Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
After retiring from thievery and sitting out the better part of a console generation, Sly finally makes his return on the PS3 and Playstation Vita. With a well-received trilogy and subsequent HD collection under his belt, this plucky raccoon is no stranger to making people smile with the aid of his colourful supporting cast, but after such a long hiatus, can the Cooper gang entertain us once more with a ride through time, or should they have kept their antics in the shadows of the past?
The tale kicks off as Sly, Bentley and Murray come out of retirement to investigate the vanishing of pages from the Thievius Raccoonus, the fabled Cooper family handbook. It’s a mystery that promises twists and turns, some fresh-faced foes as well as new areas ripe for exploration. Old friends such as romantic interest Carmelita Fox return, adding to the (at times playable) character roster, and each will have played a crucial role come the story’s end. It spins an interesting yarn once things get going, and it’s always nice to see a game with a sense of humour where the heroes genuinely seem to be enjoying themselves.
Sly receives a number of useful costumes throughout, allowing him to access new places and get past enemies or traps that were otherwise an issue. These outfits are era specific, though you may find some use for them in other times should you choose to collect all the bottles and rewards lying around. Sly himself is the master thief, traversing cables and picking pockets with ease… he’s also the main star of the game and the one you’ll be spending the majority of your time with. Bentley is the brains behind the missions as well as hacker extraordinaire, and Murray is called in when only brute force will do. Jobs for these heroes are available from the Hideout menu, but they’re required only as much as the story demands. In this sense, things are a bit more linear that you might have hoped. At no point is there a job available for each of the three main leads.
Beyond the usual cast, you’ll also be controlling Sly’s ancestors and making use of their unique skills. We won’t spoil the surprises too much as discovering them (as well as the various eras) is a good reason to continue playing. None of them wear out their welcome, and this extends to the environments themselves. Hub worlds complete with destructible objects and enemies to pick-pocket are the order of the day, but it’s impressive how each job features an interior that’s unique to the task at hand. The same can be said for the variety of many of the jobs themselves, though this can result in gameplay that’s overly simplistic. That said, you had better enjoy a good fetch quest if you’re considering this game; it’s good fun if you’re into that sort of thing, but it certainly won’t be for everyone.
Bentley’s hacking mini-games on the other hand aren’t nearly as charming. Taken on their own, they’re not all as terrible as the sixaxis-controlled spark runner (which is at least mercifully short), but it’s how they kill the pacing that impacts the game the most. Making your way atop a trap-laden fortress feels like less of an achievement when you’re forced into a patented Bentley hack, leading to a roll of the eyes and a ‘not one of these again’ groan. Boss fights are typically a case of dying a few times while learning the attack pattern – they provide a good challenge at least, but you’ll be happy to see the back of them once you’re done.
As simple as it can be, Thieves in Time does have depth where upgrading is concerned. Collecting coins and progressing through the story opens up a host of new moves, many of which prove indispensable in later levels. There are a few duds in there too, and we question the point of upgrading Carmelita when she’s so rarely used. Some missions begin with Murray or Bentley, then quickly switch to another member; initially this may come across as strange, but it’s all in the name of keeping things fun. It might not be epic, but at least Thieves in Time provides plenty of animated action for your cash (lasting around twelve hours with moderate exploration). Not only are you looking at a game that’s presented at a lower price than titles lasting half as long, but the downloadable Vita version also comes bundled in for cross-play. However you cut it, fans are getting a good deal here.
Graphically Sly Cooper isn’t quite up to par with much of the PS3 library. It’s certainly striking and boasts a varied palette featuring deep colours, but it just doesn’t impress on a technical level. A few of the hub worlds come across as missed opportunities – perhaps due to lighting plus the same constant time and weather effects – and only two of them stand out as visually impressive locales. Cell shading can be gorgeous when used artistically, but in this area the game is merely competent. The narrated cutscenes on the other hand are fantastic to watch, looking as if they’ve been plucked from a high-end cartoon and providing the characters with realistic expressions of emotion.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is an easy purchase for fans of the series and may just win a few new hearts too. It’s not a console heavy-hitter, nor should you to expect it to offer the usual set-piece cinematics to which we’ve all become accustomed. What it does is try its hand at a good number of gameplay styles, building on the series and expanding the Cooper lore, albeit to varying degrees of success. There’s no escaping that it feels like something of a throwback to the PS2, but there’s also an undeniable charm in the story and characters that might just have you playing to the end. Sly and the gang haven’t quite brought their A-game, but for fans of the series and lovers of the long-forgotten platformer, Thieves in Time is a steal.
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