First-person games, maybe all games, need “a thing”. “A thing” is a technical term, referring to the unique mechanic that defines a game and make it seem exciting. It’s separate from theme, or character, or setting. It’s specifically something you’re going to get to do if you buy the game. ‘I can’t wait,’ you’d say, ‘to [fight that Big Daddy/ride those skyrails/explore that island/free run across those rooftops/toss physics objects into those faces/vault myself with a portal].’
Thief‘s problem is that it doesn’t appear to have a thing. Let’s go looking for one in these seven new screenshots.
Alright. Combat against guards. Garrett has a club, and massive hands. The other guys have swords. There’s no thing here. This is just normal fighting. There’s a wooden post to the left there, which looks like maybe one of the few, scripted things Garrett can rope to in this new game, but I’ve played over an hour of it and the rope arrow featured only once at the end of a mission. Ropes are not its thing.
This is just a picture of a rainy street. The textures look high resolution, I guess, but nothing is happening here. Also, that man on the right should share his rain-resistant fire with his friend. Don’t be rude. Also, the City just seems really dark and grey and depressing. I like that they’ve wound time forward a little, to a point of industrial revolution, but thus far that seems mainly to involve electric fans like that big one on the wall.
Oh, stealth! Stealth is a thing, right? Look, Garrett is hiding from that other chap.
No, stealth is not a thing, sorry. Stealth was a thing when the first Thief came out, when all first-person games were about killing everyone all the time. ‘In our game you can hide from the monsters and avoid them,’ you can imagine the designers saying. Now if they were to say that, people would respond, “Yes, like in a stealth game. And?” Their thing became a genre. Now it is no longer a thing.
Massive hands? Maybe massive hands are this game’s thing. Or bum-pinching? No. This is just crouchy pickpocketing. This is not a thing.
Oh, this looks pre– Hey! Get out of here Dishonored, you’ve had your turn. Yes. Yes, I know, you had many things. Yes, I did like being a magical ninja who could teleport and possess those stilt guys. Yes, now go. Geez.
I wish they had done more with the art style. I feel like maybe Eidos Montreal has been too conservative for fear of a fan backlash.
Hey, another fan on the wall. And one on the desk. Is this city really hot all the time? All it does is rain outside.
Alright, I take it all back. Massive hands are definitely this game’s thing. That guard is about to trip over it.
I am, despite appearances, slightly more positive about Thief than other people. But I can’t help but worry. I’d really like Thief to surprise me when it releases next February.