Game: Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
Developer: Sanzaru Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Available on: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3 (Vita version also tested)
The Sly Cooper series of games is a fan-favourite exclusive from Sony Computer Entertainment, yet one that’s mysteriously underused by the company. We see other favourites such as Nathan Drake and Ratchet & Clank getting screen-time in games that aren’t best suited to their characters (the strange card game and the tower defence game) but Sly Cooper and his friends haven’t even seen a new adventure on the PlayStation 3, a system that’s almost at the end of its life-cycle. Sanzaru Games, the developers behind the Sly Cooper Collection of 2010, have rectified this horrible mistake with the fourth game in the series, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. So, how did our favourite thieving raccoon make the transition to high definition in an all-new caper? Has Sly still got it?
STORY: The narrative follows the adventures of various members of the Cooper clan throughout time, as they battle to discover why the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus have started to empty, with the text literally being deleted from the pages of history. Clearly some evil mastermind is behind it all and it’s up to Sly Cooper and the rest of his gang to travel back through time, meet up with Sly’s ancestors, and figure out what’s gone wrong in that particular time period before jumping on to the next and repeating the whole process.
While the story itself feels a little repetitive at times, there’s a certain sense of wonder to be had from trying to guess just how each incarnation of Sly Cooper is going to turn out. How is their cane – a vital component of the Sly Cooper character – going to be implemented into each of the ancestor’s history. You might think that it’s going to be some obvious way but, at least for some of the characters, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by some of the ingenious methods that Sanzaru have dreamed up. Seeing and using Kid Cooper’s cane, for example, will never get old.
GRAPHICS: The Sly Cooper series has always utilised a cel-shaded look, which compliments the cartoon atmosphere of the games on the whole. This hasn’t changed for this first foray into the world of High Definition – the cel-shaded aesthetics are back and looking better than ever. The visuals don’t really push the PlayStation 3 to its limits, so don’t expect a Sly Cooper game built using the CryEngine, but what we do get is adequate enough for the subject matter.
Some of the more impressive examples of the visuals in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time are the cinematics. These aren’t shown using the in-game engine and take the form of a small animated cartoon. Every single one of them is absolutely gorgeous and you’ll find yourself wishing that the developers would release a straight-to-DVD film made up purely of these small clips. The game itself is nice enough to look at, but the cinematic scenes really are the icing on the Sly Cooper cake.
SOUND: The sound design in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time ends up being one of the more important areas of the game. Just like in a classic Warner Brothers cartoon (where there’d be very little, if any, voice acting), all of the action and emotion of the characters is conveyed to the player through a series of musical cues. Sure, they all have voices too, but it’s these audio cues that will give you the biggest clues about how each character is feeling about a given situation. The only negative to the audio is that is can sometimes be a little bit overbearing, drowning out the vocal audio of some of the quieter characters. The player has the option to change the volume in the settings menu, as you would expect, but they should be set to a level where the player can hear everything that’s happening by default, only needing to go into the audio menu for minor tweaks.
The sense that you’re playing a cartoon comes across when you’re sneaking behind the enemies too, where you’ll hear a tip-toeing piece of music to accompany every footstep that you’re making – almost as if you’re in your very own Tom & Jerry short. It does a lot to add to the sense that you’re in a cartoon and it never really gets old either – I often found myself sneaking up to people just to hear that short, comedic piece of music one more time.
GAMEPLAY: Your time spent playing through Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time will be separated into five episodes, each of which is bookended by some of those truly spectacular cut-scenes mentioned earlier. Each of these episodes centres on a single member of the Cooper Clan and finishes once you’ve saved them from being erased from the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus. In order to save each member of Sly’s ancestry, you’re going to have to find out what’s threatening them – in each episode this threat is slightly different so there’s always a mission where you’re scouting around, a mission where you have to break your ancestor out of where they’re being held and then a couple of missions where you’ve got to help thwart the plans of the enemies. It sounds like a formula that would get pretty stale after a couple of episodes, but the design team have done such a good job with each of the time periods that, even though you’re technically doing the same thing over and over again, it always feels somewhat fresh and new.
The gameplay plays a lot like any other third person action-adventure title, although with Sly Cooper being a master thief, there’s slightly more emphasis on the stealth aspects. You’ll be given various missions where you’re supposed to sneak into a specific area without being seen and, in a Metal Gear Solid type way, if you’re caught it’s game over and you have to try that section again from the last checkpoint. It’s fairly easy to see where you’ve got to walk in order to not be seen (Sly Cooper games aren’t really mentally-challenging when it comes to sneaking around); it’s more of a challenge in whether or not you can see the usually quite obvious paths that the game wants you to take towards your objective. Going off the beaten path will usually result in you getting some nice rewards though, such as the much sought after Sly Cooper Masks that are dotted around each level, so it’s always worth spending some time exploring each of the environments. As well as being a simple collectable, the Sly Cooper Masks also serve as ways to unlock certain things in the Extras menu, such as different graphics for the parachute that Sly uses to get across the map.
The controls in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time are also something that could have been difficult to get to grips with, but the developers have done a good job in that regard too. It won’t take too long before you’re pulling off moves that are so slick they’d have a casual observer wondering how you’re doing it. The simple fact of the matter is that a quick tap of the circle button when Sly (or one of his ancestors) is near an area of the map that’s sparkling blue, will cause them to instantly attach themselves to it. It will save you from falling to your doom thousands of times when you’re trying to walk across wires, around ledges or whatever else there is in each of the levels.
LONGEVITY: There’s plenty to do in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time outside of the main story levels. Each of the five time zones has an open-world element to it that are full of message bottles, treasure, safes and other collectables that the eagle-eyed thief will have a field day collecting. Then there’s the Sly Cooper Masks dotted around the levels and the trophies that you can get for doing various things (as you can in most other games) and you’re left with a title you won’t be putting down for a good long while.
VERDICT: Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is Sly Cooper back on top form and finally on the PlayStation 3. It’s been a long time coming but what we’re presented with at the end of it is a game that’s polished, well-made and brimming with extra features that will keep the completionist in us all coming back for more and more. This might very well be the best game currently on the market to showcase the cross-play feature of the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita too, as it takes what could have been a complicated feature and simplifies it down to a level that anyone can use with relative ease; not to mention that you can play a Sly Cooper game while you’re out and about. You can’t do that with any other game so far, so that’s really got to count for something. If you haven’t played a Sly Cooper game before, this is the perfect jump-in point, fresh-looking and fun. What more could you ask for?