Preview: Thief on Project Morpheus

Of all the demonstration software presented with Sony Computer Entertainment’s (SCE) Project Morpheus virtual reality (VR) headset last week it was arguably Square Enix’s Thief that stood out from the pack. Not in terms of quality, but in simply being an unusual experience. Thief was neither a traditional videogame experience brought to VR (ala EVE Valkryie) nor a simple showcase of the Project Morpheus tech (as is the case with London Studios’ The Deep) instead, Thief played closer to an interactive movie.

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The player begins the short demo standing outside a building that will be familiar to anyone who has played the original retail release of the videogame. Already set ablaze, the routes in-and-around the building are limited, but a window on the right side provides entry for the bravest of adventurers. The dark corners of the wooden building and the licking of the flames against the walls and ceiling create such a picture that there is little need for story or context of any kind, which is lucky as none is provided.

As this new demonstration is built upon the established ruleset of the recently released Thief reboot representatives of SCE were quick to suggest that the player avoids using the dash manoeuvre. Stating that it hadn’t been updated for use with VR – and it was the most disorientating aspect of all the demonstrations presented on Project Morpheus – thankfully other elements of the player’s movement had clearly been reworked to avoid any unnecessary disconnect, and thus simulator sickness was kept to a minimum.

Navigating the building was particularly easy as, for the most part, the player was lead along a linear route. The ability to turn and pivot was a nice addition to the demonstration but there was a persistent feeling that much more could have been made of the positional tracking built into Project Morpheus. For example, the player was able to bend at the knee and their on-screen representation would do the same, however looking through a keyhole still required a button press rather than simply crouching and leaning towards the small shaft of light.

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Moving through a large room to the only open door, along a corridor, up some stairs; the Thief demo build was a straightforward showcase of the kind of immersion the player can expect from the PlayStation 4’s VR technology rather than a revolution in videogame design. But of course, this is exactly what SCE had intended to deliver at the Game Developers Conference (GDC). This was a time to impress the industry, not to push product into the public consciousness.

Falling debris and a screaming man set on fire cause moments for pause, but there is little that would suggest that this technical demo has much to do with the recently released Thief aside from reuse of assets. Upon reaching the closing stage of the demo SCE informed VRFocus of a special ending that was available. The player could simply walk past an invisible tripwire that brought the demo to a close or instead could take the opportunity for the single moment of interaction available within the software that goes beyond walking: a hidden gem would trigger a first-person cutscene in which the player came to a sudden end by falling from a great height. The player has no control over this sequence, hence the fact it was not deemed the most suitable ending for the VR demonstration.

Exactly how – or even, if – Thief will be adapted for use with Project Morpheus is not yet known, however the demonstration at GDC goes to prove that not every first-person videogame is suitable for adaptation to the world of VR. Many experiences will take a great deal of thought and interpretational additional design to benefit from the advantages VR can offer, and Thief is most certainly a videogame that could break new ground if handled appropriately. VRFocus will keep you updated with all the latest details on a potential VR adaptation of Thief or any other title from Square Enix.

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