Thief (2014) - A Guide to Sneaking & Stealth

When should you run, walk, stealth, and sneak? A guide to navigating the surfaces, guard attention, and animal awareness in Thief.

If you are looking for help with any other issues, please feel free to check out the Thief Guide Master List for more!

Stealth in a Thief game should come as a no-brainer, even for those of you who have never touched a Thief title in your life. With stealth elements in games like The Elder Scrolls and Dishonored, how hard is it to pick up the basics?

The answer is: it isn't! But there is more to the Thief stealth mechanics than you may have originally suspected. And while there is a tutorial section of the game, Thief is definitely geared more towards showing, not telling, and emphasizes learning on your own as you go.

Did you know there is a difference between crouch-walking and sneaking?

Many new players did not even realize there were two key commands - one for crouching, and one for sneaking. What passes as sneaking (the crouch walk) in other games is only one of the four movement speed options that Garrett is capable of:

  • Running [Shift]: This will alert any and all guards in the area even if you are in a public area and they are not in direct line of sight.
  • Walking [nothing]: You will move at a leisurely pace, and you will not see Garrett's hands held up on the screen. This will alert guards if you are in direct line of sight, but if you are a reasonable distance away, they will not detect you.
  • Crouch [C]: This is a toggle, and allows you to crouch behind waist-length objects. It also allows you to stealth-walking slowly and quietly in most areas without detection.
  • Sneak [Ctrl]: This is the slowest speed of all, and is virtually silent.

When should I run?

  • when your current area is completely deserted
  • when you are on carpet
  • when you have screwed up and been detected

It would be redundant to say that in a stealth game, you should be stealthy. This is true in Thief more than in any other title with stealth mechanics - when you are caught in Assassin's Creed or Skyrim, you can stand up, whip out your weapon, and kill a mob of guards with relative ease.

This cannot be done in Thief - combat is much more difficult, and it is also extremely expensive. Garrett is not built like a magical armored dragon tank and cannot take damage like one. Arrows are your only weapon in combat situations, and they are quite pricey - it is money better spent towards saving for costly equipment and upgrades. Broadhead arrows are the only useful arrow type for killing guards early on, and you need to pull the string back on your bow completely before firing a useful shot. 

It is best in these situations to run. There will always be somewhere to hide. The AI in Thief is not perfect - in fact, there are many situations where the guards are downright dumb, and unable to see you despite being crouched six inches away in direct line of sight.

Run, duck, hide, and climb to safety and discreet invisibility. They will call off the alert soon enough.

When should I walk?

  • when you are not in direct line of sight
  • when you are on a higher elevation than the Watch (and they are not alerted)
  • when your current area is completely deserted or is only populated by civilians
  • when you are on carpet

You do not always have to be in full stealth-mode. In the larger open-world areas, traversing the rooftops can be accomplished without moving at a snail's pace. Guards don't really look up unless you do something to attract their attention. In the back alleys, there will be people hanging about that are of no threat to you and will not raise the alarm when they see you.

In story areas where you have cleared of circulating guards this is also the preferred movement pace, since you may miss the telltale sparkle of loot and the more subtle signs of switches and wall safes if you are simply running through the levels.

When should I crouch/crouch walk?

  • when you need to hide behind a waist-high object
  • when you are near guards while not in their line of sight
  • when sneaking on hard, uncluttered surfaces
  • near lit areas

When you are in a story mission, it is best to be crouched or crouch walking. Pay attention to the surfaces you are walking on. You will go unnoticed when walking on hardwood floors, tile, cobblestone, etc. If you proceed slow enough, you will be able to walk through water and get past a room full of birds without every alerting them fully - but this will require you to start-stop-start-stop and that is an annoying way to proceed. While crouch walking, you will still make noises while walking over loose paper, broken glass, etc.

When should I sneak?

  • when walking on hard, cluttered surfaces (e.g. broken glass)
  • near lit areas
  • through water or near watchdogs and birds

This is the slowest, most careful way to proceed and only needs to be done on certain surfaces while there are guards patrolling. Stepping on broken glass will not alert guards fully when crouch walking, but to completely ghost through the particularly tricky surface, it is best to sneak without the annoying start-stop to keep the guard's attention bar from filling completely.

What else will alert the guards?

  • open doors
  • throwing objects/shooting arrows near them
  • moving too close to them in the shadows (while in line of sight)
  • dead/unconscious bodies

The guard AI is not always perfect, but they will react to certain things happening around them or if you leave things looking a little amiss. I have not been able to figure out whether or not leaving cupboard doors open will trigger any sort of guard alert because the two have never quite been in the same area at the same time, but if you leave a door open (particularly one that you had to pick the lock to get through) and they come across it, they will call out and investigate.

The same goes for the bodies you leave around as either an Opportunist or Predator. Keep them as much as possible in the dark and in shady corners because if the guards stumble upon one, they will raise the alert as well.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment below! 

For walkthroughs, FAQs, bug fixes, and other tips for Thief, please check out the Master List.

Featured Columnist

Avid PC gamer and long-time console lover. I enjoy sneaking, stealing everything not nailed down, and shooting zombies in the face. I'm also a cat.

Published Mar. 4th 2014
  • Zep_fan_81
    Hey

    I tried the crouch (L3) and this appears to be the sneak control also as birds and such are not disturbed and glass sounds are reduced.

    Still really enjoy the Thief game, shame it got such a bad reception but still, reviews are still just one opinion.

    Great articles, keep up the brilliant work. Nice writing style!
  • Zep_fan_81
    Do you know the sneak button on ps4? L3 is crouch but sneak im not sure? R3 is observe and you can move super slow with a fuzzy edge round the screen. Is this it maybe? Love Thief!!!
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    You know? I went and looked up the controls for both PlayStation and Xbox and neither one of them seemed to have a different button for sneaking. How strange! And yet I was under the impression that it had been ported TO PC so adding extra functionality on a port seems odd.

    If you could do a small experiment for me? Crouch-walk past birds or over some broken glass without any micro-pauses. Does it make noise? If not, perhaps they simply bundled the two options in together. Otherwise... I'll keep looking.

    Or perhaps you're right and it has been bundled in with Observe. For me, Observe is the "cheat mode" where important things (switches, hooks, safe locks) glow blue to catch your attention.

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