Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time for PlayStation 3 Review

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The Sly Cooper series debuted on PlayStation 2 and introduced players to a fun blend of stealth and platforming. In my opinion, the first game feels more like a traditional 3D platformer than a stealth game or combination of the two and the developers perfected the formula in Sly 2: Band of Thieves. I feel that’s the game that truly defines what the Sly series is. I also feel the developers lost focus on the series strengths in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves. It’s far from being a bad game but I do think it’s bloated with minigames.

After Sly 3, the original developer of the series, Sucker Punch Productions, began working on Infamous and from what I understand, developer Sanzaru Games was interested in continuing the Sly series. Sony granted them development duties to remaster the first three games which resulted in The Sly Collection for PlayStation 3. They would then be the primary developer for the next game, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. Developed by Sanzaru Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time was released for PlayStation 3 and Vita in February, 2013. For this review, I played the PlayStation 3 version.

After the events of Sly 3, Sly retired and entered a relationship with Carmelita Fox. Bentley and Penelope began working on a time machine and Murray entered a pro racing circuit. When the words of the Thievius Raccoonus begin to vanish and Penelope disappears, Sly comes out of retirement and the Cooper Gang is reformed. The gang uses a time machine to travel back in time to find out who or what is erasing the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus and stop them. Before playing this, I had heard complaints of the developers “ruining” a specific character. Now that I’ve played it, without spoiling anything, I can say they definitely took the character in a different direction and I do feel it’s odd and seems unnecessary. Other than that, I enjoyed the plot. Thieves in Time retains the cel-shaded cartoony style the series is known for and the writing retains the series brand of humor which means it’s another wacky and silly cartoony adventure.

I am happy to say that Thieves in Time shows that developer Sanzaru Games clearly understands the series strengths. Thieves in Time feels more like Sly 2 than Sly 3. It contains good a good balance of stealth and platforming along with some action and minigames which, I think it’s safe to say are a series staple. Luckily, the game doesn’t feel bloated with minigames like Sly 3. Players are given the opportunity to play as several of Sly’s ancestors. I knew this going in and I admit I was a little nervous that this would mean the gameplay would lose focus on the stealth platforming. Well I’m happy to say it really doesn’t. Most of the ancestors play just like Sly but come with some unique attacks and abilities. There are some action-packed sequences, set pieces, brawls, and minigames peppered throughout but the series brand of stealth platforming is usually front and center. As a result, some of the more action-oriented jobs and sequences that are present feel like a nice change of pace to mix things up now and again.

If you’ve played the previous games, much of what’s here should be familiar. The story plays out in episodes and each episode takes the player to a different location around the globe and time period. The setting of each episode is open-ended and the player will have to complete a series of jobs to advance the story. You can play as Sly, Bentley, Murray and Carmelita along with one of Sly’s ancestors in each episode. You’re free to explore each episode’s setting and destroy objects and pickpocket enemies for coins and loot. Coins can be spent at ThiefNet to unlock new moves or techniques and gadgets for the playable characters. Many returning techniques and gadgets can now be performed by pressing the appropriate buttons but each playable character has their own unique move set and can switch between different unique items. Sly can switch between and change costumes. Bentley can switch between different ammunition and bomb types. Murray can switch between different punching or fist attacks. And Carmelita can switch between different shot types.

Since I played this directly after playing through Sly 3, I was really happy to see Thieves in Time bring back some of the things that were omitted in the last game. For starters, Clue Bottles, Treasure and Vaults which are now called Safes, return. There are thirty Clue Bottles to collect in each episode and if you collect them all, you can open that episode’s Safe for a unique reward. Treasure is hidden throughout each episode’s setting or world and when you find them, you must bring them back to the hideout within a time limit and they are added to your treasure collection which can be viewed any time from the hideout. The return of these things is wonderful because it brings back the incentive to explore. In addition to the rewards for opening Safes, finding all the treasure in each episode unlocks arcade games or minigames in the hideout. Sly Masks are a new collectible introduced in Thieves in Time and collecting enough unlocks cosmetics along with some other special items.

Sly is still my favorite character to play as because I enjoy his move set the most. I find climbing and jumping around and exploring the environments as Sly to be a lot of fun and because most of his ancestors share a similar move set, I felt they were just as fun to play as. I would say all but one ancestor is primarily designed for stealth platforming gameplay. Disguises or costumes make a return and now serve more of a purpose. They grant Sly unique abilities which also grant him access to certain areas. This means you will have to return to previous episodes when you have the appropriate costumes to reach new areas to find certain goodies like treasure and masks. I find the the bigger focus on exploration and collecting items, at least when compared to Sly 3, to be a big positive here.

The formula goes like this; enter an episode, complete some jobs, find Sly’s ancestor, complete more jobs to prep for a big operation and then pull off the big operation and battle a boss. That’s typically how it goes. You’ll have to do recon, take photos, follow NPCs, eavesdrop and steal shit. The game focuses very much on the stealth and thieving aspects which I prefer. However, there are some cool action-packed sequences, especially in episode two which contains my favorite ancestor, “Tennesee Kid” Cooper. He carries a gun so you can switch between stealth platforming gameplay and third-person shooter gameplay on-the-fly. This episode also features my favorite operation in the game; a train raid.

Thieves in Time not only takes you to different locations around the world but also different time periods. You’ll visit Feudal Japan, the Wild West, Ice Age, Medieval England, and Ancient Arabia. Stealth works much like it did previously. You want to stay quiet and out of sight. Enemies patrol the ground and rooftops and each episode’s setting allows for all kinds of paths and routes to a destination due to their open-ended nature. Many of the jobs take you to different levels which are typically more linear than the open-ended settings or worlds. Each episode ends with a boss battle and I would say Thieves in Time features some of the more challenging bosses in the series up to this point. The only boss battle I didn’t care for was the final one because it’s primarily made up of quick time events.

As for the minigames, most of the ones here are nothing really new. There are multiple hacking minigames, two of which are dual stick shooters, you’ll operate RC cars and a chopper, participate in shooting contests and rhythm minigames, there’s some on-rails shooter sequences and one job in the game is simply a series of minigames. As you can probably guess, as is the case for most of the platformers I’ve played, I would never return to this game just for the minigames alone. One of my biggest complaints with Thieves in Time is that it forces motion control minigames on the player and I don’t find any of them enjoyable. As I mentioned before, the game doesn’t feel bloated with minigames even though there are quite a few. The story does set up contexts for them so a lot of them feel appropriate and make sense for the job or situation but some are definitely more enjoyable than others.

Thieves in Time is easily the best looking game in the series which is not surprising considering the newer hardware it’s running on when compared to the previous games. The presentation is colorful, each episode’s setting is visually distinct and detailed, the lighting and character models look good, and facial animations look great when compared to the previous games. As for the audio, the sound effects fit the game’s cartoony style as expected and I thought the soundtrack was phenomenal. It contains a lot of orchestral and jazzy sounding tunes along with dramatic and tense sounding stuff, all of which fit the mood and situations nicely and sound great. On the technical side, I would say Thieves in Time does have a couple of problems. I played the digital version and felt the load times were a bit on the long side and the frame rate does noticeably dip here and there and more often in specific episodes and it can become annoying when you’re exploring.

I feel Sly 2 should have been the framework for future title and that the developers expanded on all the wrong things in Sly 3. As for Thieves in Time, I would say Sanzaru Games expanded on all the right things. It’s not perfect. It’s got some technical problems. But I would say it’s my second favorite game in the series up to this point. I consider Sly 2 to be the best followed by Thieves in Time, then Sly 3 and last but not least, the first game. I prefer Sly 2 because I enjoy the premise and tone a bit more and prefer the bigger focus on heists. It centered on a gang of thieves and focused on thieving which fits the whole Thievius Raccoonus thing. Thieves in Time is structured similarly and I really enjoy the bigger focus on exploration and collecting things. I expected the minigames and they’re whatever and I could really do without the forced motion control minigames, but other than that, I have no real complaints with the gameplay. I had a blast with Thieves in Time.

I would absolutely recommend Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. If you’re a fan of the previous games, especially Sly 2, I think you’ll really get a kick out of this. Ultimately, it’s a fun stealth platformer and despite some hiccups here and there, I think it’s one of the better games in the series. Definitely check it out.

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