This contentious reboot has promise, but doesn't wash away all our doubts just yet.
By Stace Harman on October 9, 2013 at 11:30 pm
Video game reboots are a common occurrence and a very mixed bag. Some work brilliantly, others not so much — and after two hours spent skulking around Thief’s dark corners it seems like this one really could go either way.
On the plus side, stealth plays a significant role in Eidos Montreal’s 2014 reboot and feels like a fundamental part of Thief’s identity rather than an optional extra. Unlike the otherwise excellent Dishonored, in which stealth and pacifism are options that Arkane struggles to fully accommodate, Thief looks to have been built upon these core tenets. To this end, it will be possible not only to complete a non-violent play-through but to do so without alerting anyone to Garrett’s presence.
During the two hours I recently spent with Thief the art of misdirection was achieved by a variety of means, many predicated on classic Thief principles. Stub-nosed noisemaker arrows can be used to distract a guard before slipping past him, while water arrows extinguish light sources from a distance and plunge an enclosed space into blessed black. It’s during these moments that Thief feels most like its old self as Garrett infiltrates buildings under the nose of unwitting city guards.
What has changed, though, is the manner in which those guards will become aware of Garrett.
As is now a common and, frankly, tired way of depicting NPC awareness the guards have meters above their heads that start to fill if they catch sight of Garrett. Once the meter is filled, a guard will begin to investigate and if Garrett is unable to find a suitably dark corner or cupboard to hide in they’ll go into full alert mode and raise the alarm.
Currently, though, the guards have a questionable degree of perception, which resulted in one walking right by me bearing a torch but remaining oblivious to my presence.
“What you’re describing sounds like a bug,” offered Eidos Montreal producer Joe Khoury, when I questioned him about it later.
“The biggest two things that we want to push for in the remaining months is bug fixing and polishing AI. It’s a very fine balance between being too aggressive and allowing a certain amount of forgiveness and that’s going to come with play-tests and polishing in the remaining months.”
Sure, we’re still several months from the game’s launch of February 28, so there’s plenty of time for creases such as this to be ironed out. However, in a game in which you’re likely to spend a lot of time observing and then reacting to the AI, this tweaking and polishing will need to be pitch-perfect to avoid other such immersion breaking moments.
There’s also the matter of Garrett’s new found aptitude for hand-to-hand combat. While engaging several guards will quickly result in being overwhelmed, Garrett is now more than capable of easily dispatching a single adversary. In fact, spamming the attack button was all it took to bring up the option for a cinematic finisher on more than one occasion.
In deliberately attempting to curate an experience that appeals to a wider audience Eidos Montreal must tread carefully. The impressive Deus Ex: Human Revolution proves that the studio clearly has the ability to meld varied play-styles but there’s still plenty of polish to be applied before Thief fulfils its potential.
With a little over four months to go until launch, it could still go either way.