Sly Cooper. It’s a name with strong ties to the PlayStation brand, and the PlayStation 2 console in particular. The thieving, yet charmingly likeable raccoon that we were introduced to back in 2002 stole both kids and adults’ hearts alike. Making his debut in the highly successful Sly Cooper and the Thievius Racoonus, Sly Cooper enjoyed a career which spanned 3 games over the couse of 4 years. Although sales were good, the series’ original developer, Sucker Punch Productions decided to move onto a brand new IP when the PlayStation 3 was announced. Their Infamous series has since gone on to become another hit, but poor Sly found himself stuck in limbo. Now, 7 years after his last outing, he’s finally back in a new adventure for the PlayStation 3, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. With a new developer at the helm, Sanzaru Games, the series has a new lease on life. So, can Sanzaru recapture the charm of the original PlayStation 2 trilogy? Let’s find out.
The story begins a little after the events of Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, with Sly Cooper deciding to retire from being a thief, and feigning amnesia in order to live lawfully for a change. He’s romantically linked to Carmelita Fox now, and has a good life, but the temptation to pull off a new heist is stronger than he’d expected. Meanwhile, Bentley (the brains of Sly’s gang) has been working on a secret project, along with his new girlfriend Penelope. Suddenly, Penelope disappears, and Bentley also realises that something is going wrong with the Thievius Racoonus. The pages are quickly going blank before his eyes, meaning that the history and legacy of Sly’s thieving family is being completely erased. He quickly alerts Sly, and after recruiting Murray (the muscle of the gang), they make use of Bentley’s newly invented time machine to travel back through history in order to figure out what’s causing all this trouble.
Just like the previous games, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is split up into multiple episodes. Rather than different locations, though, each episode features a different time period. Feudal Japan is the first stop, and Sly will need to help his ancestor, as well as figure out who’s going around and changing history. Each time period offers a large, expansive environment for Sly to explore, filled to the brim with enemies and collectibles. As a thief, Sly Cooper is all about stealth, and his combat abilities are limited. Most of the game’s enemies are guards, and Sly will need to avoid alerting them as much as possible in order to survive. Creeping up behind them, he can pickpocket money and items from them, as well as perform stealth takedowns which allow him to knock them out in one strike. These mechanics work well, and there’s a certain feeling of tension as you sneak up behind an enemy. If you get too close, they’ll notice Sly and attack him furiously, but if you don’t get close enough then your pickpocketing will be unsuccessful. Sly can attack enemies head on, but his attacks do little damage, and it’s likely that he will die in the process.
The game’s environments are built with Sly’s reliance on stealth in mind. There’s various ropes suspended from climbable poles and other tall structures, and Sly can use a parachute at will to glide quietly through thr air. As such, Sly spends a fair bit of his time off the ground in order to stay out of the guards’ line of sight. However, you won’t be spending all your time playing as Sly. Each of the game’s episodes is divided up into smaller jobs, which will require the abilities of different members of Sly’s gang. Sly himself is quick and agile, able to sneak past guards, steal valuable items, and inflitrate secured areas. Bentley is slower, but has access to powerful bombs, and can hack into various electronic devices. Murray is big and slow, but physically powerful, able to defeat enemies, move large objects, and perform other actions that require a huge amount of strength. You’ll also get to play as Carmelita Fox on a couple of occasions, and her Shock Pistol comes in handy for getting rid of enemies and obstacles from a distance. In addition, Sly’s handful of ancestors are also playable, and each one has their own unique ability that will be required in order to complete each episode.
The game is well paced, and although you’ll find yourself playing as Sly the most, you’ll never be playing as any one character for an inordinate smount of time. You’ll do a job as Sly, a job as Bentley, a job as Murray, and then go back to Sly or one of his ancestors. Some jobs will even require the abilities of two (occasionally even more) different characters, whom you’ll switch between as you go. This system works well as a means of keeping the game feeling fresh, and each character plays differently enough to feel distinct from the others. Bentley’s segments often involve hacking mini-games, which include a side scrolling shooter, a top-down shoot-’em-up, and a motion based puzzle game. Murray’s involve combat, as well as some light puzzle solving and platforming. Exploring the game’s large environments is enjoyable, and the controls are just tight enough to avoid any frustration. Those who have played the earlier Sly games will feel right at home, as the controls are the same as ever. Bentley’s puzzle games are the only time that the game’s controls become a nuisance, since they rely on the PS3 controller’s Sixaxis motion sensing capabilties, which aren’t especially accurate or user friendly. Fortunately, these segments are brief. Another negative note is that the game’s large environments come wth a downside. Although the game never loads while you’re exploring, every time the game has to load a new area, it’s a long wait. 20 seconds is the average loading time, and that’s simply too long. I also came across a bug while waiting, as the game crashed during one particular loading time.
The game features an upgrade system, with new moves and abilities available for purchase at an in-game shop. The currency is coins, which can be stolen from enemies, as well as found hidden in various objects throughout the game’s environments. You’ll need to spend large amounts of coins in order to purchase the abilities, and they range from faster movement for Sly, to more powerful punches for Murray. Coins are hardly the only collectibles, though. There’s clue bottles, treasures, and masks to find, and the game is packed with them. Although you can finish the game in around 12 hours, finding all of the collectibles is a task that can take you twice that amount of time. Clue bottles allow you to open safes which contain powerful abilities, while treasures allow you to unlock mini-games, and masks grant you access to minor tweaks to the game’s visuals. It’s great to see collectibles which actually award you with actual in-game rewards, instead of just trophies.
Graphically, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time performs well. Sanzaru Games have maintained the cartoony look of the previous games, and it looks better than ever here. Textures are sharp for the most part, and the character animation is fluid. Unfortunately, the framerate does tend to dip at times, mostly when there’s a lot going on at once. The environments are full of enemies, but get too man of them on-screen, and there’s going to be trouble. The frame drop isn’t huge, but it is noticeable, unfortunately. As for the audio, Sly fans will be pleased to know that the original voice actors have all returned to voice their respective characters. As a result, the game has a very authentic feel, and the soundtrack doesn’t disappoint either. The background music is inoffensive, and occassionally catchy, providing a pleasant experience. The game’s writing is pretty average overall, but the voice actors deliver their lines convincingly. As an all-ages game, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time was never going to have the most complex script, but what’s here gets the job done. Unfortunately, the ending does come off as feeling a little rushed, since it consists of little more than a series of very brief platforming segments (one for each of Sly’s ancestors), and then a simple boss fight. Following that, the epilogue is nothing more than an unispired quick time event. The actual story does end on an interesting note, though, so that’s something. At this point, I came across my second bug, which triggered right after the final cutscene finished playing. The screen went black, and stayed that way. The game hadn’t crashed, and I eventually heard sounds that indicated that I’d been returned to the title screen, although the screen was still black. Pressing a few buttons fixed the issue, but after viewing the in-game list of cinematics, I realised that there was one that I hadn’t seen. It seems that the game had bugged out when the credits video had started to play. A minor bug, but not a good finish for my time with the game.
Overall, despite a couple of niggles, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a game that I can easily recommend to fans of the series. Sanzaru Games have done a great job of recapturing the feel of the PlayStation 2 games, and have created a solid platformer which will be enjoyable for both young and old alike. The story’s concept is interesting, the gameplay is varied, and the graphics are visually appealing. Those who haven’t played a Sly game before may want to go and at least play the first game before starting Thieves in Time, so as to get acquainted with the characters and series’ gameplay. The Sly Trilogy, released for PlayStation 3 last year, is a perfect way to do this. It’s a series that’s well worth looking in to, and if Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is anything to go by, this won’t be the last we see of Sly Cooper.
Solid platforming gameplay | Good variety of missions | Large, detailed environments to explore
Some minor bugs | Long loading times | Minor framerate issues | Ending feels rushed