The old, gray raccoon just ain’t what he used to be
The first three Sly Cooper titles were among my favorite PS2 action games. The cel-shaded, cartoony stealth-platforming capers starring a larcenous raccoon and his anthropomorphic animal pals hit all the right notes for me, so I was thrilled to hear that a new installment would finally be releasing after nearly eight years of waiting.
Sadly, Sucker Punch is no longer on the series—they’ve moved on to the equally awesome inFAMOUS—but I wasn’t too worried. After all, new developer Sanzaru Games did a good job with Secret Agent Clank and got a nice feel for the Sly series by porting the original trilogy to the PS3 with The Sly Collection.
It turns out I was half right. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time isn’t a bad game. In fact, I’d say it’s better than your average platformer. Unfortunately, a consistent assortment of niggling issues keeps this stealthy adventure from ascending to the level of the previous Sly offerings.
Thieves picks up where the third entry, 2005’s Honor Among Thieves, left off; Sly’s now living with foxy Interpol officer Carmelita, who thinks he’s suffering from amnesia—and has no knowledge of his previous life of crime. But when pages of Sly’s family history book, the Thievius Raccoonus, begin disappearing, our agile raccoon hero must come out of retirement and visit his ancestors across time to set things right. Fortunately, with the help of a time machine (which also seems to move through space, though I’ll forgive this physics impossibility!) supplied by Bentley—the terrapin brains of the Cooper Gang—Sly and his buddies sneak around the space-time continuum in an attempt to track down this mysterious page-filching villain.
The time-travel storyline adds some gameplay diversity in the form of Sly’s ancestors, each of which has a unique ability—which opens up some interesting puzzle possibilities in each time period. The ancestors are also fun characters in their own right, particularly medieval knight Sir Galleth Cooper and cave-raccoon Bob Cooper.
Though this element adds a new dimension to Sly, the gameplay’s still pretty standard stuff: Hop, bop, and sneak around each stage, solve puzzles and reach whatever objective gets thrust in front of you. Once again, there are bottles to collect, safes to open, and treasures to collect. These, however, are relegated to the overworld areas of each level, making exploration necessary to gather all the goodies.
Unfortunately, this is also where the game starts to hit a few bumps. The overworlds are big, beautiful areas with plenty to explore, but each individual stage is segregated. The game plays out in a linear fashion, so you can’t enter any area until the game lets you. Each stage begins at the hideout, a stationary room where you can choose which mission you want to play. From there, you enter the level’s overworld, where you must find the starting point for each task—and once the mission actually starts, you can finally enter the stage. This process is absurdly disjointed and prevents the experience from flowing as smoothly as it should. It also removes much of the incentive for exploring the various overworlds, as the game instead encourages you to jump from one objective to the next to plow through the story.
Still, the missions themselves are a lot of fun. Just like in the old games, it’s a blast sneaking around, solving puzzles, and generally acting like a badass raccoon on a mission. Or a turtle or hippo or fox—you get to play as Bentley, Murray, and Carmelita, too, just to keep things fresh. In fact, it’s the level diversity that really makes this game worth playing. Each character has their own unique abilities—and the variety here, along with a bunch of great minigames, kept me pressing forward. The graphics are gorgeous—Sanzaru really nailed the distinctive look of classic Sly—making it feel like you’re playing through a cartoon. Likewise, the soundtrack and the voice work are well done, though some of the accents are just a tad over the top.
Ultimately, Thieves in Time is a decent—though far from spectacular—addition to the series. The core gameplay works well enough, but the overall design should’ve been much more cohesive. While I played through all of the stages, I had little desire to go back and search for missing bottles and treasures. If you’re looking for a game as good as the original Sly Cooper trilogy, you might be disappointed, but if you keep your expectations in check, you’ll find this game can still be a lot of fun.
SUMMARY: I love the Sly Cooper series, and I enjoyed playing through this first original entry in nearly eight years—but some of the classic Sucker Punch magic is definitely missing here. The capers themselves are still fun, but additional diversity in objectives would’ve been appreciated. Ultimately, Thieves in Time is still an above-average platformer, but it’s not nearly as good as it could’ve been.
- THE GOOD: It’s still fun to sneak around, attack enemies from behind, and steal valuables.
- THE BAD: Timed missions revolving around getting treasure back to the hideout don’t work in a stealth game.
- THE UGLY: The plethora of stereotypical accents wielded by the characters—the multicultural equivalent of Lucky the Leprechaun!
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is available on PS3 and PS Vita. Primary version reviewed was for PS3.