If it looks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, then it’s probably not Eidos Montreal’s Thief reboot. VG247’s Brenna Hillier is unfairly disappointed to learn Thief is not Dishonored 2.0, despite the initial visual similarities.
I played Thief for a very brief amount of time at a preview event a while back. For a variety of reasons, I didn’t get to spend enough time with the game to form any real assessment of its charms, so my perspective shouldn’t be given as much weight as more considered opinions, like Stace’s. With that in mind: I really wanted to love it like a brother, but I didn’t.
Some of that can be attributed to circumstance – perched on an uncomfortable stool, surrounded by strangers, using a control pad for a first person game when I just, I just don’t – but a lot of it was, I think, learning curve. I really struggled, even on normal difficulty, and came to the conclusion that (in my very limited time with it), I just didn’t get it.
One of the first things I asked director Nicolas Cantin was whether, on PC, you’d be able to open up the field of view, because it felt so claustrophobic and hampering. The answer was “maybe, up to a point”, so I then asked if players are just supposed to get used to not being able to see a bloody thing in any direction – in a game that’s all about being aware of your surroundings.
“The levels are really smaller than say for example a shooter game,” Cantin said. “Being claustrophobic was kind of an important thing for us. You need to feel the world, to feel the city.
“It was important to use that you’re close to things. If you steal something, you touch it. So being part of the universe rather than just walking in it was important to us. If you for example touch a bottle and it falls – oops! You’ve got to care about what you’re doing, how you navigate. It was important to us for the immersion.”
Immersion’s all well and good, but: I’d had Garrett balanced on a beam above a shop. Able to hear voices, I searched carefully for guards – but couldn’t see anything except the beam, which filled Garratt’s entire field of view. Dropping down, I was immediately spotted and chopped to bits. I indicated, politely, that I did not consider this an appropriate consequence to my actions.
Cantin did not agree, saying that Eidos Montreal deliberately leads players to locations where they are not supposed to take action – players are supposed to make mistakes and learn from them.
“The first-person view gave you a lot of possibilities. But yes, at some point – you can’t see behind you. You don’t have a rear-view mirror,” he said. “The goal is to explore, and as you explore you’ll come to know the world more, and then you’ll start to understand the universe and the map. But there’s some challenge there.”
Which segues nicely into Thief’s Challenge Mode; maps which you can choose to run again and again under various conditions, submitting your high scores against those of your friends. It’s a perfect idea for the Let’s Play and Speed Run age, and nicely complemented by the PlayStation 4’s easy sharing capabilities, which Square Enix seemed a little besotted by. Experts who have learned the maps thoroughly, Cantin agreed, will get a lot out of Challenge Mode.
“I think there’s a big replay value to the game. It’s a competitive game. You want to beat yourself at some point,” he said.
“I love that people are playing their finest; ‘Oh, I did that map in two minutes.’ ‘Oh, yeah, I did that map in 20 minutes, but I got all the loot.’ It’s all about your objectives, what you want as a thief or as a player.”
For the record
“For the record, no map can be done in two minutes,” Square Enix PR interjected at this point. “That’s just an analogy.” Cantin agreed.
Marvellous, yes, but it does lend an element of rote learning; to progression by trial and error rather than organically problem-solving with the tools at hand, which is what I – perhaps unfairly – expected.
Maybe I expected it because Thief does look so very much like Dishonored at first glance, a game I came to love most tenderly. This visual similarity, which dissolves on closer inspection, is kind of appropriate, because Dishonored sprang, through Harvey Smith and Raphaël Colantonio, from the same Ion Storm and Looking Glass DNA – think Ken Levine and Warren Spector. Thief has been in the works for a long time, and there’s no suggestion that it took cues from Dishonored, but that’s something people are likely to banter about given their relative release dates. Cantin doesn’t seem bothered by this possibility, saying both games stand on their own merits, like scions of the same family.
“When Dishonored was released, we were really well advanced in the project. Both games had Thief as a reference, but our goal was really to stay true to what was a Thief game. We really encouraged the stealth aspect; it’s really our main core mechanic,” he said.
“If you walk in the city, you’ll see it’s the city from previous [Thief] games. It’s a medieval city on the verge of the industrial revolution. A lot of those aspects, on our side, come from Thief. It was our main reference.
“It’s true that when they released the first trailer we were like, ‘Oh my god, it looks like Thief’. We were really well advanced. The story was written and everything.
“And then we saw – phew, it’s not like Thief. Yeah, it has a lot of similarities, but you don’t play it like the same thing.
“It was really cool to see the success of Dishonored. It told us people want stealth games. We were really happy about the success they had because it confirmed for us that we were going in a good direction.”
Thief is not Dishonored. It’s hard for me to be okay with that, because what I really want, all day every day, is more Dishonored. But I ought to be okay with that, because what Thief is is a thing that should exist – an unforgiving stealth simulator that’s a long way from the accessible new-school romp fans have been afraid would turn up.
I didn’t immediately love Thief the way I expected to – the way I feel about Dishonored, and to a lesser extent BioShock Infinite and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, also distant cousins. I don’t know if I’m going to end up just as besotted with Thief as I was with Arkane’s glorious stab-’em-up, once I get over that initial learning hurdle and come to terms with the fact that I’m playing – gosh! – an entirely different game.
Thief will be available on PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One from February 25 in the US, Feb 27 in Australia and Feb 28 in Europe.