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‘Thief’ and ‘Murdered’ steal Square Enix’s spotlight from ‘Final Fantasy’ at E3

by on June 21, 2013
 

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Gamers, the test results post-E3 have come back. Things are still looking shaky for the patient, but the good news is there’s still a pulse.

Square Enix isn’t dead yet.

It’s not a full recovery, honestly. In fact, it could be called a miracle that they saved themselves. Most of the stuff revealed was a rehash, either in the literal or figurative sense. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX, Final Fantasy X | X-2, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut are simply reissues on other consoles or with retouched graphics, and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn may please the hardcore Final Fantasy fans, but won’t win any new ones.

Square Enix helped their cause by playing their two future cards, Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III, but their future was saved by the cards they’re holding in their pocket, in the form of two unique IPs, Thief and Murdered: Soul Suspect.

Thief

Thief is the fourth installment in the titular series featuring master thief Garrett, and as has been the hallmark of the series, truly rewards stealth over force. Many games claim that they do this, but Thief has the follow through, with physical violence being largely ineffective. In fact, the only weaponry Garrett has is his bow and arrow, which primarily is used for non-combat purposes such as zip lines or distraction, and a blackjack, which can be used when attacking from an unseen position. Stealthily sneaking around tends to reap better rewards.

Garrett returns to his hometown in the upcoming installment, a city called, appropriately enough, “The City.” “The City” is run by (wait for it) The Baron. The Baron is a wealthy tyrant over The City, a Victorian steampunk land plagued by a plague known as The Plague (did you see that coming?) that seems to only affect the middle- and lower-class, while the Baron’s rich social circles remain healthy and prosperous. It’s up to Garrett to discover the truth and how to end it. Too bad Garrett is only interested in gold and jewels.

The demo sent us into Northcrest Manor, home of The Baron, who has gone off to The City to quash a citizen’s uprising. This leaves Garrett in a healthy position to relieve The Baron of one of his most precious jewels, the Heart of the Lion. Garrett’s Focus ability can help him analyze tricks and traps to the best of his ability, and he will need it as the game emphasizes that he is quite human and quite mortal. Risk versus reward factors into gameplay styles greatly. Great risk produces great reward, but failure will only produce a swarm of guards which Garrett will have to fight off. Unlike other games, in Thief that will be easier said than done.

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One person who couldn’t fight off his attacker was Ronan O’Connor, who starts off Square Enix’s new IP Murdered: Soul Suspect deader than a doornail. It’s up to you to figure out your murder developed by Airtight Games. The game feels like an L.A. Noire crossed with the Nicole Kidman flick The Others – you still retain your detective capabilities, and rely on wit and intuition to follow leads produced by evidence. The problem is, you can’t pick up this evidence anymore. You can’t move barriers, rearrange things, or talk to people.

Well, you can, just not directly. As Ronan learns the ropes of the netherworld, he will be able to possess mortals and see through their eyes as well as control other actions, such as walking and talking. This was showcased in the demo via a witness who saw Ronan’s murder, reduced by shock to a stuttering mess. Possession allows Ronan to get into the witness’ thoughts and figure out what she’s attempting to say but cannot articulate, garnering important information to the case.

But with the pros of the afterlife come the cons too. Sure, Ronan can pass through walls and barriers in ghostly fashion, but he can’t cross the thresh holds of buildings – he needs a physical body to enter in to domiciles (in the demo) before he can get in. He’ll also have to deal with other ghosts, wandering the mortal plane with unfinished business; Ronan can occasionally help these spirits dearly depart by finding their bodies, or at least pointing them in the right direction.

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And then there’s the demons. The only thing seen in the non-playable demo that could be clearly labeled an “enemy,” demons want Ronan’s soul for lunch. He’s better off avoiding them altogether, but sometimes that is not possible. Players will have to use stealth techniques to sneak up behind and possess the demon from behind; combat is very inadvisable, as Ronan’s fighting abilities on the mortal plane haven’t carried over to the ethereal.

Personally, this was one of my top three titles I saw on the E3 floor. The game is slated for current-gen consoles but looks like it could easily run on next-gen. The gameplay is unique and requires brains over brawn or button-mashing. A detective game that really requires detection always resonates well with me, and with a captivating storyline that delves into the supernatural, it will likely resonate with others as well.

Square Enix’s life preservers, Thief and Murdered: Soul Suspect both anticipate an early 2014 release. Both games will be released on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360; Thief will also be released on PS4 and Xbox One.

I’m curious to see how Ronan O’Connor handles life after death. Perhaps Winona Ryder has some tips…

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