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Thief preview: Creep, steal, kill - next gen comeback goes for the jugular

First eyes-on showcases stylish return

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The eavesdropping session tells us Eastwick's headed to the House of Blossoms for a midnight lock-in and an objective promptly flashes up on the left hand side of the screen, telling us to reach higher ground to locate the aforementioned building.

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It's not hard to find a vantage point. The demo pilot plucks a discarded bottle from a heap of rubbish, looks it over (hello, hands) and tosses it through an open window of a house to distract a patrolling guard. Once the guard's investigating the noise Garrett clambers onto a low awning and gazes across the sprawling city until he spies his target.

As he does so the Clock Tower strikes midnight in the distance, and Garrett's narration warns us that he'll need to act fast to make it to Eastwick's location before being locked out of the destination. What happens next makes us squirm uncomfortably in our seats.

Garrett arrows one guard with his bow, then vertical takedowns another

Cue a short high-action sequence straight out of Mirror's Edge. Garrett arrows one guard with his bow, vertical takedowns another, and then sprints through alleyways; vaulting moving carts and clambering over pallets as if stealth were just a suggestion. Time limits call for desperate measures though... or do they?

We quizzed Lead Gameplay Designer Marc Benoit about this very thing after our demo (a demo that ended with a similarly funnelled sequence - more on that later) and it turns out that it all comes down to personal choice. If you miss the midnight deadline it's not level over. You'll have squandered your chance to follow Eastwick through a gate, yes, but that just means you'll have to find an alternative path. Don't want action to invade your game of Thief? Then don't let it.

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STEALY DAN

Back to the demo and Garrett's haste means he's now sitting above a street as Eastwick, glimmering medallion displayed proudly on his chest, walks past. There are a few paths into the tunnel system leading to the House of Blossom's entrance, but we're shown a way to sneak under a guard's nose by dousing a fire with a dry ice arrow and tip-toeing through the gloom. Once again Garrett's packing various arrow types. 'Realism' is the new mandate for the tech, however, so don't expect the moss arrows to have survived the reimagination process unscathed.

One tool that is back is the blackjack. It's favoured ahead of the sword, and Garrett can now use it for third-person takedowns from the shadows. Inside the tunnels Garrett clubs one guard unconscious before trapping a second in a side-room with a well-aimed arrow to a portcullis lever.

Guards disposed with, we're then treated to a third-person climbing sequence as Garrett shimmies and clambers his way across the rotting beams and collapsing brickwork of an old underground Keeper passageway. Metallic grilles in the stonework signify anchorage point for Garrett's claw (that is, his grappling hook), and after one last spot of scrabbling we're outside the House of Blossoms' underground entrance and looking for a way inside.

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In the final game there will be multiple infiltration opportunities but in this instance an improbably convenient collapsed wall and a secret cave lets us slip into the house's opium den undetected, save for the belfry of bats we disturb along the way.

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