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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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We're told in the final game we'd be able to subdue Eastwick before the alarm's sounded and escape without suspicion, but during our demo we're doomed to contend with alerted guards. As soon as Garrett's presence is rumbled an optional quest objective flashes up, mlike Dishonored, to highlight that the building's opium pumps can be sabotage to poison the brothel's air supply.

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The trick to sabotaging the pumps isn't rammed down our throats. Instead, our demo pilot must search the walls for warning posters about the dangers of overloading the opium system. Performing the exact moves we're warned not to follow - breaking a pulley to drop a cauldron of opium into the tanks followed by careless few spins of valves and yanks of levers - we're able to flood the brothel with deadly smoke and hold our breath for a daring, if not exactly quiet, escape.

Unfortunately, other puzzle solutions are less obscure. At points, Garrett's narration seems overly helpful, and though it means we won't be walking around lost we hope Thief will give us plenty of time to work out solutions on our own before being nudged towards the solution's direction.

CROOKER T JUSTICE

The demo concludes with an arrow-shot to a weak slab of masonry (helpfully highlighted in Focus) to drop a hulking statue onto two men guarding an exit, followed by a quick melee scuffle before Garrett flees. Remember, Garrett's a thief, not a fighter. While he can use his blackjack to club a guard or two into unconsciousness he'll struggle when faced with more opponents. By spending some Focus, however, he'll just about handle three or four guards at one time.

Thief's standard melee fighting is still under wraps for now, but the demo's final scuffle is a Focus-fuelled affair that's a bastard combination of QTE and rhythm-action game. Our demo pilot manually targets specific limbs with a reticule for a custom disarm-and-takedown animation, before moving the cursor into specified areas on the enemies' bodies to counter incoming blows.

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The demo is mostly about staying undetected - but the conclusion ends up being pure Hollywood

It's a frantic, action-packed conclusion to a demo that's predominantly about skulking in the shadows and staying undetected. And though the demo's end ticks all the Hollywood boxes our most treasured memories of Thief are the ones in which we stayed unseen from beginning to end - something we hope will still apply to the majority of this one's missions.

Eidos Montreal insists it will in the finished game. The high-res textures, the dizzying NPC counts, the loading-free environments and those touch-happy hands are all undoubtedly impressive, but the most important part of our demo was the developer's repeated focus on respecting the past games and keeping the 'hardcore gamer' in mind.

For all the navigation markers, control prompts and on-screen objectives of Thief's newcomer-friendly difficulty levels, there is, we're assured, constant internal discussion about how to best serve the series veterans. Aid-free difficulty setups are being discussed and tested, and while the team concedes it'll be tough to please every single fan they're aiming to channel the same philosophies that saw Deus Ex: Human Revolution defy the sceptics and update a PC masterpiece for a new generation.

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Garrett might well be most comfortable in the shadows, but in the run-up to next-gen Thief will have to deal with the spotlight. And on this first unveiling, at least, the stealth adventure isn't cracking under pressure.

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