Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Review

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Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is the long awaited sequel to Sucker Punch’s epic Sly Cooper series of platformers on the PS2. Thieves in Time is a wonderful game, with great platforming, an engaging story and solid voice acting and characterization, but it’s plagued by bad minigames and long loading times.

A quick note before I begin my review: Thieves in Time builds on a lot of the lore from the first three games, so newcomers to the series may feel lost. Because of this, I HIGHLY recommend that you go and play the Sly Collection  if you haven’t already. Not only are they excellent games, but you’ll be left out of a lot of the story of Thieves in Time if you don’t.

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Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (PS3 [Reviewed], PS Vita)
Developer: Sanzaru Games
Publisher: Sony
Release Date: February 5, 2013 [Buy Now]

Solid, incredibly fun platforming has always been the Sly Cooper series’s bread and butter. Thieves in Time keeps up this trend, offering a 3D platforming experience you won’t find anywhere else. The controls are tight and precise… most of the time. I did experience a few points where hitting the circle button forced Sly onto a pole or point I wasn’t aiming for. These problems are relatively minor, but still worth noting, since they will often cause you to fall and start your platforming over again.

Sanzaru has also done a wonderful job of level designs for Sly and friends to platform across. The open worlds are large and incredibly varied, with 5 areas spread across the world and the timeline, from prehistoric glacier villages to feudal Japanese samurai fortresses. These worlds are well stocked with collectibles, providing a lot of staying power to the game after you complete the story. Clue bottles and treasures are back from Sly 2, after being noticeably absent in Sly 3. Thieves in Time also introduces collectible masks, which can be found in the hub worlds and missions, as well as some of the minigames. In addition to the hub worlds, many missions bring you inside buildings, which are stocked with challenging (by Sly Cooper standards), yet still fun, stealth and platforming gameplay.

Idea: Use this game to ease your non-gamer friends/kids into Assassin's Creed
Idea: Use this game to ease your non-gamer friends/kids into Assassin’s Creed

Speaking of stealth, Thieves in Time also carries over the stealth mechanics from its predecessors. Sneaking across rooftops, pickpocketing unsuspecting guards and brutal stealth melee attacks all make you feel like a sneaky bastard. While it’s not quite as deep as Metal Gear Solid’s or Dishonored’s, Thieves in Time’s stealth gameplay is still very fun, in the style of Assassin’s Creed (Although those games in turn felt very much like the Sly trilogy in the first place), with the rooftop gameplay and surveillance of your enemies below.

The combat system also bears mentioning. As befitting a primarily stealth-based platformer, combat in Thieves in Time is a risky affair (unless you’re playing as Murray or Carmelita, in which case combat can be fun). In fact, it is often more advisable to run and hide when you are playing as Sly, an ancestor or Bentley than to stand your ground and fight, as fighting will just eat up your time and health bar.

Unfortunately for us, the otherwise wonderful gameplay is marred by the occasional appearance of annoying minigames. The worst offender is a rhythm segment starring Murray dancing as a geisha to distract some guards for his escape. That travesty is tied, however, by the presence of several SixAxis minigames. The presence of such minigames detract from the overall experience of the game, with the exception of Sly’s ancestor Tennessee Kid Cooper, whose gameplay feels like a simple, yet enjoyable third-person shooter.

The lowest point in the game
The lowest point in the game

However, as mentioned before, the platforming, stealth, and exploration far outweigh the impact of the minigames. You’ll be forgetting all about the terrible experience as soon as you’re back in control of a platforming character.

In addition to the (mostly) solid gameplay, Thieves in Time tells an engaging story. The game begins with Sly gearing up to pull a heist after several years of down-time while faking amnesia to be with his former rival, now girlfriend Inspector Carmelita Fox. He gets caught in the act by Carmelita, but doesn’t have time to explain himself before he has to go back in time to investigate the disappearance of pages from the Thievius Raccoonus, his family’s encyclopedia of thieving techniques. While in the past, Sly and his gang meet and work with Sly’s much-vaunted ancestors. They also run into Carmelita, who joins with the gang to get back to her own time.

The story is well-written, with clever dialogue, well-integrated and well-resolved sub-plots, and interesting characters. Also, the game has a lot of gravity for a “kid’s game.” Sanzaru recognized that many of their fans are now 8 years older than at the last game’s launch, and wrote their story accordingly, while still keeping it safe for kids. The core gang’s characters are consistent with their previous appearances in Sly 1 through 3, although they are a bit more mature, reflecting the time gap. Their character models look older as well. The new heroes are also all well done, with each of Sly’s ancestors being unique from both Sly and each other, but still interesting and fun characters in their own right. I especially like Sir Galleth of the Cooper Order, who plays his role as a gallant knight from Medieval England completely to the hilt, with often hilarious results. All of the characters are well voiced, with all characters handing in good performances, with special note to Kevin Miller as Sly and Chris Murphy as Murray. Miller’s voice work is excellent as always, clearly bringing across Sly’s charisma, charm and mischievousness  while Murphy deserves a round of applause for the energy, humor and sheer hamminess he brought to his character, which fits Murray incredibly well.

Sir Galleth, the most gallant thief you shall ever meet
Sir Galleth, the most gallant thief you shall ever meet

The villains, however, are nowhere near as interesting. The game does not delve far into their motivations, just giving a summary backstory before pointing the Cooper Gang at them. On this topic, it disappointed me greatly that (MILD SPOILERS) Clockwerk never appeared. Not once. The entirety of the first two games focus on the fact that the Cooper family was hunted for centuries by a robotic owl of doom, and he doesn’t even show up once when Sly and friends go into the past to visit the ancestors, which strikes me as leaving a perfectly good plot point, as well as a great throwback, just sitting on the table. (END SPOILERS)

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Another thing about this game that puts it in good stead is its breathtaking visuals. Thieves in Time has a beautiful cartoony art style. I often found myself just sitting still for a moment to pan the camera and drink in the view. The dynamic lighting effects are also well done, to the point that I found myself speechless at a sunset presented during one of the missions. The cutscenes are striking as well, presented in the series’ signature comic book style, a different and unique way of telling the story that always charmed throughout the games. This beauty comes at a price, however: the loading screens between areas are uncomfortably long, but that’s a minor complaint when what you’re waiting for is so beautiful and fun to play.

Overall, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is an excellent entry into the series, with the solid platforming, engaging story, and well written and acted characters we’ve come to expect from the series. However, this otherwise wonderful game is hampered by the inclusion of useless and unfun minigames, which, while brief, are far too numerous and intrusive to be ignored. Thieves in Time deserves high praise, and more importantly, your money. It needs to sell well, so we can keep getting games of this caliber from Sanzaru and others.

Rating Banner 4-5