Back in the days of the PlayStation 2’s dominance over the original Xbox and Nintendo GameCube, I was not a fan of their mascot platformers. I had been in the past, but I wasn’t pleased with the games Jak and Daxter and Ty the Tasmanian Tiger were offering. However there was one exception. Sly Cooper and his gang were colorful and stylish characters with interesting gameplay mechanics in the form of open world stealth platforming and the second game in the series remains one of my favorite PS2 games.
So when Sly developer Sucker Punch decided to move on to the inFamous series, I was disappointed I wasn’t going to see any more Sly games. Enter Sanzaru Games, who first developed the HD collection for the PlayStation 3 and now has made a brand new entry in the series, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, eight years after the last one. Does this new title match the greatness of the original series or does it pale in comparison?
Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves pretty decisively ended the Cooper gang’s adventures with a pleasing conclusion. However, it appears that pages from the Thievious Raccoonus, a book containing Sly’s family legacy of thieving tactics, are disappearing and Sly, Bentley, and Murray now must travel through time and figure out what’s causing it. The premise may seem a bit farfetched but ultimately makes for a decent enough explanation for the adventure. The plot follows a fairly basic storyline and, aside from a twist towards the end of the game, is pretty rudimentary.
Colorful characters have always been a strength of the Sly series and while the Cooper gang themselves remain enjoyable, the new characters both friendly and unfriendly are underdeveloped and lack convincing voice acting and enjoyable personalities. Previous games had you constantly in contact with the villains of a particular area, usually in order to gather Intel. Here, they usually just serve as the boss for the area and nothing more, with a few exceptions. It’s not that the characters are bad or unlikable; they’re just not memorable. Also as a fan of the series, I’ll tell you that love interest and rival Carmelita Fox is sorely underutilized despite being part of the adventure more than ever before.
The plot and characters may not be what they once were but the graphics are undeniably Sly Cooper. The original games utilized cel shading and that style remains here. The graphics really pop off the screen thanks to the deep black borders and bright colors contrasting the outlines. Animations are quick and give an animated feel not unlike old Tex Avery cartoons. The worlds are well designed if not that original, though the layout of the third world is enjoyable.
The Sly games have always invoked the style of old spy and heist movies and the sound design is a big part of that. When Sly tiptoes on a ledge or sneaks behind a guard, you’ll hear the sound effects highlight the pitter-patter of his feet. The soundtrack features big band horns and reverberating guitars, clearly an homage to the music of early James Bond movies. The sound is an important part of the series and it remains here in Thieves in Time to the game’s benefit.
However, more than anything else that matters, the gameplay is king in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. Like before, Thieves in Time is an open world stealth platformer and you traverse five different hub world on your journey. You can play as either Sly, Bentley, Murray, Carmelita, or Sly’s ancestor from that time period and each will have jobs to do.
Each world has about eight jobs for you to complete as well as treasures to race back to the hideout, clue bottles to find in order to open that world’s safe, and masks to collect for extra bonuses. Jobs can comprise of sneaking around areas without being detected, platforming sections, and various mini-games such as a side scrolling shoot-em-up game for hacking or Parappa the Rapper-like rhythm sections.
Too bad there aren’t more interesting jobs as the developers felt the need to include a variety of mechanics without most of them being fleshed out. The jobs you go out on are usually fun and there’s a lot of diversity in them to keep from being repetitive but it’s as if the developers felt that the main mechanic of the game, sneaking around and platforming, weren’t interesting enough to hold the game and instead included other diverse but ultimately unrealized elements to the game in order to hold our attention. I mean, a mini-game where you have Carmelita belly dance is entertaining in a cringe-inducing way but it isn’t necessary.
Regardless, as such, each character has their own abilities but many are underutilized. Sly is the character you’ll use the most thanks to his vast skill set and Bentley and Murray are distinctive enough but Carmelita is mostly a novelty and each of Sly’s ancestors are there to serve one purpose and that alone. What’s more is many of them control like Sly meaning they are essentially the same character with an extra ability. Just as disappointing is Sly’s use of various costumes which are similarly one note and most could’ve easily been replaced by giving Sly directly the one ability the costume does.
However, new features aside, the backbone of any Sly game is the stealth and platforming focused on verticality. Here, the game is consistent with the previous entries. Platforming is solid, exploring hub worlds and levels is great and taking out guards secretly is still lots of fun. The money gained from pick pocketing, smashing up random objects, and retrieving treasures is also how you’ll unlock new abilities and many of these upgrades end up being very useful.
Some last issues to address: control for typical gameplay is responsive and I only had an occasional issue with doing sneak takedowns. However, the game also utilizes the use of the PS3’s SixAxis motion functionality. It’s not used too much, typically to turn a safe lock or guiding a ball in a puzzle, but ultimately, I could’ve done without its implementation. In addition, the boss battles are all lackluster that usually ignore the platforming and sneaking elements of the game. The final boss battle in particular is terrible.
Furthermore, the frame rate is solid throughout the game but at random points during the third world, it drops to a crawl. It’s pretty bad and it’s strange since it’s only at random and only on that world. Finally, the game suffers from various glitches such as constantly sliding off platforms, and a few game crashes. I don’t know if this has anything to do with me playing the downloadable version instead of the retail version but it’s worth mentioning.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time feels, looks, and sounds like a Sly Cooper game. It really does. However, the sketchy quality of the jobs, the poor use and development of its various characters, and the lackluster story means that it doesn’t play like a Sly Cooper game. On its own, Thieves in Time is a decent platformer and I can give it a fair recommendation if you like platformers considering the budget price it’s being sold at. However, by the last area of the game, I had already lost interest in the game. I was bored and that has never happened with me with a Sly Cooper game.