Sly is back.
Sly Cooper, internationally sought after thief who earned his credentials on the PS2, has finally returned. His quest revolves around finding the disappearing pages of the Thievius Raccoonus, the Cooper lineage history recordings containing the techniques which made the family so masterful at thieving.
The game does not try very hard with the story. It is quite basic and forgettable; a few hours in and I had already forgotten about the lost pages of the Thievius Raccoonus. Point in case, the story does not make a lasting impression and the game does not even try to drag you into it. There is some degree of character development present, but the characters themselves are already silly caricatures which don’t need much explaining and emotional backstory. Luckily, the writing and dialogue do a better job at entertaining; though silly, many conversations are witty and combined with the decent voice acting they always manage to conjure a smile.
To solve the mystery, Sly and his gang travel through five different settings in history where they rescue Sly’s ancestors from the claws of villains. Each of these time periods comprises a fairly large hub world in which the player is free to travel around, and some closed-off sections which are only available in certain missions. You’ll be jumping and running your way through a variety of locales, ranging from the Wild West to the Ice Age. These themes and settings are also very well represented in the background music. I’m referring to it specifically as background music for a reason; the tracks are not overly energetic, but they instead craft the atmosphere of the stage with their non-intrusiveness. This works quite well, as the right musical style corresponds accurately with the setting of the hub world.
Thieves in Time also caters to the collector. Spread throughout each stage are various collectibles. Clue bottles, thirty in each stage, can be found quite easily and if you have collected them all you can open a safe which contains a nice reward. Treasures are a little rarer and harder to obtain; they must be carried back to the Cooper hideout within a time-limit- and without taking any damage. Gathering all the treasures in a stage will allow you to fix the arcade cabinet present in the hideout, which unlocks an arcade-style mini-game.
The exploration and collecting aspect of the game ties in very well with the manner in which missions are set up. You are free to explore the environment whenever you want. The missions allow you to choose your own path very often so it’s not out of the question to grab a clue bottle or two while heading for an objective- with any of the available characters. Your team consists of Sly, a stealthy thief, Murray, a f- I mean, big-boned hippopotamus, Bentley, a technically skilled turtle in a wheelchair and a Cooper ancestor. There’s not really an incentive to play as Murray or Bentley, however, as they are not able to make use of the (hallmark of the series) platforming techniques mastered by the Cooper family.
This feature, which is unique the Sly video games, takes the frustration out of the jumping, making it almost impossible to miss a jump and tumble to your death. How? When playing as Sly or his ancestors, you are given the ability to press the circle button when you are in the vicinity of a small object (like a ledge or a peak) and it will automatically gravitate the character towards the ledge or peak that would be much harder to jump on otherwise. It works well within its context, but almost takes out all of the platforming otherwise expected from such a game, and replaces it with a many missions based around travelling in a linear manner from point A to point B. Some of them are a bit more fun and require more navigation and platforming skills. However, a large chunk of the game does not offer any challenge, and many missions literally feel like intermissions; the game is a bit boring sometimes. The gameplay highlights are the excellent bossfights, though. They don’t try anything new, but perfectly show how the concept of scripted boss fights work, and they actually require good timing. They are a visual spectacle, as well. A tiger assaulting you with double, body length lightning swords? Yes please.
Occasionally, you’ll be playing as Bentley and hacking various computer terminals in order to gain access to the villain hideouts. These hacking sequences consists of little arcade style minigames, which are fun to play and change the game up a bit. Their dosage is adequate, as they don’t appear too often and aren’t too long and are spread out very well throughout the game’s nicely lengthy campaign.
From what I’ve read (I haven’t actually played previous Sly Cooper games) there are two noticeably new additions to the series, being the costume gameplay element and the job system. This is also quite visible in the game, as the designers don’t really know what to do with them and they’re not very well used. After the first episode, which nicely introduces a costume which can be used to defend Sly from fire, I expected the costumes to be used in a wide variety of interesting puzzles. In reality, the puzzles were played a bit too safe. It’s crystal clear what you need to do to solve them, and costumes from earlier episodes don’t play a role in them. They’re used nicely in the boss battles, though. Quickly switching between your normal thieving outfit and the often heavier and bulkier costume is quite a thrill.
It does not feel like the job system is there at all; again, a feature that could’ve been used nicely but was poorly implemented. It does not affect the gameplay in any way. The jobs, which are character-tied missions, can be selected by running through a Cooper icon in the hub world. There is rarely more than one job available at the same time and it does not decrease the linearity of the game at all. Then again, the phrase ‘it does not affect the gameplay in any way’ also works the other way around; the lack of any sort of implementation of the feature does not really negatively impact the game. It’s just a missed opportunity.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a multiplatform developed with the PS3 as primary platform, and graphically in the same boat as games such as PlayStation All Stars and Need for Speed: Most Wanted. The game looks crisp and vibrant, but is not devoid of smaller technical issues like fuzzy edges and the occasional frame rate drop combined with pop-in. However, the former is very well masked by the vibrant cell-shaded art style which works wonders on the Vita’s bright screen, and the latter only happen every so often. The cut scenes are a different story, though. They are not downright ugly, but they seem very compressed and low resolution. The game looks quite good mainly due to the comical and nicely coloured art style, even when taking aforementioned issues into account but it does not deliver a new benchmark in portable gaming, graphically speaking.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a game which works quite well, but I feel that it plays it safe a bit too often. It does not offer much of a challenge outside of the boss fights and it tries to introduce versatile game elements but ends not realizing their potential. The graphics and accompanying soundtrack are good. Overall, the game is enjoyable but still short of real excellence.