During the early years of the PlayStation 2, a wide variety of games were released that showed off the power of the console as a gaming hub. Along with Grand Theft Auto and Metal Gear Solid were a handful of mascot-worthy platformers. Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank and Sly Cooper all released within a short window and went on to spawn multiple sequels. As the years went by, these characters became synonymous with the PlayStation brand and family. With the release of the PS3, the developers have grown up a little. The Uncharted and Infamous series are now more familiar than any cute animal mascots. Though more than seven years have passed since Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves released for the PS2, the sneaky raccoon and his gang have finally returned with Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. But has the wait been kind to the decade old series?
Thieves in Time picks up right after the events of Sly 3. Sly is faking amnesia so he can live a life with Interpol agent Carmelita Fox, who had spent the past games trying to arrest him for his crimes. One day, Sly is contacted by his old thieving turtle pal Bentley who says the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus are slowly disappearing. The Thievius Raccoonus is a book full of all the thieving skills collected by the Cooper family over the centuries. Now, it is up to Sly, Bentley and Murray the pink hippo to travel through time and save the Cooper legacy.
For those who have never experienced a Sly Cooper game, Thieves in Time offers a short story-so-far video to catch up on relevant information. The video won’t do much to explain the finer points of Sly lore, so playing through the first three games ensures the best comprehension.
Where the story really stands out is in the characterization and humor. Since original developer Sucker Punch moved on to the Infamous series, fears that new developers, Sanzaru Games, would not live up to Sly’s standards were understandable. Working on the Sly Cooper Collection proved valuable for Sanzaru Games because the game bleeds charm within minutes. Each wonderfully animated cutscene and all the witty banter between characters makes it feel like the Cooper Gang had only been gone for a few short months. The character designs—especially during the animated cinematics–are perfect fare for Saturday morning cartoons, a testament to their quality. Without a doubt, gamers will be laughing out loud constantly through Sly’s story.
The concept of travelling to a time period, rescuing a Cooper ancestor and beating up the bad guy will run a bit dry by game’s end. But that does not change the fact that it is executed with enough style that players won’t mind. If anything, the story will appease old fans and inspire newcomers to fill in the blanks by playing past entries.
The detailed environments and vividly colored cast make Thieves in Time the best looking Sly game yet—but there is still room for improvement. The general look of the game is not vastly different from previous entries. Open environments and more contained sections are packed with activity and destructible objects. Primary and secondary characters are completely original while enemies fit the bill for their particular time period.
It is unfortunate that the game is not as highly detailed as one might expect from a PS3 title this late in the console’s life cycle. In a way, Thieves in Time is too much of a slave to the art style that was established so many years ago. Wanting more details and layers from a game such as this is not unrealistic. As it stands, this version of Sly looks more in line with what players could expect from the early years of the PS3. Since the experience doesn’t hinge on graphical fidelity, it might give longtime Sly fans a large dose of nostalgia.
Not only does the top-notch voice acting improve the overall enjoyment of the story, it makes a bunch of animals come alive. Like any game featuring a similar group of protagonists, the cast of characters could have devolved into a band of high-pitched or annoying cartoon stereotypes. Fortunately, this never becomes the case.
The music of Thieves in Time should be showered with praise. Just wait until the Bentley hacking sequences or Murray’s geisha dance number. Certain tracks are definitely more infectious than others. Thematically, each area has an ambiance that matches its time period. The game does not disappoint in the audio department.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time continues the open world platforming, puzzle solving and sneaking from previous entries in the series (and other similar games). At the onset, players have certain missions where they control either Sly, another member of the gang, a Cooper ancestor or a combination of them all. Each mission takes place in the larger level or an area sectioned off within. Collectibles litter the environment and getting everything will not only expand the story but lengthen the experience.
During each episode, Sly will collect a costume that gives him a unique power. Samurai armor helps him sneak past guards and prevents damage from fire while the archery costume lets him shoot rope arrows to traverse out-of-reach areas. Costumes have their obvious uses for specific missions but can also be used to explore previously unreachable areas in earlier levels. By collecting and pickpocketing coins and treasures, players can purchase new skills for each character that helps in combat. By the end, Sly and his gang will be equipped to take on anything.
Some extremely enjoyable minigames, from shoot ‘em up sequences to dance sections, enrich the gameplay. There are a few moments that use the motion control feature of the Sixaxis and they work to varying degrees of success, if not feeling a little dated. With all that Thieves in Time offers, it often feels like a love letter to a genre that has become almost forgotten and to video games in general.
To many players, the gameplay that drives Thieves in Time might come off as one-note or repetitive. Those acclimated to action set pieces and shooters will doubtfully find Sly’s charm to be an appealing factor. One thing that can’t be ignored is the poor load times that can plague the game. There are also moments where jumping mechanics do not click as well as they should but never to a point where the game suffers. For those who have fond memories of PS2 platformers, this Sly outing will be just as great.
It’s worth noting that the PS3 version of Thieves in Time also comes with the PlayStation Vita version. Sly on the Vita is a remarkably similar experience to its console counterpart. The handheld version controls the same (minus some touch capabilities to make up for the fewer amount of buttons) and sounds the same. By using the Cross-Save feature, players can save on one version and pick up where they left off on the other–a fantastic feature. Visually, though, there is a big difference. Thieves in Time might not be graphically intensive on the PS3 but the Vita drops the detail significantly. Unlike PlayStation All Stars, the difference is apparent. However, the game only costs $40. That’s both versions for $20 dollars less than what most games currently cost. These days, that’s a steal even Sly could appreciate.
In a way, the timing of Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time’s release is one of its greatest strengths and weaknesses. With a new generation of consoles on the horizon, Sly is surely going to be one of the last first-party games we see on the PS3. It’s a game that reminds us of a genre that is no longer on the forefront of the industry. That same nostalgia also causes Thieves in Time to feel like it came out at the wrong end of the PS3’s timeline. The dated look and long load times are more like an early PS3 game. However, anyone who doesn’t play Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is missing out. Not only does the game represent an incredible value, but it also shows just what made PlayStation such a big name in the past. Let’s just hope the wait for Sly 5 isn’t as long.