A decade is a long time in gaming. If you cast your mind back ten years you’ll discover a landscape where ambitious open world games were only starting to find their feet, the PlayStation 2 reigned supreme and Microsoft was still beavering away behind closed doors on the Xbox 360. Online play, minor experiments aside, was the stuff of PC gamers and Call of Duty had just taken its first tentative steps into the world. And, of course, many of today’s gamers were only beginning to find their way around controllers for the first time (not us, though, we’re old and wrinkly). 2004 is also notable for something else; before February 25th of this year, it also marked the last time we saw the launch of a brand new instalment in the Thief franchise…
Originally set to be a direct sequel to 2004’s Thief: Deadly Shadows, the decision was taken well into Thief's development to change direction and opt instead for a reboot of sorts. Mindful of the length of time between the last instalment and this newest one, it’s hard to argue that Eidos Montreal made the wrong call. While there’s definitely a big audience out there who can remember the original trilogy, there are also countless others who missed out on all the hype and stealthy shenanigans, so finding a middle ground to keep everyone happy was definitely the soundest approach from a commercial standpoint.
The Thief story began back in 1998, when Looking Glass Studios launched Thief: The Dark Project, running on their in-house engine, The Dark Engine. Unlike most games of its era, The Dark Project presented players with a unique morally ambiguous universe, centred on lead character Garrett. With Garrett presented as a regular mortal rather than the typical superhuman of other games, players were encouraged to avoid confrontation wherever possible, using the shadows to navigate the 3D environment. Where battle is unavoidable, Garrett has the ability to drag bodies away and hide them so that they’re not discovered by enemies.
The action takes place in The City, a dystopian steam punk inspired metropolis, and begins with players getting a glimpse into Garrett’s formative years as a homeless orphan. When offered the chance at becoming a Keeper, he ultimately passes up the opportunity and focuses on a life of thievery. It’s through this chosen path that he becomes targeted for assassination by a ruthless crime lord, having failed to pay the necessary protection money. Enraged by the contract on his life, Garrett decides to rob the kingpin’s mansion, impressing an anonymous onlooker in the process, and finding himself hired to take on a special theft in the process.
On the completion of this job, the theft of a sword from a nobleman named Constantine, Garrett learns that it was Constantine himself who had hired him, in a bid to get a closer look at his abilities. Impressed with the manner in which he carries out his business, Constantine hires him for a much bigger job – the theft of The Eye, a priceless gem locked away in a deserted cathedral.
After successfully stealing The Eye, Garrett turns it over to Constantine, who reveals himself to be The Trickster, the very one the gem was hidden away from to begin with. In order to harness the power of The Eye, The Trickster has Garrett’s right eye removed before leaving him for dead. Set on revenge, Garrett replaces the original Eye with a booby trapped replica, resulting in the death of The Trickster in the game’s culmination.
With 2000’s Thief II: The Metal Age, Garrett’s story continues from where The Dark Project left off. Gameplay remained largely unchanged, although there was considerable rebalancing to ensure a stealthier approach was pushed at the player.
With the arrival of the Metal Age in The City, Garrett’s job as a thief has become increasingly fraught with danger. With new technology and the rise to prominence of a new faction, The Mechanists, the fate of The City’s inhabitants is once again in danger and Garrett finds himself embroiled in a plot that threatens to destroy the very fabric and balance of life as he knows it.
After meeting with Viktoria, a Pagan, Garrett learns of a plot by The Mechanists to bring an end to organic life within The City. Once again the Keeper that we met in the prologue of the first game, Artemus, plays a big part in guiding Garrett towards foiling The Mechanists’ plans and ultimately saving The City once again, but the story is far from over...
2008’s Thief: Deadly Shadows not only marked the end of the series’ initial trilogy, but was also notable for the game’s first appearance outside the PC realm, as it also found a home on Microsoft’s Xbox. Developed by Ion Storm, Deadly Shadows also served as the series’ first foray into the open world genre, allowing players to explore the world at will, rather than being confined to missions and a linear approach. It worked extremely well, and definitely set the tone for this year’s reboot, but what of the story?
Like the previous two games, Deadly Shadows’ story is one filled with prophecy and supernatural twists. Upon learning of an ancient Keeper prophecy that foretells a coming Dark Age, Garrett takes matters into his own hands, uncovering the one he believes to be most likely to be responsible – First Keeper Orland.
Orland realises that Garrett harbours suspicions of his true intentions and has him accused, and found guilty, of the murder of Caduca, the Keeper responsible for interpreting prophecies, but Garrett manages to escape. From there, a conspiracy is identified to place The Hag, a woman hell bent on destroying the Keepers from within, as the Keepers’ Interpreter, which Garrett must unravel. Unfortunately, The Hag has the ability to assume the appearance of others, meaning that Garrett remains unsure of who he can trust throughout.
As things gradually unravel, Garrett manages to defeat The Hag before being identified as the One True Keeper mentioned in ancient Keeper prophecies, and prompting a final scene in the game that’s an obvious analogue to the prologue of the first title, with Garrett catching a young girl as she attempts to pickpocket him.
So what of the new Thief, then? How will that play out given that it’s a reboot of sorts? That remains to be seen at the time of writing, but it looks as though it’ll avoid being too similar to what has come before. Garrett is still our protagonist, but he’s seen some changes aesthetically and in terms of his abilities. He’s been away from The City for years, returning to find it under the control of The Baron, and in the grips of a plague among the poor – something that he plans on using to his advantage, and profit, as he reacquaints himself with his old home…