Thief preview: stealth royalty reboot gives you options

Like a pack of nefarious Vice Versas, Thief is a game full of contrasts. The very rich abusing the destitutes, in pitch-black streets dotted with bright candlelight, made up of ancient structures next to industrial-era digs – okay, you get the picture.

Thief PS4 preview

Importantly, though, the contrasts aren’t just on the surface. Your resources can be used in very different ways, too – either to maim and bloody all and sundry on your way through a noisy robbery, or to distract and evade during an undetected heist.

Every weapon you bring along in this absurdly pretty stealth prospect has a second purpose, lead level designer Daniel Windfeld Schmidt explains. “The broadhead is the generic arrow, but it’s also used for stealth purposes,” he says. “You can shoot buttons from a distance. And then [there’s] the snuff arrow.” This is a projectile tipped with a dry ice capsule that extinguishes flames on impact, “Which you can use for distractions and manipulating your environment.

The Blackjack is more of an aggressive tool.” It was used in previous games for quiet, non-lethal takedowns, but here it has another purpose, too. “You can also use it to create sounds to distract guards,” says Windfeld Schmidt. “The tools we give you are not only aggressive: they’re also used for the stealth aspect.”

You can use Focus mode aggressively or strategically, as well. Activate it and your vision’s plunged into a high contrast sight mode not unlike Dishonored’s Dark Vision. Guards, loot, doorways and secrets appear in neon blue against a grainy grey backdrop. If you don’t feel like waiting around for a guard to move along his patrol route or distracting him by making a sound for him to investigate, you can spend some Focus on taking him down via Walking Dead-style QTEs.

If that sounds like nails down a blackboard, you can save Focus and use it to pickpocket someone in super slo-mo. You can also earn back Focus as you spend it through a level, but health doesn’t regenerate and you don’t have the resources to hack down everyone.

Thankfully, there’ll always be a plan B written into the level design. “One of the challenges for us was to make sure that you understand those options,” says Windfeld Schmidt. “You could theoretically spend a lot of resources to shoot the guards and so on, but since it’s resource-based it’s not a sustainable strategy. But you could.”

Perhaps wisely, Eidos Montreal has also included the option to ignore Focus mode – as well as modernisations such as quest markers – leaving you with just your wits and a map. It’s not called 1999 Mode… because Thief: The Dark Project came out in ’98. But the studio is keen to at least give you the option to play pre-Millennium Bug style. For series die-hards, that’s a big deal.

Which begs the question: why are people still referencing this series 15 years after it began? “I think it’s the uniqueness of the mandate,” explains Windfeld Schmidt. “The original games brought something new to the table. Legendary people made it, so there’s a lot of pressure on us to pull off a similar trick to make Thief stand out again.”

Next-gen Thief looks cerebral and has a unique voice just about strong enough to distance itself from Dishonored, so its PlayStation debut is unquestionably exciting. But if there is a feature within that’ll have people talking about it for another 15 years, it’s still being kept under wraps.