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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 brothel is crammed with people and, even watching, we feel panic and claustrophobia setting in. Garrett's exposed. Luckily every shadow, whether it's a dark corner or that of a person walking past a lamp, offers an opportunity to slip away from patrolling eyes. A hazy filter covers the screen whenever Garrett's successfully hidden and purists will appreciate the light gem's return in the bottom left of the minimal HUD.

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BLOSSOM BUDDIES

As he moves from room to room, stealing purses and pocket watches from passed-out patrons and necklaces from the ladies of the night who work the house, we notice two new abilities. The first is a forward dash that allows Garrett to rapidly scoot forward and bridge narrow strips of exposed areas undetected. It's a small but powerful tool: now he can safely hop between neighbouring areas of shadow without frustration - but at just a couple of paces in length there's no danger of him being overpowered. This isn't Dishonored's Blink move.

The second ability is his Focus. Much like in Square Enix games Batman: Arkham Asylum, Hitman Absolution and Tomb Raider, Thief's star is in possession of an innate ability designed to give you the edge in hostile areas. Focus has multiple uses: highlighting lootable drawers and other interesting hotspots with a Thief Vision filter; quickening lock-picking when guards are approaching, to ease the act of and improve spoils from pick-pocketing; and, for when things go wrong, to give Garrett a big advantage during hand to hand combat.

Skulking in shadows remains at the game's core

Crucially, Focus is an expendable resource so you will have to ration your power. Eidos is keen to stress this is still a Thief game, so skulking in the shadows while soaking up the atmosphere remains at its core.

The rich red velvet curtains and the warm glow of candlelight inside the House of Blossoms is a stark contrast to the freezing blues and blacks of the world outside and it strikes us that up until now (and, it transpires, right up until the level's close) there hasn't been a single loading break. The demo's square footage is comparable to the entirety of the sum of one of Dishonored level's components, and in Thief these play spaces are bustling with NPCs. In the brothel's lounge there are comfortably upwards of a dozen people strolling around or lying on couches.

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This busyness isn't at the expense of world fidelity, either. The detail on show is easily too much for the current crop of consoles to handle, and inside the house Garrett's hands come into play once more. He lifts curtains to step through archways and whenever he walks close to a wall he'll automatically turn his palm outwards and brush his fingers along the surface. They're small details, but ones that help eliminate the disconnect between body and world that so many other first-person games fall foul of.

Lock-picking is, of course, back, but now it's a full-screen tumbler-tinkering affair. Thief's clearly a game intended to be played with surround sound systems or headphones because aural clues are your only hints to approaching NPCs during these sections - you'll need keen ears to know when it's worth quitting with the lockpick or spending valuable Focus energy to unlock doors.

Our target is Eastwick's medallion and when we spy on the architect from the safety of a secret passage within the brothel's walls we see him knock out his female companion with a chloroformed rag before searching the walls for secrets. Focus soon uncovers why: there's a glyph painted on the wall, and when we slip into the room and lift the medallion off the table we see four rings of runes imprinted into the gold.

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Searching the other rooms reveals three additional runes and a quick ring-sliding puzzle later the medallion morphs into a glowing gyroscope. Mysticism, it appears, hasn't been abandoned in the reimagined Thief. But before we can investigate our new prize further, Eastwick realises his trinket is missing and the house is placed on lockdown. Time to escape.

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