When series developer Sucker Punch announced inFAMOUS back in 2008, many were eager to see what else they were capable of after their Sly Cooper series of games was so well received. However, this also left many pondering the fate of the wholly unique games – mixing together an incredible cel-shaded art style with an interesting amalgamation of the stealth and platforming genres. After nearly a decade in hibernation, Sly and the gang are back – courtesy of developer Sanzaru Games, the ones responsible for the digitally retouched re-release of the original three sly games back in 2010. The palpable charm of the past entries has not been lost, and it is apparent that Sly Clooper: Thieves in Time was in loving hands, but has the series matured, or just aged?
The Story – Following the conclusion of Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, Sly is continuing to live with Inspector Carmelita under a facade of amnesia – faking his compliance of the law in order to pursue a romantic relationship with the very police officer that had been, ironically enough, been pursuing him for years. Sly is forced to end the act, however, when he is contacted by Bentley – the gang’s tech genius – who informs Sly that pages of his family’s coveted tome of thievery, The Thievius Racoonus, are mysteriously going blank. To figure out why this is happening and to prevent it from wiping out Sly’s lineage, the gang must go on a time-travelling journey.
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Title: Sly Cooper: Thieves in Times
Genre: Stealth Platformer
Developer: Sanzaru Games
Platforms: Playstation 3
ESRB: E 10+
Release Date: February 5, 2013[/toggle_box]
- Atmospherically Charming: The Sly series has always been densely atmospheric thanks to the aesthetically pleasing art style and sound track, and Sly 4 not only continues this tradition, it takes things to a whole new level. Having finally been brought into the current gen, Sly’s signature look has been polished to a gorgeous sheen. I wanted to dive into every colorful nook and cranny of the game’s sprawling levels just to soak in all the beauty. The game is lent a great air of mystery and allure thanks to Peter McConnell’s jazzy soundtrack that takes on period-specific nuances depending on what era the level takes place in.
- Fluidity of Movement: What makes exploring the environments so fun, besides sightseeing amongst is just how well the game plays. Not only are all the characters animated too appear as lithely as a thief should – they control just as well. Gliding from a spire to a tightrope to a rooftop down to the street occurs with a nimbleness seen only in games like Assassin’s Creed or Batman: Arkham City. Never have I had so much fun just navigating a video game’s environment.
- Character of Character: If I haven’t made it clear that the game is oozing with character at an aesthetic level, then I should stop writing. Thankfully, the game’s characters have just as much personality as the world which they inhabit. Everyone has a distinct and nuanced personality, allowing them to move outside of the cliches that they admittedly have fallen under until now. The level to which character relationships and motivations is taken in this game is unlike anything I have ever seen in the platforming genre, and the characters help pick up the considerable slack that the narrative leaves.
- Cross-Buy: For those with a Playstation Vita, you can also play the game on there as well, just by purchasing a retail disk. Though I was not able to try this out, from what I hear, the feature is great for those that want to be able to take the experience with them, continuing on with their saved game. Did I mention that there is reportedly almost no loss in visual fidelity or performance?
- Collectibles: How you receive these is based largely on what you think of this aging platformer staple. Love them? Great. Every level has 30 clue bottles to find, at least a dozen treasures to plunder, and secret doors to unlock. Hate them? That last sentence might scare you away – there is a lot of it to be done. Take note, however, that all of this collecting is optional.
- Combat: With Thieves in Time, I finally realized why I always preferred sneaking around in Sly Cooper games to brawling it out: the combat is very plain. One button pretty much does it all, which should tell you just about how deep the combat system is. There are a litany of additional moves that you can unlock for each character, but the lack of a move list to reference after you unlock them and the fact that they aren’t needed for advancement or all that interesting to begin with makes their inclusion mostly as an artificial way to lengthen the game. The combat works, but that’s about it.
- The Story: As I mentioned earlier, the characters make this game worth paying attention to when the narrative doesn’t – and this is often. Sanzaru’s writers clearly weren’t sure where to take things sometimes, as evidenced by the story’s many threads that are knitted together with pure coincidence I heard the introductory phrase, “it just so happened…” open up far too many sentences in the game’s dialog. The plot isn’t bad, but it doesn’t exactly do it’s characters justice. Oh, and it ends on a cliffhanger…
- And…?: The game’s five levels unfold in massive sandboxes that allow for the aforementioned exploration are at a sad dearth of things to do. Sure, I had a great time scooting around the environments, but once I wanted to knock out a few objectives to advance the story, the game gave me little reason to believe that the open worlds were justified. Go to mission start, get objective, walk somewhere, steal or hit something, call it a day. It made the world’s feel almost barren, even as they were bursting with life thanks to the art style.
- Aging, But Not Maturing: Collectibles? Boss battles? Freaking tilt controls? Sure, this game is going to be played by many people who are expecting more Sly, but those that have been away from the genre for a minute are going to find that the dust has settled on the many platformer tropes that Thieves in Time plays host to. Hopefully, the next game in the series will make a few attempts at innovation to keep the lovable Sly gang relevant beyond their gorgeous, gorgeous visuals and charming characters.
- Everyone Besides Sly: Playing as Sly and his ancestors is great, but Sanzaru – like Sucker Punch – still don’t know how to make playing as Bentley or Murray interesting. Murray is used almost exclusively for brawling, which we’ve already established isn’t exactly edge-of-your-seat stuff, and Bentley’s gadgets can’t make up for the fact that moving the wheel-chair bound Turtle around pales in comparison to the parkour movements of Sly. The mini games that dot the proceedings also come off as much more boring counterparts than the games they were inspired by.
- Dings in the Paint: The game looks great, plays well, and charms like the Dos Equis man – but it is not without its flaws. For one, the (thankfully intermittent) load times in the game are outrageously long for a game running on the Playstation 3. Along with a few technical glitches, such as audio that cuts out, occasionally less-than-responsive controls, and dips in the frame rate, their presence is made apparent every half hour or so, jarring you from the immersion.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time was clearly made by a team that cares deeply for the series. Nothing seems out of place in this entry, and the game makes you want to play it almost entirely off its style and charm. However, if Sanzaru Games is going to further Sly’s story (and I certainly hope they do), they are going to have to bring the game into the current gen on a game-play and mechanical level, and not continue to cash in on the watery-eyed nostalgia that many gamers have for the series. Great game, but its contents may be past the expiration date for some.
[box_light]We believe that the score is the least important part of a review. It’s tough trying to assign a numerical value to an experience. Is there really a difference between a 7.5 and an 8? Gamers place too much importance on arbitrary numbers. This is why our scores are hidden by default. Only look at them if you absolutely need a number between 1-10 to see if a game is worth your time. You can read our review guidelines here.[/box_light]
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Replay Value: 7
Very Good – This game flirts with greatness, but ultimately falls short. Still it’s highly entertaining and worth a look.[/toggle_box]