Sly Cooper’s never been a particularly innovative series – it borrows from mechanically superior platformers and adds stealth to the usual formula – but few can hold a candle its timeless charm. Everything from the cartoon art style, charming characters and sharp humour made Sucker Punch’s PlayStation 2 trilogy one of the best platforming series of the generation, and new developers Sanzaru Games have injected the same passion into the series’ fourth iteration Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time.
Although it’s been eight years since Sly’s last outing (not including 2010’s excellent HD Sly Collection), this is by no means the series reboot you’d probably expect. Sanzaru are a studio who clearly adore Sony’s thieving raccoon and have created an experience that borrows from existing franchise conventions more than it attempts new things. This a game by Sly fans for Sly fans – and it’s everything Cooper fans wanted.
Continuing from the end of Sly 3, Cooper and the gang need to go back in time as the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus (the book that holds Sly’s family legacy) vanish into existence. Sly’s been out of the whole thieving game for quite some time at the start of Thieves In Time, but he’s forced to use Bentley’s time machine to go a visit some of his ancestors and help reclaim the lost pages. However, Sly and the gang aren’t the only ones using time travel, with the plot developing into the usual ‘stop the bad guy’ adventure.
The plot is somewhat simplistic and isn’t explained as well as it could have been, but the superb cast of exuberant characters and their respective voice talents make up for the narrative’s shortcomings. The banter between thieving raccoon Sly, tech-wiz Bentley and brutish-hippo Murray is masterfully written and the constant injection of humour as the gang travel throughout history shows that Sanzaru weren’t taking their game too seriously.
There are better looking 3D platformers on the PlayStation 3 (namely Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank titles) but the colourful art direction kept me smiling throughout my play-through. It doesn’t look overly better than the HD re-makes of the original Sly trilogy, but then again in terms of Thieves In Time being a continuation of the franchise the visuals serve their purpose.
Although not much has changed on the presentation front, game-play wise Thieves In Time is the most diverse entry in the Sly franchise yet. Sly, Murray and Bentley are all regularly playable and have whole host of abilities to unlock by collecting in-game coins and spending them in ‘ThiefNet’. Each of these characters play-differently: Sly is a master of stealth and can easily pick the pockets of foes, Murray and can take on numerous enemies at once whilst and Bentley can toss explosives and use a variety of gadgets.
You’ll also get the opportunity to play as several of Sly’s ancestors throughout the game – and each of which have their own unique abilities. There’s also a variety of arcade mini-games to complete certain tasks, as well as costumes which alter the abilities each of the characters possess. Essentially, Sanzaru ensures you’re never left bored of doing the same old thing – and although the games main levels are structured in a reasonably linear fashion there’s always options as to what you do next.
The game transports you to different locations across history (from ancient Japan to the Wild West), and each setting comes with its own hub-world littered with collectibles alongside the main game’s story missions. The campaign lasts around ten hours if played through directly, but I found myself searching for a variety of items. As ever, there’s also variety as to how you approach levels in Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time. Often stealth is made mandatory but on some occasions you can choose how sneaky you want to be – which again adds variety to what otherwise could be a reasonably repetitive gameplay experience.
In terms of content you’re getting significant value here. Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time is shipping at a reduced retail price and in buying the PlayStation 3 version of the title you’re essentially getting the PlayStation Vita version free alongside it. You can also transfer your save between devices, so you can carry on where you left off on a different device – which is a really nice touch.
Whilst impressive, I did encounter some problems with Sly’s fourth outing. Like the vast majority of 3D platformers wrestling with the game camera is a constant source of annoyance, and the game’s humour is occasionally too childlike to appeal to an older demographic, but these small gripes didn’t really tarnish the experience for me.
The difficulty is more of a problem as it’s the only instance where I felt I wasn’t getting a proper nostalgic, old-school experience with Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time; which is pretty much what I wanted out of the game. Mistakes aren’t punished enough and the game can get a little dull during certain periods as you really don’t feel challenged enough. The game’s charm does go some way to making up for this, but the lack of difficult platforming or combat was disappointing.
Sanzaru are a studio full of passionate Sly Cooper fans and this is clear when playing through their latest creation. The franchise’s long-awaited fourth iteration is the best the series has offered yet, offering an old-school platforming experience that’s pretty hard to come by these days. Sucker Punch are a tough act to follow but Sanzaru have proved that Sony’s raccoon is in very capable hands. Bursting with content at a low price point, Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time is a steal worthy of any of the Cooper ancestry. By all means pick it up.