Gameplay vids from E3 do little to steal our hearts.
The original Thief has to be one of my most favouritest gaming memories. I’d never experienced ‘atmosphere’ before, and I put it down to listening in on your oblivious enemies as they bumbled about echoey castles and eerie oubliettes, muttering foul nothings to one another and spilling bits of lore that you’d expect to find written in the ‘story books’ that still litter today’s games. Other than System Shock 2 and Deus Ex I can’t recall anything that lived up to those first sneaky encounters and the powerful feeling of silently encroaching on your unsuspecting foes’ turf. Dishonored came along like some gnarled graverobber and exhumed both the grittiness and fly-on-the-wall magic that had remained buried for so long. After watching the Thief videos from E3 I can’t help thinking that Dishonored has usurped the game that inspired it amidst the chaos that presently enswirls Square Enix.
A little over a month ago Polygon reported problems within the company which had acquired Eidos Montreal, the developer working on the Thief reboot since 2008. Office politics and departures at all levels were apparently to blame, and what followed was a rattling sigh of disappointment from the kleptomaniacal community. This was especially cruel news after we’d been treated to a cinematic trailer just a month prior. So what can be made of the videos that have floated to the surface over E3? One is yet further cinematic obfuscation; the rest constitutes a dissapointing assortment of playthroughs.
Maybe it’s the mortifyingly sluggish console controls, maybe it’s the people playing the demos, maybe it’s the stilted voice acting during the unnecessary flyby, but whatever it is, the game just doesn’t look ready for public consumption. How disappointing it is to see Garrett enter third person as you “HOLD R1 TAKEDOWN”, only for your centurian victim to look up and brace for the attack as if the whole performance took place in a motion capture studio. You can almost see the white ping-pong balls all over their bodies. How immersion-breaking it feels to see “SUSPICIOUS” float over the guards’ heads as they dash around in the dark after you. How off-putting is the weird swirling grey smoke across your vision that presumably signifies your moral ambiguity and ghostly presence.
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All of this could change, of course, but it’s worrying that this is the feel of the game five years into development. Dishonored has clearly had a massive effect on Thief’s direction, as seen in the ‘swoop’ mechanic which is just ‘blink’ by another name. I wish more games would take after Dishonored because it did so many things so very well, but not Thief – not the forefather of sneak-em-ups. It’s like Dishonored is like some kind of grotesque cuckoo that has laid her eggs in Garrett’s nest, and now that the respective games are hatching, the older, stronger Dishonored chicks are pecking Thief’s chicks into a yolky mess. You can thank the Thief video’s awkwardly hidden treasure for that simile.
I hope I’m wrong on all accounts and that Square Enix have plenty more up their sleeves. I’d like nothing more than a majestic return to the charms of Thief. This new generation of consoles could do wonders for the whole stealth genre and rekindle the embers of ambience, but if AAA titles like Thief are a flop, then I worry how long the genre might be resigned to the shadows for.
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Featured image: Square Enix