NYCC 2013: Hands on with ‘Thief’
After a lengthy introduction during which one of the devs walked me through a tutorial and explained all of the controls and game mechanics, I dove right into the first person stealth adventure that is Thief. The demo began in what appeared to be the hideout of the game’s protagonist, Garrett. After examining a note from Basso, Garrett’s only friend, I practiced extinguishing candles to create shadow paths that would determine much of my movement patterns. The environment reminded me of Dishonored’s Dunwall with a mixture of both modern and Victorian architecture.
While meeting Basso in a central hub location, I accepted 4 jobs from him, all of them including some type of robbery. I opened up my objective tracker and marked a mission that called for the stealing of a painting. The beautifully crafted streets were characterized by commoners, beggars, and of course – patrolling guards. Intuitive controls allowed Garrett to simply crouch behind walls and boxes while peeking out to study the area. As I moved toward the house with the painting, I kept aware of the ‘eye’ in the bottom corner of the screen. It acts as a visibility indicator with 3 levels. When it’s completely black, Garrett is invisible to guards, a greyish color means that you’re semi-hidden, and bright white indicates full visibility.
A meter above the guards’ heads will slowly fill as you are approached, giving you a few seconds to disappear. Upon being detected, flight is definitely a better option than fight. Garrett is not a secret agent, a spy, or an assassin; he’s a thief whose objective is to get the valuables and escape unscathed. Hand to hand combat with your enemies is intentionally difficult and my incessant failure placed value on remaining hidden. Players will be able to choose the hack and slash method of gameplay, but the rewards will be diminished. The left trigger initiated an auto-run during which Garrett would interact with his surroundings and avoid obstacles that muddled his path. It reminded me of a more fluid Assassin’s Creed free run without the excessive, accidental sticking to buildings and shrubbery. It wasn’t even necessary to hold down the left stick in any particular direction, the left trigger alone was sufficient.
The method of entry into the home with the valuable painting wasn’t particularly obvious or easily tracked. The indicator showed me that my entry point was 6 meters away but it would jump to either side of my location as I searched aimlessly on the ground. The dev helped me locate a rope-wrapped post near a window. I opened my weapon wheel and selected my rope-dart to fire it at the post; the result was a dangling rope that I could reach from street level. I hopped onto the rope with the auto run feature and made my way into a window. A woman was sleeping in her bed as I crept around the quarters and a pesky butler seemed to be in every crevice I wanted to explore. I took care of him with a swift arrow to the back of his head. A feature that reminded me of Sam Fisher’s lock pick was used to quietly remove a painting from the wall and reveal a safe. The combination would not easily be obtained, as it was etched inside of a closet that I’d initially assumed was just another hiding spot.
One of the most impressive features of Thief was the integration of sound in the stealth gameplay. Other games have incorporated the ideas of loud running vs. quiet walking and noisy surfaces, but Thief takes it a step further. Water puddles were sprinkled around the streets and splashing through one could cause nearby guards to become suspicious. Stealth games are continuing to add these little touches to environment interaction and more realistic detection from AI; Thief is definitely showing us this next level of possibility.
The gaming community has expressed some discontent in the visual leap, or lack thereof, between this gen and next. While some details like water physics and reflective eyeballs are definitely refined, the jump is not as significant as it was from PS1 to PS2 or from PS2 to PS3. We have not seen much in terms of software meant exclusively for next gen hardware and there will be a gestation period during which most of the big releases will be created for the lowest common denominator (in this case, the PS3 and 360) with small improvements for PS4 and Xbox One. Games like Thief are making the most of these small improvements. We were playing on PCs that mimicked the capability of the next gen consoles with some of the most impressive shadow/lighting work and clothing physics I’ve seen to date.
Thief is scheduled for release in February 2014 for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC.