Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Review (PS3, PS Vita)
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A faithful send-up of cartoon humor and polished platforming, Sly Cooper's long-awaited return keeps things fresh with astounding and compelling variety.
- Creative stealth platforming in vibrant worlds
- Endless variety and surprising gameplay mechanics
- Witty dialogue and cartoon humor
- Lackluster music
- Narrative missteps
- Derivative skills and upgrades
Sly Cooper's latest adventure is, undeniably, a labor of love. Sanzaru Games clearly understands what makes this franchise special: cartoon antics, tactful innuendos, and a colorful world ripe for stealthy platforming. Indeed, with regards to Sucker Punch's venerable PlayStation 2 trilogy, Sanzaru's debut title is a faithful sequel, and almost religiously so. Ultimately, that's a very good thing – Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time may be more than seven years in the making, but it feels like a natural evolution for the series. Sanzaru has managed to take ownership of a brand that some fans (including myself) couldn't imagine in any other hands, and while not every change is a home run, Thieves in Time pushes the series forward and effectively introduces our favorite rogue-ish raccoon to a new generation.
Despite having entered the high-def era, Thieves in Time should make Sly Cooper veterans feel right at home. As an open-world platformer, the game advances between episodes - playground worlds where you're free to roam, rob guards, and hunt collectibles - as the player completes missions. Sly's brand of stealth action is familiar, but a few distinct features separate his endeavors from the pack. In the end, double-jumps and ground-pounds will only take you so far. Sly's main mode of traversal is the Circle button, which acts in context to attach our agile hero to the nearest interactive object. Tightropes, flagpoles, tree branches, and the like are all viable means from point A to B. Establishing a rhythm of traversal is half the fun in a game that - in terms of sheer variety - will ultimately throw the kitchen sink your way.
This journey through the unexpected does not begin without a call to the past. Thieves in Time opens with a lengthy cutscene that recalls the ambiguous ending of Sly 3 and catches up newcomers on major characters and motives. The titular raccoon is the youngest and last-remaining descendant in a line of thieves that goes back for thousands of years, and the exploits of the honorable Cooper clan – who rob only the dishonorable - are the stuff of legend. We last saw Sly faking amnesia so that the fires of romance with law enforcement nemesis Carmelita Fox could be kindled. Meanwhile, Sly's longtime crew of friends pursue their own endeavors. While Murray (the hunky hippo) takes the stock racing and demolition derby circuits by storm, Bentley (the tech-wiz turtle) and girlfriend Penelope begin developing a time machine. Upon completion, tragedy strikes. Penelope disappears, and pages of the Thievius Raccoonus, an ancient tome chronicling the history of Sly's ancestors, are being wiped blank without explanation. Eager to uncover the answers and correct the conundrums, Bentley completes his work and rounds up Sly and Murray for one more job – find Penelope, and save Cooper history.
Sly's ancestry is the focus of this time-hopping adventure, which is all the more intriguing for it. Each time period visited is a hub world rife with missions, collectibles, and a playable ancestor whose mechanics and abilities inject astounding variety. Perhaps more importantly, every ancestor is just plain fun. There are no high and low watermarks, only the distilled essence of what makes this franchise special: unpredictable gameplay and surprises, backed by tight polish and controls. Catapult from iron rings. Target six enemies in slow-mo shooting a la Red Dead Redemption. Leap from spire to spire over massive distances. When Sly's talented forebears enter the equation, there's always a compelling gameplay twist just around the corner.
Less compelling are the narrative twists that accompany them. While every ancestor Sly and the gang saves (and every boss baddie they put down) ultimately serves to restore the Thievius Raccoonus, the implications through time of their success or failure aren't emphasized enough. I felt some lack of cinematic urgency until the main villain behind it all finally reared its head – shortly after a late-game curve-ball plot twist that, as a longtime series fan, I just couldn't get behind. But, things improve dramatically from there. Thieves in Time's last act is arguably the best in the series, for reasons I won't spoil here. Suffice it to say, the game gets its storytelling act together before all is said and done, and its plot becomes one of the more enjoyable entries in Sly ... (continued on next page) ----