It seems that every gamer has at least one beloved platformer that made their formative years special. For most people it's Mario or Crash Bandicoot, but for me it was Sly Cooper, with its unique blend of stealth platforming, wacky mini-games and comedic charm. I was more than a little excited then, to learn of a brand new entry to the series, especially after seeing new developer, Sanzaru Games' excellent work on the HD Collection, a handy reminder of the original trilogy's appeal outside of rose-tinted nostalgia. So as you can imagine, no-one is more disappointed than I to discover that the new instalment doesn't quite live up the lofty standards of the series.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time follows the adventures of the eponymous Sly and his gang, a turtle named Bentley and a hippo named Murray, as they travel through time to help Sly's ancestors and keep his family history intact. It's a somewhat basic setup but it works very well as a framing device, as well as being a fantastic excuse for the gang to visit a wide variety of locales. Series mainstay Carmelita Fox returns as an ally, engaged in a love/hate relationship with Sly, and we're introduced to a selection of Sly's incredibly likeable ancestors acting as ridiculous caricatures of their given era.
There's also a brand new set of bosses, who are entertaining enough on their own but when compared to the bosses of the original games, they just aren't as interesting or well realised. Main villain Le Paradox is particularly disappointing for reasons that I can't reveal without spoiling the story but suffice it to say that his characterisation suffers from pacing issues, a problem affecting much of the story in general. It's entirely too long for one; the game outstayed its welcome by several chapters, and although the gameplay is generally fun, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
As I said, the gameplay is generally enjoyable. Thieves in Time continue the series' blend of stealth, platforming, melee combat and mini-games, with varying levels of success. The platforming is still as good as ever, offering three distinct styles of play: Sly is a fast paced climber, Murray is more of a brawler and Bentley is wheelchair-bound and relies on his gadgets to get by, and these varying styles really do help to add variety to the platforming segments. One minor complaint I have is that there's a lack of lengthy, meaty platforming sections; too often they are broken up by conversations and story items and as such the fast paced, flowing traversal of old is largely absent.
The stealth elements have also been somewhat de-emphasised. The majority of the environments are very open and non-linear, and as such won't require any real sneaking technique to get through; it's far too often a case of climbing onto a roof or walking just outside of a guard's field of view as opposed to hiding and strategising, with the poor and easily-outwitted AI offering up even less incentive for careful and considered play.
Melee combat is a pleasant, juvenile affair, especially while playing as Murray. Utilising two simple attack buttons and one grab attack to wipe out hordes of enemies has a charming arcade feel to it, and never stops being insanely satisfying regardless of how often it's repeated. The mini-games, however, are far more hit-and-miss. For the first few levels, they're incredibly varied and fun, with activities ranging from making Murray dance with Guitar Hero-style button matching, to fishing with electricity and even retro 2D shooter levels, but sadly they are repeated far too often throughout the course of the game; Bentley's hacking mini-games in particular are repeated to the point of absolute tedium. This is particularly disappointing given the tendency of the original games to bombard the player with fresh and unique mini-games as opposed to repeating the same few over and over, but it's not exactly a deal-breaker.
One truly negative aspect of the game, however, is the fact it features poorly implemented Sixaxis controls, which is something that simply should not be happening in a 2013 videogame. I'd always assumed that PS3 developers had left Sixaxis controls behind after that embarrassing Lair/Heavenly Sword period, when everyone else realised how awful they were and tried to pretend they didn't exist but no, they're back in full force here, and presented the only sections that crossed the line from tolerable tedium to controller snapping frustration. Luckily, the boss fights are almost universally great and generally make an effort to provide a unique confrontation, even if they do become somewhat trial and error, at times.
One area of the game that is worthy of praise is the soundtrack; the music is always appropriate for the time and setting of each level, and generally does a fantastic job of enhancing the atmosphere in any given situation. Graphically the game is about on par with the HD Collection, if not a little better, but in terms of raw graphical quality, it is absolutely nothing to write home about for a current gen game. Thankfully, the environments themselves are colourful and vibrant, complementing the fantastic level design with a distinct, eye catching visual style. Technically, the game is almost flawless; loading times are occasionally a few seconds on the side of uncomfortable but the game runs very smoothly once it's loaded and the ability to instantly restart after death is incredibly helpful during the occasional tricky section.
In terms of lifespan, Thieves in Time is a very long game, for a platformer, taking notably longer to complete than any previous Sly Cooper game, in my experience. In terms of replayable incentives, each episode is littered with collectible treasures, clues to unlock safes for further rewards and there are a variety of special Trophies to unlock; there is lot to do after finishing the main story if you want to achieve 100% completion. Another feature that will increase replay value is the Cross-Buy feature, allowing PS3 owners to download a free Vita copy, as well as allowing them to transfer saves back and forth, which I think is a fantastic idea and I'll certainly be replaying the game again to experience it in a different way once I pick up a Vita.
In conclusion, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a fun but flawed game that fails to live up to the extremely high standards set by the first three Sly Cooper games. Fans of the series will almost certainly find some enjoyment, but newcomers may be better off starting with the excellent HD Collection first and then returning to Thieves in Time should they crave a little more.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
It seems that every gamer has at least one beloved platformer that made their formative years special. For most people it's Mario or Crash Bandicoot, but for me it was Sly Cooper, with its unique blend of stealth platforming, wacky mini-games and comedic charm.