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Keeping Quiet in the Dark - Thief Hands-On
Post by Joaby @ 10:53am 25/01/14 | Comments
When you finish a game like Thief, you don't sit down to talk about the narrative. You talk with your mates about how you used a water arrow on one torch and a fire arrow on another to confuse some guards while you stole a necklace.

I hadn't seen Thief before this week. I'd played the other games, and I'd heard... disconcerting things about this reboot. I'd heard the E3 demo had Quick Time Events, that you earned experience for killing and stealing. That Garrett had gone from master thief to badass robber/assassin.

I'll admit that I was worried about what had happened to the master thief before I sat down to play the game.

So it came as little surprise that the start of the game was a bit wonky. The idea that a game needs a tutorial wasn't an omnipresent concept when the Looking Glass Studios/Ion Storm games came out. Games told you about the basic concepts of its mechanical workings and then shoved you in the deep end. So it felt a little weird to find myself being corralled into spending the first half an hour of the game learning how to sneak, distract and steal.



The interactions between Garrett, the anti-hero protagonist of the series, and Erin, his protege/companion/competitor/story macguffin, are awkward and not terribly well written. Because they seem critical in motivating the player, it certainly seemed like my immediate impressions were correct. I didn't like what I was seeing, and I thought the reboot wasn't very good.

Damn was I wrong. Forget the story, forget your expectations -- with the exception of the Tutorial segment, an element I wholly appreciated but didn't completely enjoy -- Thief is looking like an awesome game.

After the prologue you're plonked near the entrance to The City and tasked with getting back to your home -- the Clocktower in the centre of The City -- and the magic begins. Thief is about options. It's about your options in the menus, where you can turn off basically... everything. Seriously, everything from the objective markers down to the lightgem itself can be turned off if you want, so you can roam around The City hudless just as Hermes, God of Thievery, intended. While you're in the menus, you've got options about the difficulty settings, where you can jack up or lower the difficulty as you wish. You can play as a ham-fisted Clouseau-esque burglar and get away with it on the easiest setting, but if you want you can whack the whole thing up to ultra-hard, playing without Focus (more on that later), with super-alert guards hunting you every step of the way, the whole time knowing that if you fail just once you'll have to start the whole game over from the beginning. And of course, you can play everything in between.



These menu options aren't restricted to PC players either. Obviously I played it on PC, because duh, but the team at Eidos Montreal went ahead and made all of this available to the console players as well. Who knows, maybe once they've had a taste they'll finally realise what they've been missing the whole time.

Thief isn't just about screwing with menus to customise your game the way you see fit though. No, the game itself is about options. From one angle it might seem like you've only got two angles of entry into an area, and if you're happy with either of them you're welcome to go for them. But if you don't like the erratic way that guard moves, or you're not crazy about just busting through the front door, the level design in Thief is open enough that you can find a different way in. It might involve sneaking through a sewer or a vent, or climbing over a fence and onto the roof, but if you search around enough, you'll almost always find an alternate method of ingress around.

What you'll also probably find is a secret area. And if you look hard enough, there's a chance you'll find a secret within that secret area, another puzzle you need to try to solve before you move on.

The puzzles don't pull any punches, either. I spent the better part of an hour trying to crack a safe before giving up -- not because I was no longer interested but because I was running out of time. When the full game drops I'll probably search for the prototypical solution for hours.



That's the beauty of this new Thief -- you get out what you put in. If you want to Ghost your entire way through, shutting safes after you've looted them and not attacking anyone, you can. You can shoot guards in the brain and leave every door you come across open like an Untalented Mr Ripley if you're so inclined. Guards see open doors and investigate, and they check obvious hiding spots for thieves (especially those who murder their friends) so going all Robin Hood everywhere will make your life exceedingly difficult, but the option is there.

In classic Thief fashion the game ranks your play at the end of each level, which will further encourage players to explore. I know I felt a little disappointed in myself when I got to the end of the chapter with just 56% of all the available loot. I didn't pickpocket everyone I could have, I didn't open every safe or search down every alleyway. If I'd gone back to redo that chapter -- an option immediately present on the stats screen -- I could have done better, and because the game gives you so many options it felt like it would be the right thing to do.

Thief takes a lot of cues from Deadly Shadows, the third Thief game. It allows you to explore The City (though the rebooted City is much larger), and it's full of completely optional sidequests. Instead of drip-feeding the player sidequests one at a time, you'll get handed a bunch at once and you can do them (or not) at your leisure. And while we're on the subject of Deadly Shadows, the team at Eidos Montreal has paid close attention to one of the most iconic elements of the Thief series... The Cradle. Our Square Enix hosts for the day didn't want to spoil anything but told me with a grin that they were very aware of The Cradle's reputation and the expectations they had to live up to as a result.



I was terrified that Thief was going to be another blockbuster style reboot, all style and no substance. The storyline at the beginning gave strength to my concerns, until I remembered I never really gave a shit about the story in Thief games. When you finish a game like Thief, you don't sit down to talk about the narrative. You talk with your mates about how you used a water arrow on one torch and a fire arrow on another to confuse some guards while you stole a necklace. Or how you managed to finish lockpicking a door mere moments before a guard returned on his patrol.

In a world where games on PC get treated like second-class also-rans, with settings hidden in .ini files or locked away pending the efforts of clever modders, Thief is swimming against the current and offering every option it can to gamers on every platform. It's indicative of the game's philosophy, through and through.




Joab "Joaby" Gilroy is a huge fan of sports games, racing games, first-person shooters and 4X strategy games. He's awful at fighting and real-time strategy games although he'd love to get better. He thinks the Halo universe is hollow and that Arkham City was the real game of the year in 2011 and that AusGamers' managing editor Stephen Farrelly only gave Skyrim the nod because he is a filthy Marvel fan. His top three games of all time are (in no particular order) Deus Ex, GTA: Vice City and DayZ.

Recent articles by Joab:Find him or follow him on Twitter - @@Joabyjojo, Steam - Joabyjojo, Xbox Live and PSN - Joaby, Twitch - /Joabyjojo, Battle.net - Joaby#6688, and Origin - Joaby.

Read more about Thief on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!



Latest Comments
BladeRunner
Posted 11:52pm 25/1/14
I have never played a thief game, I think i did play a demo of one of them about 12 years ago or something. Ill keep an eye on this.
ravn0s
Posted 12:05am 26/1/14
i watched a few gameplay vids that were released today. i never played the previous games so it looks fairly good to me. a lot of thief fans are pissed off however.
Joaby
Posted 10:43am 26/1/14
The absence of a jump button is pissing off a lot of fans, but I found the level design to be amazing enough that I didn't miss it at all.
Nerf Stormborn
Posted 11:28am 26/1/14
Big thief fan here, not as pissed off as I was. They've removed much of what was bad after fans complained about it, and added some interesting mechanics to keep both the dumbification elements - such as quest pointers and enemy alert indicators (probably needed to play in a noisy room or on a console) - balanced against the original experience, by giving a ranked score based on how many of those helper systems you turn off at the start.

I pre-ordered today from GMG, $50 down to $31.50 if you use both the 10% pre-order discount and the discount code DE1PDN-CS6BOF-PR9AVM

While the changed voice actor and apparent removal of the old factions is still a huge fail, I'm holding out hope that there's some tentative connection to the old story that they haven't revealed yet, as they keep advertising it as Garrett not knowing where he's been, and have said a few times that it's not a reboot, it's some sort of "side thing", and also made mentions of having the original voice actor in before deciding to go with this new guy (which seems, I dunno, curious). There was always a running subplot that Garrett might be a god himself, but one of balance, fighting the other two, so it could make sense for him to be sort of 'reborn'.
Audi
Posted 11:07pm 26/1/14
Loved the first few games. Pretty pumped for this.
Good info Joab, you played on PC yeah? Grfx good yeah?
Joaby
Posted 11:23pm 26/1/14
They were pretty adamant that it was a reboot during their powerpoint presentation, Stormborn. I wouldn't hold hope for the factions to return.

Yeah, I played it on PC, pretty sexy. Didn't find out what the specs on the machine were, but I'm sure whatever 3 gfx cards you're currently running can handle it Audi.
Eorl
Posted 12:45am 27/1/14
Only thing I'm annoyed about is the contextual water arrows and jumping, but I think I've gotten over that after seeing the gigantic list of customisation options. It just sucks that they had to move away from the choice of freedom, could have been a real old-school Thief but next-gen/Dishonored feel to it but ah well, can't have everything.
dais
Posted 01:15am 27/1/14
If it's a reboot then why does Garrett have the mechanical eye from Thief 2?

Please excuse my ignorance if this has already been answered.
Joaby
Posted 09:46am 27/1/14
It seems like it's not a mechanical eye but a magic eye. There's a lot from the story that's missing atm, I think it will be revealed.
sLaps_Forehead
Posted 11:16am 27/1/14
Sounds like another reboot f*** up.
RuleofBooKz
Posted 11:31am 27/1/14
I never finished Dishonored. I just got bogged down and stopped playing after the whore house mission. So not that far in. Its not that it was a bad game it just didnt hold my attention. Keep meaning to go back and complete but never seem to get around to it.

I liked the original thief, played the free demo level to death. I think i got it off a disc on the cover of some gamer mag. Never played the others in the series. This looks ok tho. Maybe like the Hitman reboot its best not to go in with nostalgia goggles and just take it as a fresh offering? Thats how i will be playing it.
Nerf Stormborn
Posted 11:34am 27/1/14
I never finished Dishonored. I just got bogged down and stopped playing after the whore house mission. So not that far in. Its not that it was a bad game it just didnt hold my attention. Keep meaning to go back and complete but never seem to get around to it.

I liked the original thief, played the free demo level to death. I think i got it off a disc on the cover of some gamer mag. Never played the others in the series. This looks ok tho. Maybe like the Hitman reboot its best not to go in with nostalgia goggles and just take it as a fresh offering? Thats how i will be playing it.

F*** me, I completely forgot that I have dishonored and bioshock infinite to play, don't know what I'm doing with my life.

Also got bored of dishonored not far in, found the conversations really awkward and weird and never ending, was okay but just didn't grip me.
DM
Posted 04:09pm 27/1/14
No jump button? Whaaaaat? What a terrible thing to axe in a game this day and age. Also the lack of Stephen Russell is a huge minus to me but will still pick this game up because I love this series so much. Hope this reboot turns out for the better.
Viper119
Posted 03:34am 28/1/14
I loved Dishonored, an original Thief on that engine would have me very happy.

Sounds liked a mixed bag, no jump button? Will defo buy/play and see how it goes though.
cherocha
Posted 12:01pm 28/1/14
Two paragraphs about the menu? A paragraph talking about non-linear approaches as if the first one hadn't already nailed it 15 years ago? Takes it's cues from Deadly Shadows? Story's not that important in a Thief game? No Stephen Russell? Experience points? No Hammers, Pagans and Keepers?! No jump?!

I swear that write-up read like the Sarcastaball ep of South Park, because everything you said seems like a warning to fans of the originals that this one's going to be iffy as hell. The only way I'm going to enjoy it is if I pretend that it's not in the Thief world, because it seems like a complete departure from much of what made the originals so great.
Nerf Stormborn
Posted 12:05pm 28/1/14
No experience points, they took them out after fan disapproval, same with most or all QTEs.
cherocha
Posted 12:09pm 28/1/14
At least they're listening, I guess. Now about those factions...
Joaby
Posted 12:59pm 28/1/14
I didn't say the story wasn't important, I said it wasn't very good. And I said it took the hub-style level design angle from Deadly Shadows.

And I don't get it. I talk about non-linear approaches and apparently I'm ignoring what the early games did (instead of pointing out the very obvious similarities, which was my intention) but apparently pointing out that it does things similar to the old games makes it sound like it's not going to be like the old games and holy f*** who even knows.

My biggest regret with this preview though is that I snuck everywhere and the one time I got spotted, I immediately reloaded from my last save. So other previews are yapping about how combat with the guards is easy (though you have to upgrade into the 'counter with blackjack' focus ability if you want to have any chance at all - and you can actually turn off "focus" in those menus I talked too much about), but because I'm not s***house at sneaking I never got to see it.
PRiME
Posted 02:34pm 28/1/14
Prediction on Day 1 Jump Mod/Hack
Nerf Stormborn
Posted 03:45pm 28/1/14
Tbh combat was never as hard in the originals as fans make it out to be, the first time I played through I sniped/sword fought a whole heap of stuff, it was only really burricks/haunts/karris mechanical things that couldn't be sword-fought, archers occasionally, and maybe those things in constantine's basement.
ravn0s
Posted 08:38pm 28/1/14
here's a vid detailing the gameplay customisation options. looks like you can make it pretty hardcore.

cherocha
Posted 09:21pm 28/1/14
I didn't say the story wasn't important, I said it wasn't very good. And I said it took the hub-style level design angle from Deadly Shadows.

And I don't get it. I talk about non-linear approaches and apparently I'm ignoring what the early games did (instead of pointing out the very obvious similarities, which was my intention) but apparently pointing out that it does things similar to the old games makes it sound like it's not going to be like the old games and holy f*** who even knows.

My biggest regret with this preview though is that I snuck everywhere and the one time I got spotted, I immediately reloaded from my last save. So other previews are yapping about how combat with the guards is easy (though you have to upgrade into the 'counter with blackjack' focus ability if you want to have any chance at all - and you can actually turn off "focus" in those menus I talked too much about), but because I'm not s***house at sneaking I never got to see it.

I wasn't criticising the preview. I was criticising the game for not giving you better material to write about. Non-linearity in a Thief game should be a simple box tick, then you should be able to pour over the wonderful innovations that are going to elevate the franchise to heights that Deadly Shadows failed to do.
koopz
Posted 08:45pm 30/1/14
here's a vid detailing the gameplay customisation options. looks like you can make it pretty hardcore.



maybe I'm alone here...


At the time of Thief 1, I found the Thief series beyond my patience and tolerance levels at first.


I make my own 'trainers' for pretty much every program I have made or run on my own system.. because time is short.. there's only so many hours in the day, and there's too much to do.

...and I just want to see the story before I lose interest and then go onto the next game.


Thief was *very* hard to make my own alterations back in the day given my knowledge of the program, so I found myself actually pounding it thru and experiencing it as it was intended to be played. It's not a 1st person shooter - it's a puzzle -slash- FPS where you aren't supposed to harm any non playing characters! Who knew?!?!


I guess what I am saying here is that 'Thief' was my ex-tro to existing 'survival' based FPS and my in-tro to story-telling based gaming.


I can see why so many geeks read idiotic fiction paperbacks.


They need to YouTube more content - and then go again in languages other than English.

last edited by koopz at 20:45:59 30/Jan/14

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