Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Review
The Sly Cooper franchise was somewhat of a Playstation 2 relic before Sony sought to give it a revival this spring. The series was a critical success in the past, ranging an 83-88 on Metacritic, and has generally been a commercial success as well. Thus, Sly has made cameos in other Playstation spots, appearing in Playstation Move Heroes and Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale. Sly Cooper has often been the most family-friendly franchise that Sony has had since Crash Bandicoot. So a new entry in the franchise was not unexpected, but the quality of it was definitely in question.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
(Playsation 3, Playstation Vita)
Developer: Sanzaru Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: February 5, 2013
Sanzaru Games, the team responsible for bringing the Sly Cooper Collection to the PSN, was tapped to take the reigns from previous developer, Sucker Punch. Sanzaru has stuck to formula, including the latter entries “open-world’ feel and staying true to the surprisingly deep lore of the Cooper franchise. The characters are still the same, the lighthearted tone is still clear, Sanzaru has handled the continuation of Sly Cooper with the same respect 343 Industries treated Halo.
The writing of the game, including the story, is still very strong. You won’t be bursting with laughter, but the jokes hit more than they miss. The exchanges between Sly and Bentley are filled with cheesy humor and good natured ribbing. The relationship between Carmelita Fox and Sly is still rocky as they attempt to understand each other. However, the nonsensical plot can be difficult to swallow at times. Even for an anthropomorphic, Sci-Fi, heist plot, there are moments when you will still have to excuse blatant inconsistent/unexplained events.
The most impressive achievement Sanzaru accomplishes in Thieves in Time, is the uncompromising art style. An upgrade was expected, developing for a new generation of hardware, but finely rendered cutscenes convey the cartoon feel, matching the hand drawn cutscenes as perfectly as they could.
The impressive art and finely rendered animations might also be part of the drawback to Thieves in Time. Long loading screens, buggy controls, frame rate issues, and a handful of crashes occurred during my playthrough. It is particularly baffling as you would think these issues would be consolidated to the Vita version of the game. However, my experience with the Vita was better than that with the PS3. The loading times are the biggest problem. They occur dozens of times throughout the story, sometimes with only seconds between them, and can really suck the life out of the game.
The game also loses some technical points on the sound mixing. The score is fantastic, providing a brassy undertone for the action you play. It morphs as the gang travels through exotic locations from different centuries, maintaining thematic consistency, while providing constant variation. However, sometimes the score can cover up instructions being given in intense moments (when you need to hear them most). The sound editing also can be faulty as you won’t receive certain instructions until it is too late. You might have to start a section two or three times before finally hearing what you are supposed to do.
The biggest problem that Thieves in Time has, is that playing as Sly is so much fun. How is that a problem? Because you only get to do it about 60% of the time. Sly handles so well its stealth mechanics should be shipped over to the Ubisoft offices so Assassin’s Creed can take some notes. However, too often are you regulated to Bentley or Murray, Sly’s sidekicks. A little variety is nice, letting you take on a supporting role to Sly. But you take these roles on so often that they start becoming long chores that break up the fun gameplay you really wanted. It’s like making a Superman game where you run around as Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen a third of the time. Even worse, is that Sanzaru seems as uninterested in these parts as we are. Thus, the gameplay for these characters is the weakest and the missions they are doing are uninteresting.
In addition to Sly’s buddies, you will also take control a handful of his ancestors. These characters are mostly fun because they have the basic setup of Cooper. However, they also have special abilities that are used in completing their missions. These special abilities are also lacking in refinement. Half of them are uninteresting, being riffs on mechanics other games used (like the dead eye skill from Red Dead Redemption), the others are rough around the edges. It’s a lot of hassle to go through to get to the real meat of the game, playing as Sly.
The sixteen hour game doesn’t find its rhythm until about halfway through. Whenever I was about to lose myself in the action and the story, I would hit a series of long load screens, or get stuck in a frustrating sidekick mission with a poorly constructed mechanic. The game is so endearing with its characters and animations, I don’t think I have ever wanted to like a game more. I definitely believe that anyone who goes on Sly’s journey will see it through to the end as the package surrounding the gameplay so good you won’t be able to resist. The road to through the game, unfortunately, is paved with some teeth-grinding rough spots.
I hope to see Sly Cooper again, maybe without an eight year break this time. I would also like to see Sanzaru take another crack at the formula. The story ends with a some hooks for a sequel, so the hope for another go ‘round is kindled. However, I would hope Sanzaru would think about condensing the experience to a more Sly-centric focus. Throw out the extemporaneous characters and limit the sidekick mumbo-jumbo to a few palate cleansers. Give us more of that, “Cursed Ring-tail!” and all the acrobatic, stealthy, witty fun he can provide.