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Review: Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time

Snake.  Fisher.  Auditore.  Cooper.  These names are all synonymous with stealth, tho one of them has been absent from the gaming world for far too long – Sly Cooper.  Sure, we got a great HD compilation of the old PS2 games, but as far as a new game goes it’s been a 7+ year wait.  Well the wait is finally over and Sly, Bentley and Murray are all back in action with a brand new caper.  But has time been kind to the gang, or is this a series that was better left to our memories?

The story in Thieves In Time picks up right where Sly 3 left off.  The gang has been laying low for a while, Sly and Carmalita Fox are still a couple and life is generally good.  But before long Sly is getting that old heist itch and the gang decides to go after an underhanded art smuggler.  After a short opening tutorial level in Paris, the gang is sent zipping back in time to rescue Sly’s ancestors and stop the bad guy’s plot.

Sly & the gangThe game very quickly throws you into the action, and it doesn’t take long at all to realize that the gameplay is very similar to the old games.  This is definitely a plus.  Since the game was not developed by Sucker Punch there was some concern on if it would feel like a “real” Sly Cooper game.  That fear is almost immediately laid to rest.  From the controls and feel of the characters to the general structure of the game and the sense of humor that permeates it, this is 100% a Sly Cooper game.  Levels are structured much as they were in Sly 2.  Each main area consists of a hub world filled with enemies, hidden bottles and other collectibles.  Bentley generally directs the gang, being the brains of the outfit, and you follow his lead to take on missions that utilize each of the other characters.  In addition to the main three, you also get to use each of Sly’s ancestors who also have unique abilities as well as Carmalita.  The game does an excellent job of keeping the focus of the story on the core gang while still offering tons of variety with these other characters.  Each time period offers a unique take on things, with there being 5 time periods in all (not counting the present, which you spend very little time in).

Sly in ArabiaFor the uninitiated, Sly is a platformer game with some light stealth thrown in.  There is very rarely a time when being spotted will cause you to fail, more often than not it just makes life a little easier to stick to the shadows.  Doing so is pretty easy to do, since it usually just means not standing directly in front of enemies.  Often times you’ll want to stick to the rooftops.  Sly has a great mechanic that allows him to stick to any glowing surface by pressing the circle button mid-jump.  This eliminates the need for exact precision for most jumps and puts the focus more on finding the path you need to take.  Each time period also has a costume you will unlock for Sly.  Much more than just a change of appearance, these costumes grant you special moves that will be used for solving puzzles and traveling to previous unreachable locations.  The game smartly doesn’t force you to do a ton of switching between the different costumes, since each costume is mainly only used in the time period in which it is found.  The one exception to this is for collectible hunting – there are some areas that will be unreachable until you find a later costume and return to a past time period with it.

As you find hidden treasure and collect coins by defeating enemies and picking pockets, you can use the money you gain to purchase new moves for all of the main characters.  This gives you a great sense of progression since there are some very useful moves that you can open this way.  It also adds purpose to the myriad collectibles scattered across each mission beyond simple trophy hunting.  In addition to purchasing new moves, collecting the hidden treasures will allow you to repair arcade games in your hideout that you can play.  Finding all of the hidden bottles in an area will allow you to open a safe that will grant you a new extra-special move for Sly.

Vita radar modeThieves In Time was released for both the Vita and Playstation 3, and in a fantastic move by Sony buying the PS3 version will give you the Vita version for free – all for only $40.  The Vita version is almost identical to the PS3 version and supports “Cross Save” functionality, which allows you to transfer your save from the console to the handheld and back again.  This allows you to continue playing your same game in both places.  I found this to be a great feature and one I hope more games adopt in the future (I realize a few other games support it now, but this was my first personal experience with it).  In addition, the Vita can be used as a sort of “radar” to help Sly find all of the hidden collectibles.  This allows for some fun asynchronous co-op play as well as makes finding that last hidden bottle a little easier.

ArcheryThere are a couple of minor problems with the Vita version.  One is unavoidable, the smaller screen size makes things like finding collectibles more difficult.  This isn’t really a big deal, but worth noting.  More baffling is the fact that for some special weapons, the Vita forces you to use motion controls.  The worst case of this is when you use the archer costume in medieval times to shoot arrows, which you must then guide by tilting the Vita.  The final boss in that area requires you to do this several times, and I found that boss fight to be absolutely impossible on the Vita.  I transferred my game back to the PS3 and beat that same boss in less than a minute, using normal controls to guide the arrows.  This will only be a minor inconvenience for people who are switching between both versions, but will be a major problem for anyone who only purchases the Vita version.

Sly Cooper: Thieves In TimeCell shading looks fantastic on current gen hardware, and Sly is no exception.  There is a surprising amount of detail in the environments, and the characters are animated with amazing fluidity.  All of the original voice actors are back (with the exception of Carmalita who has been voiced by a different actress in every game) and they all do their usual fantastic job.  The jokes are delivered perfectly, with some of the best exchanges occurring between Sly and Bentley.  There is only one flaw in the presentation, and that is the load times.  Load times are something I rarely complain about, having grown up in the Commodore 64 era where there were some games where I could literally make a sandwich and eat it while they were loading.  While not THAT bad, the loads in Thieves In Time are significant and serve to pull you out of the experience.

If I could only use one word to sum up Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time, it would be “fun.”  From beginning to end, this game is a blast to play and a reminder of a great genre of gaming that we don’t see very often anymore.  To say that this game is as good as past Sly games is underselling it, because this is easily the best game in the series.  With a fantastic presentation, spot-on gameplay, tons of variety and an unexpected amount of character depth and development worked into the story it’s hard not to recommend this game to pretty much anyone.  Sly Cooper may share the stage with other gaming greats when it comes to stealth, but when it comes to charm he is in a class by himself.

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