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Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Review

Posted by Chad Habel On Monday 29 April 2013Comments Off

Available on PS3 and PSV l Published by Sony l Developed by Sanzaru Games l Classified PG I Supports 1 player

REVIEW IN BRIEF > When a favoured franchise is taken into new hands, fans tend to worry. Sanzaru had already established its credibility with the HD remake of earlier Sly Cooper games, and the studio certainly doesn’t disappoint here. Thieves in Time is a highly polished platformer with a phenomenal amount of gameplay variety, a satisfying (if formulaic) narrative, and a healthy dose of clean humour.

REVIEW IN FULL > Sly Cooper, racoon master thief, has been living clean in Paris under the watchful eye of his lawmaker girlfriend, Carmelita Montoya Fox. This stable lifestyle is undermined when pages of his family history begin to disappear before his eyes, and he embarks on a time travelling adventure with his buddies Bentley, the brainy tech-savvy turtle and Murray, the brawny hippo. They travel to different time periods including medieval England, feudal Japan, and the ancient Middle East. In these exotic locations they meet various Cooper ancestors, helping them to discover precisely what or who is erasing the Cooper legacy.

Sanzaru has developed an astonishing range of minigames and missions.

These elements come together to modernise the Cooper franchise in a game that could not be said to be really innovative, but is highly accomplished. The three main characters are supplemented by various minor characters, including Cooper’s ancestors and Carmelita herself, to offer a variety of play styles and strategies but a consistent look and feel and design approach. The core of the game remains a stealth platformer, as Sly sneaks above street level and performs takedowns on brutish and unsuspecting guards. Bentley darts around in his wheelchair, avoiding guards and performing hacking missions which offer various retro-styled minigames which rarely lose their flavour. Murray allows for some beat-em-up action and comic relief, mostly at the expense of his eating habits and the various emasculating experiences he is subjected to.

Within these core play styles, though, Sanzaru has developed an astonishing range of minigames and missions. For the game’s entirety the payer is consistently introduced to new challenges. These often revolve around the Cooper ancestors: for example, Tennessee “Kid” Cooper involves third-person shooting, combined with dynamic on-rails traversal a la Infamous. Sly’s inarticulate prehistoric ancestor, “Bob”, climbs walls and evades threats in the style of all the parkour-inspired games of this generation. Even within the main character story arcs there are constantly surprising challenges which combine accessible platforming with problem solving, skill tests and combat, none of which are overly “difficult”.

If there’s one word for this game, it’s “accessible”. To be honest, it is rather kiddy, in the best sense of the term, meaning that it can also be thoroughly enjoyed by adults. We’ve seen this with a lot of animated films in the past decade, so it’s nice to see it happening with games. Consistent with its main target market, the platforming is designed such that a single press of a button latches Sly onto a rope or roofline, or sends him gliding down a zip line. The combat is fun but pretty easy, especially once the player purchases any of the numerous upgrades made available with in-game currency.

The hacking sequences and problems are not too complex, and bosses offer a mostly gentle difficulty spike (although strangely the first boss seemed rage-inducingly frustrating, but perhaps that was a unique experience). Finally the mission structure in each new world is repetitive in a good way, beginning with reconnaissance and leading through stealth and battle missions to a finale where each boss is tackled with a variety of characters. These final sequences offer some great set pieces: the train heist in the Wild West is a standout.

…older players who have an open mind and heart will find the story charming and entertaining.

The narrative, too, is clearly directed at younger players. After a heavy info dump at the beginning, missions are punctuated with in game dialogue and skippable cutscenes which tell of the gang’s trials and tribulations during their adventures. It has the distinct flavour of modern Saturday morning cartoons, with a colourful palette and humour which relies heavily on puns and slapstick that is almost, but not quite, too cheesy for adult tastes. There is even some depth to the narrative: Murray sometimes suffers from feelings of inadequacy, Bentley endures a heartbreaking betrayal, and there is a general empowerment of the underdog as against the brutish thug. Again, though, this approach does not exclude adults, and older players who have an open mind and heart will find the story charming and entertaining. Despite this broad accessibility, the vast diversity of challenges and play styles demands significant gaming literacy, which if the truth be told is probably more sophisticated in younger players than adults.

Alongside this broad accessibility and subtle complexity, Thieves in Time is unapologetically linear. This at once goes against the open-world inspiration of the game (Assassin’s Creed is an obvious influence) but also is responsible for its slight limitations. Although it is possible to play missions as various characters, there is no branching mission structure and so the player effectively has no choice as to who to play next. Worse, there are no opportunities for skipping or circumventing any particular challenges, so if any of them are found to be overly challenging, the only option is to rage quit. Again, though, perhaps this is only a problem for adults.

In Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, Sanzaru has managed to not only take on, but to revitalise, a favourite franchise in a way that epitomises all the best of this generation of console gaming. It is undoubtedly directed towards younger players, but in reality appeals to a very broad cohort of gamers of all ages and backgrounds. It is highly polished and offers very diverse play experiences wrapped in a narrative and visual package that is loveable and surprisingly deep. Despite a perhaps unnecessarily linear mission structure and overall approach, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a highly enjoyable offering that demonstrates stealth platform game design at its very best.

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