Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a stealth game with platforming elements for the PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3. Sucker Punch Productions originally developed the first three Sly Cooper titles during the PlayStation 2 era, propping the urbane Coops as the third mascot for Sony. Of Sony’s second run at mascots, Sly Cooper did not fare as well as either Ratchet & Clank or Jak and Daxter. Ratchet has had the most longevity making popular and well-received games far into the PS3’s life cycle. Whereas, Jak and Daxter, despite not having a game featuring the duo since Jak X Racing has always occupied a sizable space in a large number of gamers’ nostalgia hole. Sly has always been under the radar (likely he would prefer it that way…considering) and a reliable character to deliver a specific game experience. There is also a good fan base for Sly even if the other mascots had more profile, which goes a long way to bringing Thieves in Time to the PS Vita and PS3 (even if the PS3 is entering its twilight years). Sucker Punch much like Naughty Dog traded its cutesy, mascoty IP for more mature fare with inFAMOUS. This left the development duties to Sanzaru Games, whose previous development duties were on Secret Agent Clank (ironically enough) and bringing the prior Cooper games to the PS3 with the Sly Collection. Has Sly Cooper’s specific brand of stealth and humor aged well, or was fans’ clamoring for a new game a result of good will nostalgia?
(For the review of the PlayStion 3 version, check out Ben Sheene’s review here).
The key for Sly and gang to travel in time is an item/relic from that period that allows Bentley’s time travel mechanism to hone in on the time period. Luckily, for them, the job Carmelita botched for Sly earlier is a Parisian exhibit for artifacts from Feudal Japan. To steal the relic to get them to Sly’s ancestor Rioichi, the gang will have to utilize each of their specific talents to sneak, beat up and hack their way past the guards and security. Once they arrive in Japan to help Riorichi, Sly and the gang learn that things are much more complicated, it seems someone is using notorious bad guys to mess with the Cooper clan through time. This mysterious figure has a plan and it involves stealing the fabled canes of Coopers across time. Now not only must Sly preserve his history, but he must stop whatever plan this mysterious enemy has using his family’s heritage.
Thieves in Time’s gameplay is a heady mix of genres, but the spine and basis of it is in basic stealth mechanics. The game is broken up into chapters for each of the various time periods Sly visits. In these chapters, players will take on jobs/missions, these jobs will vary on goals, perimeters for success and even on the character who under takes them. Sly and his various ancestors sections focus more on platforming and stealth to achieve his various parts of the larger job. To balance the finesse of Sly, Murray is the brute force and his sections are about things that need a clobbering or if some heavy lifting needs to be done. Bentley is the brains in this anthropomorphic Ocean’s Eleven. His jobs combine a bit of Murray’s power with his sticky bombs and Sly’s nimbleness where he is better of trying to avoid enemies and can move more deftly thanks to his rocket-powered wheelchair. Bentley’s missions generally revolve around using gadgets or hacking a security system. It is in these missions where the Vita’s specific functions get a workout by using the gyroscopes to move balls across a field or to fish. They are wonky when they first get introduced, but with little effort become responsive and fun. The minigames that Bentley has to perform to hack something are delightful. By mixing various play styles, Thieves in Time gives plenty of variety to players and keeps things from wearing out their welcome.
Each time period has a large open level that the player will explore and activate missions by touching an icon. These larger maps are fun to explore outside of missions, and smartly there is an arrow that points the player to the current goal if they lose their bearings. Enemies have a basic range from small to large with larger enemies being difficult for less combat ready characters like Sly to take out, so they are best avoided. Although, the penalty for any death is a quick restart, so the need for caution often seems like too much work. That makes the stealth/platforming/combat elements incredibly forgiving, especially the stealth, where most in the genre will punish players for even the smallest mistake. This is almost a bit disappointing since the game at times feels too easy.
Graphics and Sound
The largest weakness of the PS Vita version of Thieves in Time occurs in its graphics. The compression to bring this PS3 title down to the Vita’s specs, while impressive as they are, comes with some significant draw backs. The level of detail in the worlds and character models are not as good looking as on the PS3 and there is a tendency for characters to look plastic-y at times. The cut scenes, which are prettily animated have terrible pixilation issues when transitioning between quick cuts. It becomes distracting very quickly. Then the game, due to compression, also has fairly long load times which is a bummer because of the Vita’s ‘on the go’ nature. Sonically, the game has a fun soundtrack with tunes that give life to the various worlds that Sly and the gang will visit. The voice acting is wonderful and makes these characters seem like old friends. There is a personality and exuberance that pours through the voice acting for these likeable critters.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for the PS Vita is a fun game, but there are specific graphical issues and long load times that hurt the experience. They do not prevent it from being enjoyable, but they are distracting. For people who only own a Vita then it is not a bad purchase despite these weaknesses because there really is not much out currently for the system. However, for faithful Sony fans, it is smarter to buy the PS3 version because of the Cross-Buy option, which includes both the PS3 game and a downloadable copy of Thieves in Time for the Vita. Ultimately, what Thieves in Time proves is that Sly is still capable of bringing a vibrant experience to games.