Those who are relatively new to the PlayStation brand may not have a history with Sly Cooper. Making his debut back in 2002 on the PS2, the smart-talking raccoon of a thief starred in a trilogy of successful platformers back in the genre’s heyday. When the next generation came around, series developer Sucker Punch decided to switch things up and create the inFAMOUS series instead of bringing Sly to the PS3.
Now, seven years after the series’ last entry, Sly is finally in an all-new adventure courtesy of Sanzaru Games, who previously tackled the HD remastering of the older games in The Sly Collection, before taking on the task of making a new title from scratch. The result is Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, and the final product is a mostly successful tribute to everything that made the old games work.
To establish some of the back story the older games set up, Sly is a master thief who pulled off numerous heists and went on many journeys with his two lifelong friends: Bentley, a wheelchair-bound and technically-oriented turtle, and Murray, a hefty hippo who pulls off the parts of the heists that require brute strength, while often referring to himself in the third person. All the while, they were constantly pursued by Interpol detective Carmelita Fox, who Sly developed a soft spot for despite her constant attempts to get him behind bars.
At the end of the previous game, Sly walked away from his last heist with a case of amnesia, leading to Carmelita taking the opportunity to train him as her partner. However, it’s revealed that he actually faked his memory loss to get closer to her, and ends up spending some time living a new life, all the while secretly harboring a desire to return to his old thieving ways. An opportunity to do so comes up when Bentley alerts Sly of an alarming occurrence: The Thievius Raccoonus, a book containing thieving tips passed down through the generations by Sly’s ancestors, is having its words literally disappear from the pages, a sign that someone is tampering with the past. By a stroke of luck, one of Bentley’s recent inventions is a time machine. The two locate Murray and make haste to travel to various eras in the past, find out who’s interfering with the Cooper legacy, and set things right.
As with the second and third games in the series, you won’t spend the entire game playing solely as Sly. Each era’s spacious overworld houses a Cooper hideout, where players can go to switch between Sly, Bentley, Murray and even Carmelita, not to mention Cooper ancestors that are unique to each location. Each character has some specific abilities, such as Sly being able to make use of unlockable costumes with different functions, Bentley planting bombs to cause distractions and take out enemies, and Murray relying on his own strength through various melee attacks.
The Cooper ancestors generally play similar to Sly, but also have their own unique abilities, such as Japanese relative Rioichi, whose ninja training allows him to make larger jumps from perch to perch, or Wild West outlaw Tennessee, who makes use of a pistol and can pull off slow-mo moves similar to Red Dead Redemption’s iconic Dead-Eye shooting mechanic.
Players can choose which characters they want to explore each overworld with as they are unlocked, but to advance the plot, they’ll have to choose a specific one and go to a location marked with their own unique icon. In these, the game shows a terrific level of variety and creativity. Few missions play exactly the same, and you’ll find yourself switching between different characters for specific parts and being continually introduced to new mechanics via context-sensitive minigames. Despite constantly throwing new things at you, the game rarely feels frustrating or cheap. However, even when those moments occur, lives are unlimited and checkpoints are very frequent.
Each unique level also has secrets to discover outside of its missions. Enemy guards patrol each one, but many of the characters have the ability to sneak up and pickpocket their wallets to earn valuable coins that can be spent on ability upgrades at the hideout. Rare treasures are hidden in various spots, and grabbing them results in a timed challenge where the goal is to get the treasure back to the hideout within a time limit and without taking damage, with the result being more money and the ability to view the treasure in a gallery. Finally, two different types of collectables, clue bottles and the much more rare Sly mask icons, result in unlockable extras when a certain amount are collected.
Overall, the game’s presentation is slick and appealing. Its character animation is much smoother and more detailed in comparison to the rigid movements in the PS2 games, and the storytelling alternates between in-game cinematics and fully-animated, hand-drawn cutscenes (another step up, as the ones in earlier titles were little more than motion comics). Going further, the voice acting is also well-delivered, and the environments are colorful and detailed to the point that I sometimes found myself stopping whatever I was doing and panning the camera around to look at each landscape.
Despite all these positives, there are still some problems to be found in both the gameplay and the presentation. The gameplay is relatively unchanged from the PS2 games outside of bigger environments, longer missions, and the occasional use of the PS3 controller’s SixAxis function. While this will please longtime fans of the series who worried about radical changes, I feel that some aspects could have been tweaked to take better advantage of modern game mechanics.
The most prominent of these involves the open-world element. While it’s fun to pickpocket and search for hidden goodies, there’s a total lack of environmental characters outside of enemies, and no side missions to be found. Adding these would have resulted in a more substantial experience.
On top of that, the enemy AI is greatly simplified in comparison to the PS2 titles. Each drone’s field of vision feels greatly reduced, and they don’t react when you take out their nearby comrades with a surprise attack. This may have been done to avoid some frustration, but it makes that particular aspect feel a bit off in comparison to the previous titles.
Finally, the game suffers from some pretty severe loading times at points. They’re thankfully infrequent, and appear only when switching between environments, but they still take close to half a minute each time, and it’s puzzling when it takes this long to load tiny environments like the hideouts.
PS Vita owners will want to take note that the game is also available on Sony’s handheld, but the best way to obtain it may be to buy the PS3 version. Continuing with the Cross-Buy program established with PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, purchasing a new or digital PS3 copy of Thieves in Time will net you a downloadable copy of the Vita version at no extra cost. Not only that, but game saves and trophies are transferable between the two systems via Cloud storage.
Having tried the Vita version, it’s still fun and functional despite an obvious downgrade in graphical quality and resolution. The only real downside is the controls. As the Vita only has one set of L & R buttons as opposed to the PS3’s two pairs, some commands, such as pulling up the first-person view or the costume menu, are mapped to icons on the touch screen, which feels a bit inconvenient. The PS3 version gets a higher recommendation as a result.
Despite not taking full advantage of the advances games have made in recent years, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a great example of what made the old games work.
This review is based on a PS3 of the game.
Fun and varied gameplay, along with a charming cast and quality presentation, make Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time a high recommendation for those who wish to play a good platformer or action-adventure title.