Sly 2: Band of Thieves Retro Review
Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus did well enough to warrant a sequel and developer Sucker Punch Productions took this opportunity to completely change what was established in the first game. Where Sly Cooper 1 was a typical character platformer, Sly 2: Band of Thieves is an open world, stealth platformer hybrid. It’s a radical change for a series that while successful, didn’t reach the success of its PlayStation predecessors Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon or its contemporaries Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank. However, it proved to be the right move for the series as it turn a mediocre series into a classic one.
Sly 2: Band of Thieves
Developed by Sucker Punch Productions
Published by Sony Computer Entertainment
Platforms: PS2, PS3 [as part of the Sly Collection], PSN [reviewed]
Released on 09-14-2004 (PS2), 11-09-2010 (PS3), 11-29-2011 (PSN)
The story follows up on the previous game’s exploits. After the Cooper Gang’s adventure against the Fiendish Five, the remains of group’s leader, Clockwerk, have been stored away in a museum. However, after they are stolen by a group known as the Claww gang, the team travels across the world to get back the Clockwerk parts before they are put together and Clockwerk is revived. Along the way, they’ll have to avoid Inspector Carmelita Fox and her new partner, Constable Neyla, who are hot on their trail under the impression that they stole the Clockwerk parts.
While the story in the first game was more of a means to the end, the story in this game constantly evolves and doesn’t follow a pattern many of these type of games do. As a result, the story will keep you interested and engaged. You’ll wonder how this section of the game will end and whether things will work out or not. Characters are more fleshed out this time around with Bentley being more than the nervous intellectual and Murray given more of a role in the game as well as a different demeanor entirely. The characters were colorful before but it is this game where I came to love and care for them, not to mention laugh at and with them. Seriously, “The Murray” should be an internet meme.
The cel shaded look of the first game makes a return here and thanks to some improvements made to the visuals, the game looks better than ever. The cartoony look is as charming as ever and it makes for some visually appealing graphics. The film noir sound effects return and are even more important in this game thanks to the stealth elements. While sneaking behind enemies, the tiptoe sound effects let you know that you haven’t been seen or heard. Music is solid as well and reflect the more inventive level design. Levels no longer consist of one theme like swamp or rock mountains but instead are gothic prisons, jungle ruins, snowy lumberyards and more.
Sly 2, as stated before, is very different from the first game. Instead of traditional levels to complete, you have missions. Your missions typically consists of you first gathering reconnaissance photos, and doing a series of missions that result in you getting a Clockwerk part, and sometimes a boss fight. Furthermore, as an open world game, all your objectives are organically done in one of the eight open worlds itself, save for some smaller sections you enter. However, because of the nature of the plot, what these missions consist of are usually widely different, with few feeling familiar. Missions comprise of stealing certain items, deactivating security measures, the occasional rhythm and turret minigames and more. All of these changes make Sly 2 feels like a very different game but the result is an enjoyable and diverse experience. The whole structure of the game is much more organic and natural, and the objectives are fun and creative enough to keep the feeling of tedium away, something the first game failed to do.
As I touched on before, you will also now have to sneak up on enemies in order to take them out, instead of just coming at them like in the first game. Controls are responsive and simple so this can be done with ease, save for the camera which can be a bit dodgy at times. If you are caught, you can fight your way out, thanks to the life bar Sly has instead of the horseshoes health system from the first game. However, Sly is not strong against most of the foes and even if he manages to take out a guard, the commotion will likely alert other guards who’ll come running. This makes you feel more like a master thief as instead of going through a level in a linear fashion taking out enemies along the way, you will now be stealthy taking out guards, hiding in the shadows and coming up with multiple ways to reach your points of interest. Of course, it’s different for the other characters.
Probably the biggest change mechanically in the game is the inclusion of more playable characters. Sly Cooper is no longer the only member of the Cooper Gang out in the field. You will now be able to play as Bentley and Murray, who both have different methods of play. Bentley isn’t as agile as Sly but he has a wide array of sleeping darts, bombs with various properties and other abilities to help him along. Murray is not as stealthy as Sly but is very strong. Where a group of enemies would be troublesome, Murray handles with ease.. Their different skills also change up the missions that you will do and the final mission in an area, which usually utilizes all of their skills, are really enjoyable and often utilize various methods of play.
Aside from the missions, you can also explore the world pickpocketing guards for coins and treasure or smashing the 30 bottles in the area. The coins and treasure you steal from guards can be spent and sold at the safehouse in each are via ThiefNet, an online store where you can buy new moves like a smokescreen to escape from pursuing guards or an alarm clock to distract guards nearby. Some moves can only be obtained by breaking all the bottles, which unlocks a safe with the move inside in the area. These moves are useful, especially towards the end of the game and some like the Paraglider are essential. An issue with the game however is the inability to pickpocket with Bentley and Murray. As a result, towards the end of the game, you’ll start hurting for coins which results in a grind to collect enough for that move that you want.
Sly 2: Band of Thieves is how you do a sequel. In the grand tradition of video games like Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, it improves on the original in every way and expands what the game could be. Add in amazing production value, a style of gameplay that has yet to be replicated, and the wonderful ending which doesn’t end like you think a game like this would, and you got a game that’s more than its kiddy visuals would lead you to believe it is. There are some issues with the camera and grinding for coins in later areas but these are minor complaints. An improvement in every way over the first game, Sly 2: Band of Thieves is a title that every PlayStation fan should have in their collection.
4.5 out of 5