Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
Developer: Sanzaru Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PS Vita (Reviewed), PlayStation 3
Release Date: Out Now
Price: USD $29.99 (Available Here)
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time – sometimes referred to in the series’ chronology as Sly 4 – was developed by Sanzaru Games for the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita. After taking on the task of remastering Sucker Punch Productions’ Sly Trilogy for HD re-release in 2010 as The Sly Collection, this is the first brand new entrant in the franchise by its new developer. The game features Cross-Save functionality, meaning you can save your game on either platform and continue it on the other.
It is also a part of the Cross-Buy promotion where purchasers of the PS3 version will receive a digital download of the handheld version for free. Whenever I hear about that sort of deal, I get suspicious of the quality of the game in question, and if you are too then this review should do well in letting you know whether Thieves in Time is truly a steal or a straight-up con.
Sly Cooper is back to his thieving ways, but not before light-heartedly feigning a case of amnesia, skipping off with then-girlfriend Carmelita Fox and leaving Bentley as the curator and keeper of the Thievius Racoonus – a family heirloom that holds in its pages the secret to mastering the art of thievery. And he could afford to do so…until one day, Bentley noticed the pages began to literally disappear from the book, the words dissolving and vanishing before his very eyes. And so the gang plans to travel back in time using Bentley’s recently perfected time travel machine to visit the ancestors whose history had been erased from the Thievius Racoonus.
Requiring an artifact from the time period they wish to visit, Sly pulls off a museum heist, stealing a dagger of Feudal Japanese origins (as his Japanese ancestor’s secrets were the first to be erased). Unfortunately, Carmelita’s assignment that allowed Sly to sneak away and return to said thievery involved that very same museum and so she catches Sly in the act, causing her to become enraged. Before things could truly boil over, the gang successfully sets off with pal Murray and his van’s help, to Feudal Japan. As the game progresses, Sly and the Gang visit many ancestors, each stuck in their own predicament, but all of them being interconnected.
In order, Sly meets Rioichi Cooper (“inventor of sushi” and master of sneaking – also a familiar face for fans of the franchise), “Tennessee” Kid Cooper, Caveman “Bob” Cooper, Sir Galleth Cooper (another familiar face) and, finally, Salim Al-Kupar. Along the way, the Gang encounters an army of rats working for the same man – one who would later be identified as Le Paradox, a French skunk who was behind all of this and was stealing the Cooper clan’s canes as prizes. His dastardly motives are revealed around 3/4’s into the game, and not unlike most large-scale villains, it involved global domination. I won’t give away any specifics, but I will say that the story is weaved together pretty well, however it is nothing special in the sense that it’s essentially been done before.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time takes on board many of the best gameplay elements from past iterations whilst introducing a few new ones. In every chapter, you will begin at your hideout. Here, you can choose between any of the available characters – which at first are the usual trio of Sly, Murray and Bentley – to go out and free-roam or tackle specific jobs. When a job is open, the designated character will have a logo appear over the top of their head indicating that availability. But, as mentioned, you can free-roam with any character to just explore the fairly vast worlds or to acquire the collectables that are strewn throughout them. These include 30 Clue Bottles in each world, the completion of which allows you to unlock each location’s Safe. Each of the aforementioned safes contains a permanent upgrade that applies to every character at your disposal. Then there are a total of 60 Secret Sly Masks and 60 Treasures to be found across all worlds.
The treasures each have a set worth; finding them and successfully bringing them back to your headquarters nets you that amount in coins, and getting back all of them unlocks the arcade machines in your hideout. And finally, for every 5 to 10 masks you collate, an Unlockable will become accessible in the pause menu. These unlockables are mostly new skins for each of the main protagonists in the game, with a few exceptions being…skins for your para-glider or cane (Ratchet & Clank and inFAMOUS references abound). At any given time, you may revisit locations from the hideout, as well as re-do certain missions. Speaking of the hideout, you may also have a game of ping pong, check out your Trophy Wall and also your Costume Gallery.
That leads us into the disguises…in each time period besides the current day, Sly will acquire a new themed outfit that provides him with new abilities pertinent to the obstacles of the respective lands. One example is the Samurai costume from Feudal Japan enables Sly to mosey on by somewhat dopey guards as they salute him, as well as giving the ability to deflect fireballs which are utilised as both a puzzle and combat mechanic (only in the boss battle with a Tiger character called El Jefe). It also renders Sly invulnerable to flames, which reminds me of a specific section where flames were shooting out at this walkway, and the game acted as if it was supposed to be a challenge to swap between costumes, when I simply stayed in costume and passed the area with ease. I also found the A.I. in Japan to be a bit dim-witted, as I broke objects for the purpose of collecting coins – while in the Samurai costume – and they still looked for the culprit even after saluting me a few seconds earlier. Not the brightest bunch.
For each world, there are unique enemies and sub-bosses that present different challenges. In the Wild West inspired location (Cotton Mouth Bluff), Jackalopes threaten with sticks of dynamites while the Cranes of Feudal Japan attack you with, you guessed it…the ‘crane style’. These are your more standard enemies you encounter as you roam; the fodder, if you will. Then there are the guard-types that are on patrol, are much larger and take many more hits to kill. And a common thread between them all is a dictator of sorts, who act as the sub-boss of each land. Now, I wouldn’t call any of these battles truly challenging, but they are all unique and do not all fall to Sly to vanquish. I briefly mentioned El Jefe earlier, who throws fireballs at you and attempts to sweep you with his electrified sword. There are multiple stages to each battle, but they are based on patterns so you will learn the routines rather quickly.
Each playable character has their specialty, and what’s nice is that on certain important and climactic missions, you automatically swap between them as they work to aid each other in executing their group plan of attack. Murray is the brute; less agile without the ability to jump, but can pick up objects and launch them. Bentley is the gadget guy, making use of bombs and arts, while also being able to boost across short distances with his rocket powered wheelchair (also takes part in 3 different hacking mini-games – a side-scrolling shoot-em up, a top-down tank shooter and a timed puzzle game making use of the Vita’s accelerometer). And Sly is able to perch himself atop specified objects, walk wires/ropes and use his para-glider to travel across longer distances. Carmelita’s weapon of choice is her shock pistol. All of these abilities and weapons can be upgraded via ‘Thief-Net’ using the coins you round up during your journey, although some are purely aesthetic choices such as a new take-down animation that does not do extra damage or anything other than look different to your previous one.
Each of your ancestors also have special abilities. They can be selected for free-play in their respective worlds outside of the usual mandatory missions. Salim Al-Kupar’s, for example, is the Cobra Climb; a technique allowing him to shoot up poles or chains at a high speed. Though not Salim’s own ability, the Thief costume Sly acquires in the Ancient Arabia level gives a nod to the Prince of Persia series as it includes a staff that can slow down time. What’s cool about these abilities and disguises is that they are needed for traversal in prior levels, effectively employing a gear-gating system that can be explored upon replays. It’s also these additions to the gameplay that keep it fresh and prevents the experience from becoming monotonous or too repetitive. The game has a good pace to it, but can be a long one, especially if you are set on collecting everything mentioned above (over 12 hours for sure).
I felt there were some missed opportunities here and there – one situation in particular was a cut-scene where a baddie, Miss Decibel, questions Sly on a piece of information the player had recently overheard. Instead of giving the player a multiple choice option – testing their recollection – it was automatically answered in the cut-scene. I was also thoroughly annoyed by the fact that coins loosened by breaking the debris and miscellany that held them do not magnetise to the player, and you have to actually walk over them/very close to them for them to be collected. It’s just a waste of time for the player when they have already completed the action needed and an inconvenience. Loading screens are also a very common thing, so get used to seeing them appear between a 30 second gameplay sequences and a 30 second cut-scene and then back to gameplay again. It’s that frequent at times. And finally, I didn’t understand why there is a choice to pickpocket enemies instead of executing stealth take-downs on them (netting you the same amount of coins), especially when there is no morality system in place and why every pickpocket takes three presses of the ‘O’ button to achieve. There is no need for that repetition.
Sly Cooper’s cartoon-like visual style is a trademark of the series and continues to set the right tone for the adventures of Sly and the gang. In Thieves in Time, the gang visits 6 unique places (or “times” when you think about it) and each one presents their own atmosphere through visual design relative to the era. Now, much like the characters themselves, the dialogue, the plot points…okay, MOST aspects of the game, elements of these environments are quite clichéd – camel head statues in Ancient Arabia for instance! But at the very least they do, without question, help establish the time and location (albeit in an exasperated manner). We’ve come to expect and accept that sort of characterisation nowadays.
The six locations are: Paris (Present Day), Feudal Japan (1603 AD), Cotton Mouth Bluff (1884 AD), Gungathal Valley (10,000 BC), Medieval England (1301) and Ancient Arabia (1001 AD). As alluded too, each encapsulate the culture of their people with a consistent theme. A few examples include Feudal Japan’s bamboo shoots, Sushi House and bonsai trees and Medieval England featuring a tavern and many castles among other things. The character designs also reflect the respective eras, and even the coins you collect and Sly and the Gang’s hideout takes on the appropriate visage. The only elements that do not adapt to the time are Bentley’s hacking programs, which makes sense as they are based in modern tech, although it would be hilarious to see a computer virus with a turban…if that’s even possible.
The same methodology applies for the audio as it did for the visuals. The music shifts and changes as you enter each period in time, with a tinge of local flavour transforming the usual Sly Cooper theme/background music. Accompanying your journey through Gungathal Valley, for instance, is a primitive drum beat with Flinstone-esque instrumentation. Again, it reiterates the appropriate tone and atmosphere for your given locale. You can imagine the music of every other place – they are that well defined throughout history, and not much is different here; typical, but established so why mess with it?
The voice acting and dialogue in the game is comical, but also hit and miss in its delivery and writing. Then again, it’s only fair to keep in mind that Sly, Murray, Bentley and the rest of the crew are pretty much caricatures and it’s natural for them to be voiced in an exaggerated fashion. But after a while, I just wanted Bentley to shut up and crawl inside his shell. Some of it is genuinely humorous, and will definitely appeal to a younger demographic a lot more than I. I also noticed many discrepancies between the subtitles and the voice-over, and came across a single, one-time bug where the sfx and vocal tracks did not resume after a specific re spawn somewhat early in the game.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is far from perfect, but it is still a fun game. Its main characters may be well established and well-drawn, but I found them to be stereotypical and clichéd in their voice-work. Maybe me not being familiar (first-hand) with the series has something to do with that perspective. Some mechanics and puzzle/platforming elements confused me in their unnecessity and lack of challenge and the game can start to feel repetitive in some instances, but does amp up as you progress with new characters bringing fresh gameplay mechanics and opportunities. And that’s very important considering it’s a lengthy title. The gear-gating system ensures there is more than enough reason to revisit past locales along with the incentive of collecting all the bottles, masks and treasures and cracking all the safes.
Ultimately, Thieves in Time does not take full advantage of the Vita’s capabilities with no real gesture based inputs and the most involvement with the touch screen being a tap or tap + hold to bring up your Gear Grid. As mentioned, the variation in gameplay increases dramatically as you play and the vastly different locations in time provide the opportunities for unique atmospheres and experiences in each chapter. All things considered, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a good game, but not great and most certainly not the best that could have been made. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s a definite buy. For other platformer fans – as long as you can withstand Bentley’s nasally voice – give it a crack.