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The Garrett enigma: why mystery is crucial to Thief's success

Thief star Garrett may be a cold, calculating trickster, but what happens when he finally starts caring about someone? VG247's Dave Cook talks to Eidos Montreal to find out.

Life's pretty tough when you're a hardened loner. For master thief Garrett, self-preservation is the only thing worth getting up for in the morning, although it never used to be that way. In his youth, the child orphan spent his days scurrying around the filthy city streets in search of coin, but instead he found a wayward girl called Erin. In her he saw a potential ally and student. He had found a new reason to exist.

Garrett taught Erin his methodology over several years. Killing is out, chaos must be avoided and only those with wealth deserve to be stolen from. But as time passed his ward grew careless, sadistic and morally askew. Unable to side with her any longer, both the teacher and scholar parted ways, and Garrett entered into a period of isolation and regret. The mysterious thief we now know was truly born on that day.

Years pass, and both Garrett and Erin are pushed together for one final job that promises untold riches. The mission brings the pair to the site of an arkane ritual that leaves Erin dead, and causes Garrett to black out for a year. During that time the city has rotted under the control of the tyrannical Baron, and players must unravel what happened during that lost year to set the world right once more.

Rebooting a character as celebrated as Garrett is no easy task. He's a puzzle by nature, slinking around in the dark and working to his own unwritten rulebook. To add depth to someone who is so appealing by his mystery is to play with fire, and Eidos Montreal knows this full well. That said, when narrative director Stephen Gallagher laid out the above story in a booming, theatrical manner, I couldn't help be intrigued.

The loss of a student, dear friend and dare I say it - potential love interest - is what seems to drives this Garrett, and yet I'm still unsure as to exactly where his motivation lies. He's an enigma, and even though we understand his back-story there's still a magnetic draw to exactly who this person is and why he has dedicated his life to plundering. This is exactly how Gallagher and his team want you to feel.

"What's appealing to me about this story for Garrett is you get to experience this in the first-person, so you get to sit inside his head and see how he feels with conflicts like this. Garrett is amazing at lots of different things, but he kind of sucks at socialising and the people thing, emotions. So I find him a very compelling character."

Part of Garrett's journey - not just throughout the plot, but as an individual - is the way in which he interacts with other people. He's out of his depth, thrown into a world gone drastically wrong and only other residents of the city can get him up to speed. Without a Facebook account to hide behind, the thief will have to get out into the world and start asking questions.

"We decided to adopt a traditional cinematic approach," Gallagher continued, "but we try to keep it out of the way of gameplay itself, so basically you have this great first-person experience whereby Garrett internalises. He's very intellectual, very clever and he's quite funny, but only inside his own head, so the only person who can hear that is himself, and you.

"What's interesting is, in the cinematics we externalise that so you actually get to see his body language, you get to see how he uses his mask when he has to deal with other characters. It's a nice, contrasted story-telling style that I think will be very effective."

It's a noble approach, as Garrett's internal mutterings will surely add new layers to the character we already know, he will still remain a mysterious, imposing figure to those around him. With that in mind, I asked Gallagher if the player will have a direct impact on the Thief's plot and world state depending on Garrett's interactions with the populace.

"I won't lie to you, the story's linear," he replied. "It's a single arc where Garrett sets himself up - 'I do not kill without good reason' - and the arc kind of follows that in a way. But in the end you buy the game, it's your game, I'm not going to say 'you must play like that'. I think as a player, even though you're going to follow the story, the tools that you choose - do you want to be the ghost, non-lethal, undetected, or kill as many people as you want? - are up to you."

"It's a personal experience," he added. "I just found it really rewarding to have Garrett in this situation. It's quite personal, but will there be action? Of course, he's a thief, he challenges himself everyday to be bigger and better, that's how he gets himself into trouble. But the personal story that pulls him all the way through the middle of this is very interesting."

I asked Gallagher the extent to which Eidos Montreal used the original Garrett as a reference point for this new hero, and to get a handle on just how closely the two thieves are aligned. After all, copying the source verbatim would likely cause fans to cry foul, while a total overhaul would be considered just as blasphemous. It's a perilous tightrope to walk.

"It's a new Thief, it's a new Garrett, it's a new story, but I love that character," Gallagher professed, and added that the character's core pillars - such as his status as a master thief and his reluctance to socialise - simply had to remain. What came next proved to be the real challenge. "It's been an interesting exercise for us," he continued. "The universe of Thief has always been interesting to Eidos, especially from the story side.

"There was a lot of richness that I wanted to dip into so that you could take a smell and say, 'you know what? This feels familiar to me.' But for the new audience we didn't want to make them feel that they had to have played the old games, so that anyone can follow the story and experience it. But if you are an old player and you played through the first few games, if you dig deep you'll find things that make you feel at home."

"It's like the smell of an old house you revisit after several years."

Nostalgia can provoke feelings of joy or anger whenever reboots are concerned. As we saw with Ninja Theory's attempts to shake up Devil May Cry, the fan base can swing either way on a dime. But for now I remain confident that Eidos Montreal is exerting a great deal of dedication and respect for its source material, and is capable of crafting an experience worthy of Garrett's legacy.

What do you think?

Thief is coming to PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on February 25 in North America and across Europe from February 28.

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About the Author
Dave Cook avatar

Dave Cook


Dave worked on VG247 for an extended period manging much of the site's news output. As well as his experience in games media, he writes for comics, and now specializes in books about gaming history.