The master is stealing a few lessons from its prized student.

It’s been a decade since apathetic rogue Garrett last took something he shouldn’t have in the Thief trilogy of first-person stealth games, but you’ve likely felt his sneaky influence in many top-tier franchises ever since. Thief wrote the book on hiding in — and striking from — the shadows. Naturally, it’s now time for a reboot. Publisher Square Enix and developer Eidos brought a 25-minute, hands-off slice of a larger level to the Game Developers Conference last week, and it felt both impressive and familiar.

But it reminded me less of earlier Thief games and more of Dishonored, the similarly steampunky, first-person stealth game that proudly declared its Thief inspirations with every move it made. Dishonored played like one big homage to those classics. The new Thief, due on the PC, PlayStation 4 and other next-gen consoles sometime in 2014, looks like it’s paying those compliments right back … possibly with a few improvements.


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True crime

“We loved Dishonored,” says Thief producer Stéphane Roy. “It’s really cool to see players loving that kind of game and wanting more. Dishonored is about revenge. In Thief, your job will be to steal, not to kill.”

And while some mystical elements return from the previous games, Thief won’t go full-bore into the fantastic like Dishonored did. “We really want to be more realistic,” says Roy. “No zombies.”

Thief returns to its traditional setting of The City (still unnamed after all these years), a port town bisected by a giant wall and built around twisting waterways much like Dishonored’s Dunwall. Story missions happen out in the city proper while Garrett can pick up more personal side missions in his own inner-city hub. The chaos-versus-order themes also remain intact, with the mysterious Baron pushing an industrialism agenda backed by a brutal police force called the Watch. Roy wouldn’t go into the opposing faction, but concept art hinted at a religious figurehead giving a fiery sermon with a noose ominously dangling in the background.


Taking what isn’t yours

The demo opened with Garrett targeting a nobleman named Eastwick — specifically, a gold medallion temporarily in Eastwick’s possession. Garrett infiltrates a city district in a covered wagon as the Watch piles bodies on carts; locks other, less skilled thieves in stockades; and hangs troublemakers from second-story windows. “A change is coming,” says Garrett. “I hear nooses tightening on every corner.”

That’s the first major step away from Dishonored and Corvo Attano, its annoyingly silent protagonist. Garrett narrates Thief. We get full access to his shrewd, pointed thoughts.

Appropriately enough, Garrett’s design steers clear of the heroic. He’s dark, gaunt, and scarred. The game shifts into third-person views when Garrett makes a vertical climb, so you get a good look at him often. Roy didn’t specify whether Garrett’s bionic eye makes a return, but his right eye is conspicuously green and glowing. While he doesn’t have magic powers, Garrett does know what he’s doing. “You start out as a master thief,” says Roy, with all that that entails. Garrett made liberal use of a rush move that gave him a stealthy burst of speed over a very short distance — nowhere near as powerful as Blink, Corvo’s handy teleportation move — and he has access to Focus abilities, one of which highlights all useful items and enemies much like Corvo’s Dark Vision.

Focus, however, also comes with a few offensive uses.