Video Game Review: Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (PS3)

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If you grew up in the heyday of the PlayStation 2, you know this guy. Sly Cooper is a Sony legend, widely considered by most fans to be one of the greatest PlayStation exclusive games ever, right up there with Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, Spyro The Dragon, Crash Bandicoot and even Uncharted. The PS2 saw the release of three Sly games over its lifetime: Sly Cooper and the Thievious Raccoonus, Sly 2: Band of Thieves and Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves. Despite the epilogue of Honor Among Thieves hinting at a time travel-related fourth game, fans never saw it and the franchise became nothing but a nostalgic memory. Six years passed, and the long-awaited installment was announced to be released in 2012 for the PS3 and PS Vita exclusively. Due to marketing delays, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time was finally released (February for the USA, March for Europe)  in 2013.  For anyone that didn’t know, Suckerpunch had no involvement with Thieves in Time. Sanzaru, the company that revived Ratchet and Clank, did the same to Sly Cooper. I was of course lined up at Gamestop to pick up my preordered copy the day it was released, and I knew deep in my head that this game would be hit or miss – it would either be wonderful, or somehow worse than Honor Among Thieves (yeah, I didn’t like Sly three. Sue me.) So, now we must discover something: was it worth the wait?

This review will be judged by Gameplay, Controls, Story, Graphics, Music and Replay Value.

Gameplay:

One of the most important things in a game is arguably the gameplay. For instance, if you look at Shadow of the Colossus, considered one of the greatest games of all time, that game has next to no plot, but it has fun gameplay, music and graphics. A good plot helps to the success of the game, but isn’t necessary provided that the other elements work well together. This is one such case. I’ll go into detail about the story later; for now, let’s focus on the gameplay. To put it simply, Thieves in Time felt like an honest-to-god traditional Suckerpunch Sly Cooper game. I could have played the entire series back-to-back and never realized there was a six year gap between the third and fourth. Sly still has his signature moves: he can Spire Jump on small points, sneak along ledges, pickpocket, sneak attack, use his Binoc-U-Com, slide along rails, and much more. Murray is still the burly powerhouse we all know and love, and Bentley is still the brains. Contrary to what a lot of fans wanted, he still remains in his wheelchair, and, as far as I’m concerned, that was the right decision. As well as keeping the old mechanics, many new ones were added, the most obvious being the new costume feature. In each past-based act, Sly gets costumes that must be used to clear various missions in that episode. They vary from a samurai warrior to a prison suit, to a medieval archer, to a time-freezing thief, and even a prehistoric tiger pelt.

However, the costumes were just the beginning. Thieves in Time also gives you the chance to control Sly’s ancestors freely (that was something that annoyed me with Honor Among Thieves – you had all these new characters, but could only play as them in certain levels). Each ancestor has their own talent and signature moves. For example, Tennesse Kid Cooper’s sneak attack is a gun shot, and Riochi’s is ninja throwing stars. Additionally, there is a huge variety of levels that vary from traditional stealth missions, to RC chopper raids, to arcade-style shooters, to quick-sequence minigames, to target-shooters and even a type of hack (one of three) that involves the usage of the PS3’s motion controls. One thing that I love about this game is that there is enough of a return to basics – Thieves in Time feels like a true Sly game, but it has enough new features that it will hold the attention of both old and new fans.

Controls:

Thieves in Time controls like every other Sly game. There is limited variation in the control scheme, making it very easy for long-time fans to adapt to the new game. The biggest change is that the Select-opened Gadgets Grid has been replaced in favor of a smaller grid that only holds five powerups and is activated by holding in L2 (or R2, I’m not positive), and Select now opens a map and mission summary page. The bulk majority of the new abilities purchased from ThiefNet activate automatically, and the Gadgets Grid is mostly reserved for weapon upgrades. For example, Bentley can have different types of darts that can shock, burn, drug, explode, ect. Circle is still the primary action button, and the controls are as smooth as can be. My only complaint with the controls comes from the first-person Binoc-U-Com. Maybe it was just me, but I thought they were way too complicated and awkward to use. I really can’t describe why; I just had issues with them. Other than that, they were flawless.

(SPOILER ALERT. Skip this category if needed)

Story :

After the events of Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, the Cooper Gang have went their separate ways. Sly has faked amnesia and is finally living a peaceful life with his long-time crush (who happens to be a cop that has tried without success to imprison him through the whole series), Carmelita Fox. Bentley and his mouse girlfriend, Penelope are living together, working on a top-secret project. Murray has been dominating a demolition derby circuit with his van and remains champion. However, Bentley has also been studying the Thievious Racoonus, a manual that’s been passed down through Sly’s family for generations and holds all the secrets to their thieving legacy. When the pages from the Thievious Racoonus start vanishing, Bentley rounds up the Cooper Gang and hops in his newly built time machine to save the Cooper legacy.

The plot for Thieves in Time is, in a word, average. I still feel that Sly 2: Band of Thieves was by far the  best in the series, and, although I liked the plot of Thieves in Time more than Honor Among Thieves, it was far from great.

Pros: I loved that it went back to focusing on the Thievious Racoonus, like the original game did. I’ve always felt that was the biggest problem I had with Sly 3.   The rest of the series follows a pattern; Sly Cooper and the Theivious Raccoonus involves Sly restoring his family manual, Sly 2: Band of Thieves follows the gang as they ensure Clockwerk, the main villain of the first game, is never recreated, and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time focusing on repairing Cooper history in order to save the Theivious Raccoonus. However, Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves takes a completely different plot, as Sly tries to extend his gang in order to infiltrate his ancient family vault. So, kudos for Sanzaru for taking on a more smooth focus  for this fourth game. It had a much better story than Honor Among Thieves.

Cons: It felt jumpy at times. For instance, the conversion between act two and three was so fast and sudden that I was like “…what just happened?” when the cutscene was over. It involved the Cooper van racing alongside  train as Tennessee Kid Cooper moves gold from the train to the car. Let’s pretend for a moment that a van is even capable of keeping up with a train. For whatever reason, the van’s brakes give out and they are sent hurling off a cliff. Someone rips Murry’s fossil necklace off his neck and throws it into the time machine, sending them to a prehistoric era. That leads me to my second biggest plot-related annoyance in the entire game.

In Sly 3, we were introduced to a lot of Sly’s ancestors while in the Cooper vault. Sly had a prehistoric ancestor named Slay McCooper. However, in Thieves in Time , they meet a cave-raccoon with a name they can’t pronounce, leaving the gang to nickname him Bob. Don’t get me wrong; I liked Bob. He was a very comical character. However,  I felt it was weak of Sanzaru to ignore the fact that there was already an  established ancestor in Bob’s place. Slay McCooper would have been a very interesting character to add to the game. However, the biggest shock in the game would come in act four, in England. If you haven’t played the game, I strongly recommend you skip the rest of this paragraph, because an insane spoiler is coming your way. At the beginning of the game, Bentley mentions that Penelope, his girlfriend from Sly 3, has vanished. In act four, we discover why she did so. She betrayed him, sold his time travel technology to the main villain, Le Paradox, all for the motivation of money. Now, I understand why they took this route – they wanted to add a twist to the story. However, it was extremely out of character. Penelope and Bentley had a deep relationship  and realistically, money wouldn’t have changed that.

And finally, the final bosses’ motivation was cliched and the fight against him was god-awful. I won’t spoil anything else, but it was one of the worst final boss fights I’ve ever seen.

Graphics:

I can’t say much about it; the graphics were everything I expected. The Sly series is known for its unique cartoony artstyle. The PS3 is known for having revolutionary visuals (in my opinion, the PS3, even  when comparing the same titles, is superior to the Xbox360). Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time combined the two very well. It was still reminiscent of the other Sly games, but had the deep and vibrant graphics expected from a PS3 game.

Music:

The Sly series isn’t a standout in terms of music. Most of the tracks are well-suited to their levels, but nothing in any of the games exactly ‘wows’ me. Thieves in Time followed that pattern. The audio was good and fit the game, but it wasn’t anything very memorable.  There was only one music track that stood out to me: the fight against Le Paradox. The final boss was horrible. I really cannot stress enough how bad it was. Fucking Sir Raleigh the Frog, the FIRST boss in the entire series, was harder and more entertaining than Le Paradox… You know, I’ve been ripping it apart so much, I feel obligated to at least explain myself. Just watch this video.

Anyway, back to the point I was getting at before going off on that tirade. The boss fight, while being ridiculously easy and annoying, had some pretty damn epic music playing, especially for a Sly game.

Replay Value:

It is nearly endless. In fact, you have to go back and re-play old levels in order to complete the game 100%. Thieves in Time includes a wide range of unlockables, from the infamous bottles and vaults, to the huge amount of treasures  (about twenty per act). Additionally, the game features the Sly Masks, new small items that will unlock new character skins if a certain amount are found. In order to find all sixty in the game  you will have to return to previous acts after obtaining certain costumes. The same goes for the treasures – you will not be able to find all of them the first time you play that act due to the costume mechanic. While some people may find this annoying, I love it. Like the first and third games (this was Sly 2’s big weakness), Thieves in Time allows you to replay any and all missions via the time machine, giving it almost endless replay value. Also, Clockwerk will appear as a cameo in the background of every act in one specific mission. No hints; find him yourself. The PlayStation3’s Trophy feature also adds to the replay value, with some admittedly challenging objectives, such as defeating certain bosses without taking damage and completing quick-action sequence minigames with no flaws (trust me, this is mind-numbingly difficult. I know; I’ve platinumed it).

Final Rubric:

Gameplay: 10/10 –  A good mixture of old and new elements to both attract new fans and keep old ones

Controls: 8/10 – Very good, but has some changes that old fans might not enjoy or find difficult to adjust to

Story: 7/10 – Some weaknesses (especially the final boss), but it was generally an enjoyable plot

Graphics: 10/10 – It has the impressive visuals you’d expect from a PS3 game, but also keeps  the cartoony feel of the Sly Cooper series

Music: 8/10 – The music fit the game, but wasn’t really spectacular

Replay Value: 10/10 – The game encourages the player to re-play missions in order to complete the game, and it has plenty of additional challenges to keep them busy

Overall Score: 8.3/10

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