Square Enix invited us to check out Eidos Montreal’s brand spanking new THIEF game at their booth and I’ve actually journaled the entire demo I’ve watched just for you, our readers. Additionally, I got some hands on time with the game and I’ll be incorporating that knowledge into what I’ve seen at the THIEF theatre. The build of THIEF that we saw was running on PlayStation 4. Our demo was narrated by the game’s creative director, Emanuel Garcia, and he reiterated that the PlayStation 4 version, along with the Xbox One and PC versions, will be due out in 2014.
You play the role of Garrett, thief extraordinaire, and the same protagonist from the previous games in the Theif series. In the part of the game we were shown, there’s a big riot being waged by the citizens against an oppressive Baron. Because of these riots in the city, Garrett gains an advantage, given that the baron himself is too preoccupied with taming his citizens. It’s because of this that Garrett decides that this is a perfect opportunity to infiltrate the Baron’s manor so he can nab a treasure called The Heart of the Lion.
As with previous Thief titles, you can play the game in either a murderous rampage or be completely invisible. Of course, since Garrett is a master thief and all, you’ll obtain more rewards with a stealthy approach. “It is a stealth game, after all!” Emanuel added. The final game will have multiple paths per level, but for the sake of the demo, they showed us one direct path. Upon loading the level, we hear Garrett talking about his mission. While this is happening, we also get a brief overview of the area we’re in, what’s happening currently, and how some of the guards are positioned at the beginning of the level. Garrett then heads towards a stone pillar, then proceeds to lean to take a peek at the guards. This is done by pressing Square in front of a flat surface, and doing this locks the horizontal Left Analog Stick controls so that Garrett “sticks” to said surface and does not accidentally run out into the open. An effect at the edge of the screen indicates that Garrett is hidden, which is used to intuitively know that you’re in the darkness without the use of the light gem. The light gem now sits on the lower left corner of the screen as an orb and is not too different from the light gems in previous titles. The light gem shows the player exactly how hidden Garrett is. There are three stages for this: White, which means Garrett is completely visible, Grey which means Garrett is partially visible, and Black, which means Garrett is completely invisible. As with older Thief games, Garrett can fire water arrows onto torches which serves a dual purpose. For one, some guards will inspect this foolishly and attempt to light it back up, only to have Garrett take them down. Another more obvious purpose is to help Garrett progress through the level unseen. The developers also noted that some surfaces in the game will emit sound that will likely attract attention from guards. If Garrett jumps in the water, guards will look for whatever made that sound. If Garrett walks on grass, his footsteps are concealed and he can move in a slightly quicker pace. New to THIEF is a Focus mode, which allows Garrett to easily identify guards from the environment. You can choose to turn this off in the Options menu if you wish.
Garrett then reaches a small room with a valve handle which allows him to turn off the waterflow of a nearby waterway. With this turned off, he is able to climb onto the waterway and reach a higher point of the exterior area, getting him closer to one of the many entrances to the Baron’s manor. Garrett decides to pickpocket the nearby guard captain, who’s standing around on a balcony, conveniently looking onward for any sign of our thief. By holding down the Square button behind the captain, Garrett was able to steal some money and a key. A ringed meter appeared when Garrett attempted to pickpocket each piece, showing the amount of time it would take for Garrett to be able to successfully pickpocket the captain. While trying to find the entrance, Garrett is spotted by some caged dogs who violently bark at him, alarming nearby guards. He quickly takes the high road using a climbable side of one of the stone pillars he was hiding against, while the guards try to look for him below. Garrett continues to move further and further away from the guards by jumping across the stone pillars, but eventually finds himself trapped in a corner with nowhere to go. Using the Focus ability allows Garrett to see things in the environment that he can interact with. He spies a poppy flower seed in the corner and picks it up, causing his Focus meter to refill back up. The developers then adds that food will replenish Garrett’s health and that he’s not really primed for hand to hand combat, though he’s able to parry attacks and use melee attacks himself.
Thanks to his Focus, Garrett knows his options are pretty straight forward; He could drop a heavy crate on a guard by using his arrows to sever the connection between the hanging crate and the rope, but he decides against it as it would cause too much noise. Instead he tosses a throwable item away from his location, which alerts the nearby guards and forces them to look for him in a different direction. Garrett sneaks by and goes into a lower chamber and picks a lock. Lockpicking is represented by several circles, depending on the difficulty. You move the Left Stick to slowly materialize a solid white circle inside each hollow circle. If you wish to secure that part of the lock in place, you press the R2 button to do so and move onto the next circle. Garrett successfully opens the door.
Garrett quips about how big the manor is and sneaks into the residence from the cellar. Garrett then uses his Focus to find hidden traps in the environment. It’s at this point that he uses a quick roll or dodge feature that can be executed by holding a direction and pressing the X button. This helps him move around areas fairly quickly, but it isn’t as potentially game breaking as say the Blink mechanic in Dishonored. Finally, Garrett manages to find himself in the lower grand library. There are guards in the area, and one of the guards was cleverly placed there to show off the amazing lighting effects that the next generation platforms can deliver. This guard was holding a lamp, and was walking around in this two level area, demonstrating how lighting can be obstructed by the shelves and various items in the library, causing some interesting shadow rendering. While here, Garrett overhears a guard telling his commander that the sewers probably need more guards, but the commander felt insulted instead and berated the guard. Garrett uses a rope arrow to pull himself on top of some bookshelves by shooting at a rope bundled around a plank high above him, giving him a perfect vantage point of the labyrinthine bookshelves in this library. Garrett encounters yet another lock, only this time he can use his Focus ability to make it even easier. The visual representation of the mechanic is similar to the Splinter Cell series, but functions the same way as though you weren’t using Focus.
One thing I noticed when watching this demo is that the UI is very minimalist and has a very clean look, which is somewhat representative of the gameplay. From the demo I was shown I didn’t notice any reason to worry about lock picks breaking or anything that would prevent Garrett from being able to fully utilize his skill set. Also, unlike previous games, it doesn’t seem like you can write on your map. Your map, instead, can provide you with hints and locations of different entrances and points of interest that you might want to consider using. These changes might prove controversial for some, but the game seems to be fine with these changes.
Garrett finally finds the entrance to the room containing The Heart of The Lion and proceeds to look for the entrance. He spies a suspicious looking portrait and initiates what seems to be a search mechanic, which allows Garrett to examine items closer. Garrett runs his fingers across the top portion of the portrait’s frame and finds the button that spins the wall ajar. The Heart of the Lion is within his grasp, but a puzzle prevents him from opening the chest containing it. On both ends of the chest are two sets of puzzles in which he’ll need to create the correct symbol that will open each side of the case. He manages to successfully open one side, but runs into a problem on the other side because the markings on the puzzle were worn out. Garrett then spies a hole in the chest that allows him to see the mechanism that controls the lock, which is somewhat similar to when you open a locked door with Focus. Finally unlocking the last lock, Garrett manages to steal The Heart of the Lion and escapes the manor from the rooftops.
In the interest of time, a later level is loaded, signaling a move to a new part of the presentation. In this part of the demo, Garrett finds himself in a sewer area underneath a city in flames. An army of guards are looking for him and he’s apparently on the run. Finally outside, he finds himself at a bridge that’s been torn down and spies a boat tethered to a dock. He then shoots an arrow at the rope, severing the line between the dock and the boat, which he then jumps onto to get across the broken bridge. This is when Emanuel adds that in certain areas of the game, such as climbing and vertical traversal, the view switches to the third person view, which it did in this part of the demo. Like in Tomb Raider, Garrett has events where he almost falls but manages to catch himself by pressing a button when a prompt appears.
The pace becomes frantic now, given that Garrett is attempting to flee a burning house and parts of the house he’s in keep falling apart. Fiery embers and falling debris prevent him from moving forward. He spies a water valve and turns it, unleashing a burst of water, temporarily calming the roar of the fire. He reaches the rooftops now and he’s trying to get across this maze of fiery debris. Lots of things are falling underneath him and he’s careful not to disturb anything… but being the thief that he is, he spies an urn and stashes it. He’s back below inside another house now and manages to find a crack in the wall. He’s desperately trying to go through it to save himself and finds himself safely at a lower level, which seems to be a fairly open area. Soon he comes to an even larger bridge and it begins to fall under the damage caused by the fire. Garrett is running frantically now, “I don’t want to be trapped while this bridge collapses,” he mutters. He manages to elevate himself at this point and the feeling of vertigo doesn’t faze him. He hears people in the distance in the street. Two guards get knocked over by more falling debris. Things are turning for the worse. Garret is stuck in a forest of fiery logs and everything starts violently falling apart. Houses begin to fall. He jumps into a house that literally tips over in front of his eyes. He spies a way out on top of the house and pulls himself up again. The whole place falls underneath his feet and he sees that whole houses begin to sink into the water.
Mind you, all of the scenes I’ve described were all in real time. None of these were rendered in cutscenes or CG.
To close the demo, the developers showed off the mission completion screen, a staple of the Thief series, and shows that by killing people and being seen, their score actually went down. While the developers were keen in giving players more tools to traverse a level, they said they are aware of hardcore THIEF players who want to be truly invisible and assured us that this is possible for all the levels in the game. The experience points that we saw during gameplay, they clarified, were not for a leveling system that they’ve imposed, but rather to tally up at the end of the game. Either way, it seems like Eidos Montreal has us old school THIEF players in mind, and we’ll definitely find out how everything comes together once it comes out on next gen platforms and PC in 2014.