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Thief hands-on: meeting Erin, Garrett's troublesome shadow

PC Thief-ery

Having snuck around the explorable market district in an earlier version of Thief , I was surprised that Eidos chose a narrowly structured introductory sequence for starting a new game. This improved build (using code submitted for gold approval, I was told) certainly touted visual improvements and a much smoother-looking menu system, but a linear introduction doesn't make the best first impression for a stealth game promising generous portions of explorable content.

Guard behavior was also still a lingering issue. Detection would send nearby enemies into that annoying state of hyper-awareness and x-ray vision, and I had to endure a couple frustrating deaths as guards beelined straight for me regardless of how hidden I was. Vantage points and line-of-sight trickery seemed the only recurring methods of avoiding being spotted; beyond Garrett's short “swoop” move—an unabashed response to Dishonored's teleport ability—it would've been nice to see a return of some of the master thief's classic moves, like flattening against walls in Deadly Shadows.

I also ran into a snag with the PC controls during a particular mission set in a crumbling refinery. I had crawled through a rusty ventilation duct that ended in a drop to a stair landing. A torch-bearing guard stood directly below, but I ignored the large prompt on the screen that urged me to use Garrett's takedown move. The guard moved away, and I moved forward to exit the vent—except I couldn't. Having missed my window for landing on the guard's head, I apparently was blocked from progressing forward, since I actually couldn't manually jump down no matter how many different key combinations I hit. I brought up my predicament to the developers on hand at the event, and I was told that Nixxes, the company responsible for porting Thief to the PC (and the same company that ported Deus Ex: Human Revolution) was still in the final stages of touching up actions on the keyboard and mouse.

Still, Thief gets a lot of things spot on. Garrett's cynical monologues provide wonderful immersion. The rain-drenched City is suitably claustrophobic and warren-like with its twisting alleyways and man-made jungles of tiled rooftops and chimney stacks. The way Garrett's hands clench in anxiety while sneaking or gently return a safe door to its original position with surgical precision are great touches to watch.

Garrett mostly feels like the Garrett of old. But Erin is something new—the aggressive mirror image of Garrett's practiced calm. Erin wasn't an addition of unimportance, either. She was there nearly every step of the way during my playtime, and a few interesting moments stood out from the rest.