Wednesday, 12 February 2014 00:00

The Master Thief Has Returned

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Cold stone presses against your back as you sink into shadows. You hold your breath, waiting patiently. The sound of clanking metal and chain grows louder until you see a solitary guard appear in the doorway. He is a raw recruit, fresh from the barracks, and seems bored with his nightly duties. A simple red tunic covers his light plate, the red falcon of the local lord emblazoned across the chest. A longsword dangles on his hip along with a slender stileto. His boots clang with each step, the sound echoing off the walls. You could dance behind him for all the racket he's making.

The guard pauses near a wall and you freeze. A quick glance reassures you. The bookshelves around you create an impenetrable darkness, and the grease on your face hides your features. There is no way the guard has made you.

After a grunt and a hack, the guard continues along the way. You let out a breath and draw your blackjack, a heavy leather sack filled with a heavier lead weight. You approach on your toes, the soft material of your boot landing softly as snow. The guard begins to turn around, but you're already in motion. The blackjack arcs down, gaining speed until it connects with the back of the young man's head. He slumps to the ground immediately, making only a small groan before blacking out.

The threat neutralized, you retrace your steps to the throne room. Rumors have spread about a priceless jewel hidden away in this castle, and you are just the man to steal it.

The late 90's were filled with stealth-action titles: Tenchu, Metal Gear Solid, Goldeneye. But all of these games fell back on fighting more often than not. Stealth as a mechanic was treated with kid gloves, as artificial intelligence had not yet reached the zenith we've seen today. However, one group of savvy programers stepped away from the mold and attempted something fresh and inventive. They called it Thief, and it blew PC gamers away.

Now, twenty years later, Garrett is back, and he looks better than ever.

Eidos Montreal, the same creative geniuses behind Deus Ex: Human Revolution, are committed to not just resurrecting the name of the series, but the feel of it as well. While it is important to bring back the various tools of the trade, the most important aspect of the original series was Garrett, the master thief.

The inner monologues are back, and just as cynical as ever. Garrett is no brooding hero. He is quite happy with his chosen profession, and has no humility about his skills. He is not very talkative with NPCs, so the player gains much insight from the thief's musings as he spirits away priceless relics and jewels. In the scant interactions seen from the previews, Garrett comes across as a confident protagonist, more than capable of carrying the story without the help of whiny cohorts or sassy computer programs. He is his own man, and the work he does benefits only his purse.

That's not to say a story isn't there. Like all AAA titles, Thief has a Hollywood-level tale backing up the incredible gameplay. Eidos has been tightlipped regarding the details, but have stated that Garrett is going to be in for more than just heists. Whether this portends a return of mystical elements has yet to be seen.

It is impossible to talk about the new Thief without talking about The City. Eidos Montreal has stated that they are created this open world as more than just a hub between missions. The City is meant to be a living, breathing place. It is not much of a safe-haven, as guards roam the streets and the Plague's reach is ever present, but it is where Garrett will show his softer side. Or, more accurately, where he'll fence his goods and find new missions.

Graphically, the game is gorgeous. Eidos Montreal has tapped into an unknown vein of rendering magic to pull off some breathtaking scenes. The vistas seen from tower windows show the beautiful architecture of this Medieval/ Victorian town, but it is the finer details that really shine. Each stitch of fabric on a uniform, each link in a guard's chain-mail, even the blackened veins of the dead plague victims help build the reality of this world.

Eidos has also worked hard to put the player into Garrett's robes rather than just attach tools to a camera. When you get close to walls, Garrett's gloved hands appear to rest against the stone. The steady bob of the screen mirrors each footstep. It is a more realized first-person adventure than we've seen in years.

It is hard not to compare Thief to another recent game, Dishonored. The two titles share both developers and setting, but with a crucial difference. In Dishonored, the protagonist Corvo is a man of violence and magic. His modus operandi is to exact bloody revenge on anyone in his path. By stark contrast, Garrett is a living shadow, existing in corporeal form only to snatch away a precious stone or fire a dry-ice arrow into a distant torch.

Contrast is indeed the name of the game, and the majority of that is the contrast between light and darkness. Garrett is, as the title implies, a thief. He is not one to parry blades with a trained soldier, nor would he fair well in such a fight. Garrett sticks to the shadows, employing a handy amount of parkour to avoid the kinds of fights Corvo would have sought.

Like its predecessors, Thief is a game about freedom. No mission plays out the same way twice, and no two players will attack a situation with the same style. Do you want to use an unconscious guard to lay a trap for a roving patrol? Maybe you'll stick to the shadows and never even be noticed. Or you charge in, sword swinging, and see how Lady Luck let's it play out. The choice is yours. 

Eidos stated that a major focus of the development was aimed at resurrecting the feel of the original game, and it seems they have done just that. Look for a full review when the game launches February 27th. 

Read 7992 times Last modified on Tuesday, 11 February 2014 21:53
Adam "ManKorn" Korenman, CC2K Video Games Editor

Adam Korenman, a.k.a. ManKorn, is a writer/army officer living in Los Angeles, CA. If you enjoy his scribblings, follow him on Twitter and check out his new book!

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