One of the most highly anticipated (and most uncertain) titles of the 2014 release schedule is Eidos Montreal’s upcoming reboot of the Thief franchise, arriving ten years after the release of the previous game with a wealth of changes to the story and gameplay – a few of which have been rather unpopular.
It would be an understatement to say that many announced changes proved contentious among fans, including the new voice actor for Garrett, the introduction of an XP system (which eventually got scrapped due to fan backlash) and quicktime events (also scrapped). And recent reports claim that the developers have kept busy hedging their bets with critical players.
Among those features which ended up dividing fan opinion was an ability called Focus, which highlights important items in the environment and can also help players to track guards through walls by listening to their footsteps. After complaints that this would make Thief too easy, Eidos Montreal made the feature optional instead of mandatory.
Focus isn’t the only element of the game that is optional, however. A preview of Thief over at VG24/7 describes a menu system that offers many different ways to change up a playthrough, scaling points according to how challenging the player has made a level for themselves.
Thief has the usual difficulty settings – affecting guards’ awareness, limiting resources and prohibiting the harming of innocent civilians – but the custom difficulty setting opens up many more individual tweaks. Options mentioned in the preview include increasing the cost of resources, removing discoverable food from the missions (so it must be bought instead), an option that makes Garrett useless in direct combat so that he can only take out guards using stealth, and an option to veto any kills or knockouts so that the player must rely on sneakiness alone.
Similarly to last year’s big stealth release, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, there are three branching paths to playing Thief, and conduct is calculated at the end of each mission to determine which category the player falls into. Ghost is awarded to players who are never seen, Opportunist to players who seize everything they can get their grubby mitts on, and Predator to players who take out a lot of guards. Get classified as one of these types enough times and new challenges outside of the main story missions will be opened up.
The preview also notes what has already been very noticeable in the screenshots and artwork so far: Thief bears more than a passing resemblance to Arkane Studios’ 2012 stealth-action game Dishonored, which in turn distinctly felt like it was influenced by the original Thief games.
To highlight the similarities, VG24/7 has also posted a new batch of screenshots and concept art featuring some of the main characters appearing in the game – including the Queen of the Beggars, Garrett’s apprentice Erin, and fiery revolutionary leader Orion – as well as the locations that will be visited during missions.
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It definitely looks like there will be plenty of interesting environments to explore, and a variety of ways to traverse them. It’s honestly hard to tell whether Eidos Montreal’s multiple instances of backpedaling will be an asset or a detriment to the finished product, however, as it feels like much of what the studio wanted to introduce was batted down by backlash long before players even got to try it out.
While the idea of developers playing it safe so as not to upset anyone is a little dispiriting, the ability to heavily customize the type of gameplay possible may well allow Thief to appeal both to new players who want to try out everything on offer, and to hardcore fans who want a return to the classic Thief experience. This is one title that could really be either a great success or a great disaster, and at this point it’s still difficult to tell which is more likely.
Thief arrives on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on February 25, 2014.