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14 for 2014: Thief

2014 may well be the renaissance of the fantasy genre.

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Along with The Elder Scrolls Online, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, we've also got the high-profile reboot of Thief due in February from the studio that brought us the current generation's re-imagining of Deus Ex.

Though don't call it a reboot, nor side-sequel - and definitely don't call it Victorian medieval steampunk. Not only is that a mouthful, but the studio are careful not to pigeon-hole the game's style. Thief crouches in that odd crossroads between all three, influences obvious but not a direct reflection of them.

Producer Stefan Roy confirmed the studio wanted to reaffirm that stance when we talked to him earlier this year.

"We decided to leave behind the magical aspect... last year we talked about mystical. It's not steam punk," he affirmed. "[The] first was more steampunk, it's not steampunk now. That is our input, the rest is the same universe, the same... the narrative aspect is really important; Thief used to have great story with a lot of layers and history, same thing for us this year. I think it's a good mix."

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Indeed, Garrett's world seems steeped in history when we explored it during a lengthy hands-on earlier this year. The City's architecture has a well-worn feel to it, as if time's passing has frayed away at the edges of shops, clock towers, homesteads. Tight cobbled streets, a haze of fog and squares littered with dirty and soiled denizens evoke the thought of a worn-out metropolis that's slowly rotting from within. It's a sprawling metropolis with multiple districts to explore, and multitudes of missions and side activities for someone of Garrett's skill to explore - and take advantage of.

There is a central story arc, but there's as much care put into the seemingly superfluous stuff - raiding someone's home for goods can see you spend minutes stealthily avoiding being spotted by the owner - to make every successful sneak a mini-victory in its own right. This is a City you can consciously get lost in, with the thief's particular set of skills - a bow with multiple arrow types, climbing ropes, knock-out moves - letting him range unseen from one side of the town to the other.

Eidos Montreal are being careful to cultivate both newcomers and franchise fans to their take on the first-person adventure. You only have to look at the game's Focus mode, a secondary sense that allows Garrett to 'see' footfalls and important objects at a button's press. The team have made it an optional ability that can be ignored entirely.

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"I know some people are nervous, I know that some people will say "yeah, but a real master thief should not use it." Don't worry, you'll be able to disable it if you want," reassures Roy. "There's a lot of other options aside from Focus that the player can choose to turn on and off depending on the kind of experience they want to have. Going back to the big Thief fans, I think they love to explore, they love to discover things, they love to look at every corner, and try to figure things out for themselves. That's been really important to us as well."


He continued: "The objective here is really not to reinvent the stealth and trying not to change everything; it's more about giving you the fantasy to be a master thief. There is not a lot of product on the market - a lot of product is you're killing machine, you're soldier, it's about killing - [for] us it's about to steal and not to kill, and it's kind of unique. So we work very hard to bring you in this universe and convince you that you're this master thief."

And he hits upon an important point; diverse though the gaming medium is, most of today's best really only offer you one choice, and that's to take the offensive. Try it in Thief, and you'll be quickly taken out by the mass of city guards. But just because you won't wield a gun doesn't mean you won't feel powerful; Garett's got faith in his other abilities. And by the time you're through with Thief, so will you.


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REVIEW. Written by Mike Holmes

"Yes, it's got issues, and no, it's not perfect, but underneath some suffocating design decisions is a really solid game."

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