Ten Things Thief 4 Must Include
Last year, Eidos Montreal performed something close to a miracle by resurrecting Deus Ex in a way that wasn’t a complete embarrassment for all concerned. Human Revolution certainly made its concessions to contemporary gaming conventions (hello there, third person single-button ‘take-downs’) but it also did enough to convince most people that it was a worthy addition to the series.
The same developer now has another set of notoriously, ah, ‘passionate’ fans to placate and please as it moves on to the second of its ambitious series-revival projects: Thief 4. The mention of “online tools” in a couple of LinkedIn CVs has already got the eyebrows twitching in suspicion (though a competent multiplayer mode could be a wonderful thing for Thief, if that’s even what’s being hinted it) so poor old Eidos Montreal may have its work cut out.
As something of a Thief-obsessive myself, here’s what I’d love to see in the game.
It’s not actually clear yet whether players will be reprising the role of rent-shy, cynical master-thief Garrett in this fourth installment. If that turns out to be the case, it’s essential for Eidos Montreal to bring back Russell to provide his surly quips. Even if the developers take the gutsy (others would say foolish) move of introducing a new protagonist, it’s important to still get Russell on board. He voiced half the guards in the previous games and a Thief title just wouldn’t feel right without him.
The early trailers for Bioshock: Infinite quite clearly had Russell doing the voice work for main character Booker DeWitt, but he was replaced in later videos by Troy Baker. Did he have to re-think his schedule in order to do work on Thief 4? Let’s hope so.
An ‘open’ world, of sorts
While the ‘hub’-like levels of Deus Ex: Human Revolution would be fairly welcome, the complete freedom to sneak around streets of The City isn’t necessarily what I’m after here. The ‘openness’ I crave from Thief is the same kind introduced by the original title. Just make sure I always have control over a given situation. Let me find my own solutions for getting beyond guards and inside buildings. Leave the world ‘open’ in the sense that rather than hard-coding multiple linear pathways, players are simply presented with the tools and rules of the world and left to do the rest for themselves.
To aid and abet this approach, it’s crucial that Thief 4 gives us access to the full breaking and entering kit. That means rope arrows need to be reinstated, and I’d like to be able to lean around corners.
Audio, audio, audio
So vital I’ve mentioned it three times. Thief and its sequel were a master class in the importance of using audio cues and clues as both an atmospheric device and an integral part of the game itself. The simple (in retrospect) idea of having different floor surfaces make different sounds was just as key as the role of shadows in fashioning Thief’s stealth mechanics. It made a lengthy stretch of flagstone hallway seem as daunting as anything else in the game. Think about that. The audio focus was so good it made the floor one of your greatest foes.
Of course, the opposite was also true. It meant the floor was a tremendous ally in pinpointing the positions of guards and how close they might be to your position in the shadows.
Speaking of guards and audio (and Stephen Russell, come to think of it), let’s have more guards and townsfolk gabbing away about their awful lives before Garrett sends them to dreamland with a bonk on the head. It adds depth, comedy and handy exposition to the world and gives you further clues to people’s positions to boot. Given the amount of chatter between NPCs in Human Revolution, I’m fairly confident Eidos Montreal will have this covered.
Proper difficulty levels
The approach to difficulty in Thief and Thief 2 was outstanding. Not only did higher difficulties affect how well you had to perform your thiefly duties (on ‘Expert’, for example, you had to stick to Garrett’s personal moral code of not killing any humans), but it would also gave you access to mission areas and objectives that had previously been off limits.
Thief: Deadly Shadows ditched this nuanced feel and just linked difficulty to how much loot you needed to gather up in your magic bottomless pockets (seriously, where does Garrett hide a painting?) A major hope for Thief 4 is that it’ll make difficulty levels feel distinct and worthwhile again.
The mission briefings in both Thief and Thief 2 were presented as gorgeous monochrome illustrations, an aesthetic that also carried over to Garrett’s ‘hand drawn’ map. I’m not asking Eidos Montreal to slavishly copy this (although a return to the scribbled map design would be nice), but just to dream up something with more flair than bog-standard in-engine or CGI cut-scenes. While we’re at it, it’d be great if cut-scene characters didn’t suddenly start acting contrary to how the player has been controlling them (such as a ‘stealth approach’ Adam Jensen throwing himself into conversations in Human Revolution).
It’s fine if the developers want to stick to the tradition of Garrett looking almost entirely different in pretty much every cut-scene throughout the series though. That’s a running joke at this point.
Thief: Deadly Melee
Thief has always urged an avoidance of melee combat, on the grounds that Garrett isn’t really a fighter and wouldn’t stand much of a chance against a trained guard. That largely rang true in the games, although it was possible to cheese the swordfighting in the early games once you knew what you were doing. Ideally, Thief 4 will formulate a melee system that allows a player to hold their own in a one-on-one fight long enough to buy time for an escape; but no more than that. I want to recapture the thrill of those early Thief sword-fumblings, where any extended encounter with a guard spelled doom.
Please, no boss fights
One of the few missteps in Deus Ex: Human Revolution were the boss fights. More specifically, the mistake was outsourcing the boss fights to a company who apparently didn’t quite understand what game they were helping out with. Yes, ok, the encounters always had enough items and equipment laying around all over the place for you to exploit, but there were no clever ways out like the ‘killswitches’ of the original Deus Ex (unless you count spamming the Typhoon augmentation).
Assuming Eidos Montreal make melee appropriately dangerous, these kinds of boxed-in fights wouldn’t make sense in Thief 4. The only ‘boss fight’ I’m willing to entertain is one like the finale of the first Thief, where you had to be stealthy enough to plant a pseudo-bomb under the nose of a demon.
Include mission creation/modding tools
Looking Glass Studios’ decision to give the Thief community access to ‘DromEd’ (the editing/creation tool for the Dark Engine platform behind the first two games) did a great deal to solidify the dedication to the title still exhibited by sites like ttlg.com. Hundreds of individual missions have been created for the first two games in the series, some that are the equal of the official levels. Others have even threaded multiple missions together to fashion an entire alternative storyline set in the Thief universe.
If Thief 4 is indeed to use the Unreal 3 engine it could theoretically be left open for all manner of modding and tinkering, giving the PC version of the game a potentially endless lease of life. The community just needs to be given the right tools.
Drop that awkward logo
Come on Eidos Montreal, you aren’t really going to call the game Thi4f are you? That’s awfully silly.