and, presumably, to whatever upcoming system Microsoft will announce. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to lock up my valuables; something tells me they may not be as secure as I'd like.

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Written By

GameSpot senior editor Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play Rock Band because he always gets stuck pla

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Discussion

385 comments
Firelo
Firelo

To stealth video game designer yeppie bosses: Quit making games with an "attract a greater audience" perspective, money is not happiness of life.Find artists, if you must, and get out of their way, in any way.And, concerning action games, make them, but don 't spoil it for us stealth gamers.Let us enjoy the wee bits they throw our way every 2 - 3 years.

AceBalls
AceBalls

This has to return with a king hit. Thief is THE SHIT.

bayernfan
bayernfan

Looks promising. Looking forward to it

Ronstera
Ronstera

The animation looks sloppy, the trailer isn't something that will leave me excited either..

HHscxz
HHscxz

ahhhh there's so much new title out now, thunder kings, age of wushu, tera. i cant decide which one to start first.

LukeWesty
LukeWesty

Out with the old and in with the Assassins Creeed style play BABY YEAHHHHHHHH!

midway_nights
midway_nights

Good or Bad i will still get it. my tribute to thief: deadly shadows, a game that still give me shivers. 

Cradle and haunted ship? anyone?

midway_nights
midway_nights

This thief is not so dark looks fully lit and shiny, i liked the dark style thief. i think they messed it up.

i hope they didnt.

Barrakas21
Barrakas21

Dont fail us.

15 years already??im only 25 but that makes me feel old as shit

Simplythebest12
Simplythebest12

The game graphic engine is a modified Unreal 3.0 graphic engine

Logak
Logak

Many PC elitists have their Nostalgia Glass firmly pressed against their face... The Thief games were amazing, and this will hopefully be great aswell... If ofcourse they don't stuff up.

Gamer_4_Fun
Gamer_4_Fun

Really need to see the game in action, all I have seen is a CG trailer which honestly doesn't make any impression of the actual game. However, loved how Deus Ex Human Revolution turned out so I have faith in this :)

Carton_of_milk
Carton_of_milk

The only thief game i've ever played was Deadly Shadows but i couldnt get into it. Stealing things just seemed...terribly anticlimactic. I didnt get any visceral satisfaction from it. And if this isn't going to be open-world, which it really doesnt seem like it is, then count me out. I honestly CANNOT play games separated into levels anymore. I just can't.

videogamer008
videogamer008

you guys should be PROUD of yourselves because that was one awesome trailer.. and guess what..... i am going to buy a Xbox 720 and than i am going to buy this game because i LOOOOVVVVEEEE stealth game not just because i am into Sam Fischer, Agent 47's games and i am VERY WELL into those too but what strikes me the most is the culture and the history that lays into games like Thief..  i am not leaving Tom Clancy or Hitman or any other stealth games out because i DO RESPECT the people who make them and i love to play them... it's just that you guys brought history and culture into THIEF and the reason why i LOVE it so much is because you dont know what weapons that they had back in the olden days and 2nd is that i love how you guys design THIEF..  i am NOT forgetting Sam Fischer, Agent 47, or any other stealth game because like i said i LOVE and RESPECT all games.

jj2112
jj2112

Personally, I won't buy it. I already bought Dishonored, and though I admit it's a polished and high-quality product with good level and artistic design, the story was uninspiring and ultimately forgettable. When I read that the game will feature a corrupt leader (AGAIN), a plague (AGAIN), a brothel (AGAIN), and so forth, I knew I wouldn't get it. Not to mention that apparently there aren't any supernatural elements in the game (really, no pagans and hammerites? It just feels like another Victorian era-inspired game, better call it Dishonored 2).

vadagar1
vadagar1

in the end I say reserve final judgement until we see an actual game play video :P

artiebuco
artiebuco

Eidos Montreal has destroyed Thief. First they don't hire Stephen Russell, a travesty for any Thief fan, and then they give it an Assassin's Creed type feel trying to appeal to the console crowd. Why didn't they release ANY gameplay?  CGI trailers are pointless.

Enjoy your new audience Eidos, but when they find out Garrett can't do back flips and can't leap from rooftop to rooftop, don't look for sympathy from me.   Thief 2 was my favorite game of all time, but I don't think I'll be going near this.  

Eidos Montreal is a wannabe game studio.  Their games look the part and play fine, but they will NEVER release a classic.  They're bound forever to cash in off of sequels.

Avemaster94
Avemaster94

I never played the original. Is this City going to enable sandbox gameplay?

GAMBINO85
GAMBINO85

anybody else completley hate the character design? The stupid Strider mask...like wtf. Thief was the game that didn't need stupid gimmicks. 

lawfrye
lawfrye

What's all this talk about Dishonored and Bioshock? Thief was around way before either of these other titles; and it was a way better game than any of the "so called' stealth action games around today. I could be wrong...but thief will most likely be once again "way better than anything around currently".

Succumbus
Succumbus

Let's wait for gameplay. I have skepticism about purely CG trailers.

raedyfor
raedyfor

this will be like dishonoured, awesome

Hugo_Fahkov
Hugo_Fahkov

So, is The City a truly open, alive, sandbox style city? It's something I've wanted to see since the last Thief game. Due to the limitations of the Xbox, it really wasn't much of a City. Shame that the PC version was hobbled by it too. I'm REALLY wishing for a large, open city, that I can explore as I make my way to my next mission. Rooftops, back alleyways, and maybe a complete sewer system, would be so awesome. I've been a fan of Thief since I bought The Dark Project, the day it came out. 2014 is too damn far away!!!

Defsolidus
Defsolidus

Took this franchise long enough to make its comeback, it should be a good title as long as they respect the stealth/thief concept.

made_u_look
made_u_look

@Logak Kind of like how Console Kiddies go on PC hardware article, graphical comparison articles and PC exclusive games and slam PC gaming on just about every gaming website? Ya a lot of us PC gamers played the original Thief so we have insight and a better perspective on how we would like a revamp of it. Kind of how Grand Theft Auto was originally on PC and it is what it is now there was alot of debate on it back in the day. But there just opinions and I like the title PC Realist than Elitist educating ignorant thought isn't a elitist. =)

moc5
moc5

@Logaklol! This 'PC elitists' tag is amusing.  Having standards is not elite; it is necessary.  Nostalgic?  Sure, but within reason.  Realistically, this game will never have the same impact as the first or second Thief did.  The biggest fear about new games these days are Publishers that are far more concerned about scraping every last dollar up from all their tested demographics.  The result is trying to make games appealing for ages 12 and up and for all the casual and the hardcore gamers all at the same time.  It doesnt work.  They have been trying for years to do it, and it just doesnt work.  The Publishers do make a lot of money though when their trailers, designed to appeal to all, actually fool people.

moc5
moc5

@Carton_of_milk This is a forum for gamers.  I think you might have this website confused with Hollywood.

HyperXT
HyperXT

@jj2112I agree with you on that 100%, then the game can't hurt people who like Thief  trilogy or at least change the name of protagonist to something else so we Thief fans doesn't disappoint with this game.

moc5
moc5

@artiebuco You make a damn good point.  I guess I'm just wanting this to be good so bad it has blinded me.  No Stephen Russell?!?  I did not know that. :(

Infilsf
Infilsf

@artiebuco My thoughts exactly. I'm in the same position as you, thief 2 is the best game ever made.. I even think LGS themselves would find it hard to out-do themselves if they made a sequel, let alone this pathetic studio the game is made by now.

I don't have any kind of hope for this game, I never did, it's pointless.

petez34
petez34

@artiebuco 'CGI trailers are pointless'.... they are not pointless. They are made to create hype for upcoming games and GS helps immensely, in that regard. Form an opinion, this early if you wish but I'll reserve mine until I see some gameplay footage. have a nice day!

moc5
moc5

@GAMBINO85 it's the 'console' virus.  it's a minus 20 IQ penalty for the real gamer.

petez34
petez34

@Hugo_Fahkov It's like you read my thoughts. That would be totally wicked and in no way would it only have 15hrs gametime.... sorry Ken

stev69
stev69

@moc5 A sequel game will never have the impact the first title ever has on release, that feeling you get when you first experience something you have never experienced before is something that can never be replicated. Nostalgia is a big part of that and people often get deluded into believing it was much better back in the day because of that. 

I fully expect a quality developer like Eidos to do the series justice, the difference now is that whether you like it or not the target audience has changed because its been such a long time between titles, the veterans who played it back in the day are a minority, and developers don't go big on a game to supply to a niche market, that is a surefire way to bankruptcy. However all the signals from Eidos are so far that they are at least respecting the games roots which is a good thing.

moc5
moc5

@Logak Disclaimer: I am not judging Eidos or their new Thief game as of yet.  It has not been released obviously so I cant.

jj2112
jj2112

@Infilsf @artiebuco Well, pretty much anything LGS did was great. I am replaying Terra Nova right now, some modern games could learn a lesson or two from it.

Andrak_Vol
Andrak_Vol

@petez34 @artiebuco I like CGI trailers, they don't sway my opinion (much) but they set the mood for the game and during the gameplay I tend to try and replicate the CGI trailers if it was badass.

moc5
moc5

@petez3434  I hope you're right about this game.  I really am as optimistic as reality and past experience will allow.

Avemaster94
Avemaster94

@vadagar1 @Avemaster94 similar to Bioshock Infinite, would you say? in the way that you can go other places, but for the most part sticking with the story, or a little more freedom than that?

Logak
Logak

@moc5 @Logak I understand, but below in the comment section are many people who already HATE the game because it "feels" like a modern (successful) game series and blaming the evil and stupid console gamers. From the images I have seen, it looks like a modern interpretation of the original Thief... Please tell me how this is for casual console gamers, when this is giving you all the options (through difficulty settings) to make the game more Thief like.

petez34
petez34

@vicke32 @petez34 @artiebuco these trailers are just cinematics. How can they be used used to find out if games are going to be good or 'bad'? just curious