I recently got the chance to spend some hands-on time with the PC version of Square Enix’s long awaited reboot of what was probably the most important stealth game series of the late ’90s and early ’00s. Thief: The Dark Project was the first stealth game that integrated light and sound into its gameplay mechanics, and is credited with introducing a variety of other new gameplay features that went on to shape the genre’s future. It boasted complex AI for its time, promoted emergent gameplay, and insisted that players take a completely non-confrontational approach to tackling it.
But I’ll dispense with the history lesson; my point is that Thief: The Dark Project is without a doubt one of the most influential games ever developed. So, naturally I’ve been keeping an eye on the reboot, simply called Thief. An exciting project, certainly, but also one that may be utterly destined to disappoint. I mean, how do you follow a game that literally shaped a genre? The series made a name for itself by innovating, and challenging the predominant genre conventions of the time. Since its release, various mechanics which it introduced have become standard features in pretty much any game that involves sneaking, so if the game merely picks up where the series left off, then I think we’re going to be left with a lot of dissatisfied gamers.
So it pains me a little bit to say that my experience with Thief didn’t do much to stimulate any excitement. In many ways it sort of just feels like an HD revision of the original, which may just not cut it. Having said that, I did spend less than two hours with the game, and I very much hope that as things unravel, it reveals some genuinely interesting new features.
From what I did see, I can confirm that Thief looks set to tick all the most rudimentary boxes. For a start, it is quite beautiful. Although you can expect the game to be limited to dimly lit streets, cathedrals, buildings, and damp alleyways, there is an impressive degree of beauty with which the entire thing is rendered. Little is known about the story at this point, but the game opens with our old friend Garrett awaking with no memory of the preceding year’s events. Naturally, your role is to fill in the gaps, and we can assume that a broader story will develop from there.
Gameplay, as expected, hinges on stealthy manoeuvring and avoidance tactics. While Garret is handy enough with his blackjack, the best way to play the game seems to be to avoid detection as much as possible. You have access to a wide range of different arrow types: from flame arrows which can ignite flammable objects, to water arrows which are good for eliminating torches, rope arrows for climbing and swinging, and a couple of others for good measure.
At first I could not help be reminded of Arkane Studios’ Dishonored, but that soon faded as it became quite clear that Thief is far more heavily rooted in reality, and at the game’s heart it strives to stay true to the principles of the original. However, I still have yet to see anything to suggest that it will be anything more than a pretty reboot of the original – which may be fine for some, but the thing which made the original series so special was its tenacious dedication to innovation, and without that, I’m just not sure Thief will resonate with fans.
I left the session feeling partly satisfied that at the very worst, Thief looks set to be a very solid, atmospheric stealth experience. However, I didn’t exactly have to drag my self away from the keyboard, and it didn’t do nearly enough to secure a spot on my ever-growing gaming wishlist.