Eidos Montreal’s Thief has the distinction of being the most blisteringly difficult game we played this E3. The ‘stealth action’ game firmly puts the emphasis on the former half of that descriptor, and guiding master thief Garret through the game’s luscious world proved a serious challenge.
While the Thief series has been absent for a decade, the memories of nervously avoiding detection as you skulk through shadows remains fresh. This time around, invisibility is even more important – despite Garrett’s vaguely supernatural abilities of targeted sight and the slow-motion takedowns it provides, conflicts will more often than not end in your death rather than the guards’. Similarly, avoiding detection is a trial in itself, forcing you to learn patrol patterns, extinguishing torches and silencing guard dogs. A variety of arrows helps in this – flame, water, rope and several other varieties of ranged death sticks – but the sound of the slightest miss will draw the attention of enemies.
In short, it’s frustrating, with numerous restarts required to make it through any given area. Garret’s relative immobility – no prancing from rooftop to rooftop, Assassin’s Creed style – makes it even harder to avoid enemies when they do spot you. So why is it so incredibly compelling?
Eidos has captured that elusive ‘one more go’ mentality perfectly. Each death only strengthens your resolve to progress, and the areas are enticing enough to make you want to explore, finding new secrets and trying different approaches to achieve objectives. These objectives change or conflict, too – one mission may have an objective to avoid all combat or kill all enemies, for example. It’s rarely boring, and the fact the game looks beautiful doesn’t hurt the replay factor.
Over an extended period, this may wear thin but right now, the brutal difficulty only makes us covet Thief even more.