Independent and alternative video game coverage

Review: Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time

slycooperthievesintime

Sly Cooper returns after a lengthy absence. (Image by Sony Computer Entertainment America)

Sly is back for another round of thievery. With Thieves in Time, it feels like he never left.

Developer: Sanzaru Games

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita

Release Date: Feb. 5, 2013, March 27 (Europe)

Current MSRP: $39.99 (PS3), $29.99 (Vita)

It’s been almost eight years since the last Sly Cooper adventure, a lifetime in the video game world. The last time we saw a new game from Sly he was still one of the major mascots for the PlayStation brand. While it’s been a long absence, Thieves in Time stays true to the franchise’s beginnings but brings it back for a new school of players.

The Band is Back

Time travel is the focus of Thieves in Time’s storyline. Sly’s family book “The Thievius Raccoonus” is losing its content of history and master tricks, the print on the pages disappearing at an alarming rate. The Sly crew had gone their separate ways after the events of Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves. Sly went into retirement, Murray got involved in pro racing and Bentley built a laboratory with his girlfriend, creating a time machine.

Watch this video showing the game’s look and characters involved:

From their first heist stealing cookies in the orphanage they grew up together in, the crew takes on one more job to restore Sly’s family book. They’re all a little more seasoned now. Bentley isn’t as much as a nervous wreck and Sly even grew a little goatee during his time off. Le Paradox, an art-collecting skunk, is behind the time traveling trouble and always seems to be one step ahead of Sly.

We’ve heard about Sly’s famous relatives before but never much into their lives beyond a brief cut-scene or casual mention. The only way to get back the Thievius Raccoonus pages is meeting up with Sly’s ancestors and righting the wrongs of the past.

Historical Exploration

You can tell Sanzaru Games were big fans of the Sly series. With original creator and developer Sucker Punch working on the inFAMOUS franchise, Sanzaru Games put together an unofficial demo of a Sly game, impressing Sony so much it gave the studio development duties on the Sly Collection (2010) and this game too. Thieves in Time plays like you couldn’t tell a new studio took over. The game feels like we all traveled back 10 years ago to the PS2 days. This isn’t a knock against Thieves in Time though. Sly’s return is a great fan service while also not alienating new players to the series.

Thieves in Time begins in Paris, showing the basics and familiarizing players with the characters. After this initial tutorial stage the gang is thrown back in time after Bentley uses his machine hooked up on Murray’s van. There are five locations ranging throughout historical periods. The first place the game sends you is Feudal Japan in 1603. Time travel always opens up interesting doors that the game capitalizes on both in its level design and character interactions.

Each stage in Thieves in Time is bursting with color and flavor. Every level also has its own theme and visual structure to it, depending what part of history you’re in. As similar as the gameplay is, Thieves in Time doesn’t look exactly like the old PS2 games. It’s much sharper and more detailed in its cel-shaded graphics. The artistic and cartoony cut-scenes look phenomenal, giving the game a playful spirit to go along with its storyline and characters.

At its core Thieves in Time is all about platforming, staying in the shadows and sneaking around unnoticed. The platforming is simple. There’s not many ways someone could screw it up. Besides regular movements on rooftops and street level shenanigans, all throughout the stages are sections highlighted by a blue glow. Jumping on them requires the push of the circle button, allowing Sly to stand still on that platform. Wires are attached everywhere throughout the level, connecting buildings and structures. Sly’s unlockable paragliding ability lets you fly across a stage, extending your jumping range. While many of the game’s exploration is easy, trying to figure out how to get to a higher ledge or explore a newly discovered section is where the platforming opens up.

thievesintimeplatforming

Sly Cooper climbing the rooftops in Ancient Arabia. (Image by PlayStation Blog)

Each stage gives you a new costume that goes along with the theme of the level. Instead of just being disguises like in previous games, these costumes become part of gameplay. While worn these costumes give Sly a certain ability, like slowing down time, reaching high places or deflecting fire attacks.

The levels themselves are creative too. From the Wild West to the Ice Age to Medieval times, each stage has all kinds of nooks and crannies to discover. The Wild West stage set in 1884 has railroad tracks that you can ride all the way around a level, and the train itself comes into play getting to certain areas. Jumping on dinosaur bones on the Ice Age level plays perfectly into the theme of the period. Another cool example is on the Ancient Arabia stage using the slowing down power of that era’s costume. Gliding on rails to avoid dozens and dozens of damaging obstacles sent by an enemy is a terrific use of both the outfit’s ability and the theme behind the stage.

Cool Kids

Humor is another core aspect of the series and with Thieves in Time it’s in full swing. All the characters have awesome personalities. From the paraplegic, brainiac turtle to the wannabe wrestler hippo, each character brings a distinct freshness to Thieves in Time you don’t find in most other games. Murray constantly refers to himself in third person as “The Murray” and is always talking about food. There’s a lot of humor with Sly’s ancestors too, like his Japanese relative who is a ninja that also invented sushi. You even meet the first ever member of the Sly Cooper family and have a communication breakdown.

The clever dialogues between Bentley and the ancestors not knowing what the turtle is talking about when he brings up his advanced technology are pretty funny. They take the words for their literal meaning and this makes Bentley flustered. Oddly the only one with the tiring personality in Thieves in Time is the main thief himself. In almost every situation Sly tries to say something slick. His constant one liners and sarcastic responses get tiring though. Even Bentley humorously calls him out on them. Sly’s character doesn’t feel like his old self and is the one area Sanzaru Games didn’t fully replicate from the old titles.

The bosses also have their own unique charisma to them. Each one is dragged into the time travel scheme with grand promises from Le Paradox. They also all have their own weird hobbies like wanting to be a western gunslinger or a classical music player. These characters rely on casual stereotypes. A black bear who reigns over the Ice Age world wears a gold chain and does these cheesy raps with everything he says. His character felt almost too over-the-top but the game recognizes its silliness by having him also be an enthusiastic ice skater. The bad guys give a nice contrast to the heroes and the banter between the cast shines through their interactions.

Flight not Fight

While Thieves in Time’s main focus is being sneaky, there are times when combat arises too. Unfortunately the combat is too simple to be interesting and when a fight breaks out it’s a drag. If you’re playing as Sly, it’s best to avoid any fights or starting trouble. His combat in particular is boring and tedious. If you’re caught in the light, it’s smart to just run away and hide. Enemies get a little tougher later in the game but nothing that can actually take you out since many of them drop health after being defeated. After a few hours you’ll revert to just pickpocketing then silently one-hit killing them.

Unlike Bentley, the enemy AI isn’t that smart. Some enemies will chase you if spotted, but after a quick escape the enemy will forget you existed and go back to its normal patrol. The strongest enemies on a stage patrol with a big flashlight. Their attacks can do some damage but still nothing life threatening. If you’re caught you can easily run away and hide on another rooftop. The only time you can really get one-hit killed is if you accidentally smash a TNT crate.

Murray’s combat is more fun because he’s a powerhouse, able to quickly take down enemies in rapid fire attacks. There’s several mini-games involving the pink hippo where you’re just beating up everyone in a fury. Bentley throws bombs and darts but you have to time everything right to avoid damaging yourself or alerting nearby enemies. Carmelita, Sly’s girlfriend, has awesome abilities involving her gun but she doesn’t see much play time in the storyline. The ancestors all have their own special abilities too but you can only play as them on their specific stage. Sly’s Wild West outlaw relative uses the family’s iconic cane turned into a gun, which is a nice twist playing off that time period.

thievesintimecombat

Enemies don’t pose any threat to Sly and the gang. (Image by PlayStation Blog)

With the coins you collect from pickpocketing, beating enemies and collecting treasures you can buy new skills for your characters from “ThiefNet” at the HQ. There are dozens of skills to purchase. A lot of them are combat focused, especially for Murray. They’re also going to cost a good chunk of coins. Unless you go out of your way to continuously pickpocket or collect treasures, you’re going to be short on cash. Pickpocketing enemies can sometimes give you valuable items, some worth up to 500 coins. A lot of these skills you simply won’t need or ever use. After you buy Sly’s ability to silently melee kill enemies from behind, it makes fighting enemies an afterthought.

Outside of needing them for collecting side-quests most of the costumes are pretty worthless. You can’t use a costume’s ability on command so it severely limits their playability. It has to be used in specific and controlled situations. The Sabertooth costume unlocked on the third stage isn’t worth switching over to because it only has one real ability, being able to jump a long distance in certain (and few) instances. It’s also hard to quickly and easily move around in some of the costumes, which goes directly against Thieves in Time’s fluid gameplay. The only costume you’d frequently use is regular circumstances is Sly’s Arabian outfit, which can slow down time and moves just like he normally would. The costume abilities are neat but you’ll probably end up just playing as regular old Sly.

Plan the Heist

Most of the early missions on a stage follow a simple pattern. You select a character from your headquarters who has a mission assigned. Once you move to a new stage, Bentley needs you to take three photographs of something or someone located in the surrounding area. These are lame but they do get you accustomed to the level’s surroundings. Another common mission early on is trailing a character to see where they’re hiding out or overhear information on them. You don’t have to go straight into a mission. You can explore around a level before you go to the mission marker.

Once you get into the stage’s real missions, you’ll encounter lots of mini-games in combination with the usual platforming. There are many of these mission types, with about 50 percent of the storyline gameplay consisting of these mini-games. The platforming also gets more elaborate during missions but it’s still almost impossible to fail.

Hacking mini-games are always included on each stage. These are part of Bentley’s gameplay sections. There are three different mini-games; a dual-stick shooter, a schmup and one that only uses Sixaxis motion-controller movement. The Sixaxis hack is one of the worst in the game. One hack on the later levels took me forever to beat. You have to guide a target through a computer maze, with often perfectly timed button pressing to send the ball to a connecting area. The ball bounces around like it’s inside a pinball machine, making it extremely difficult to control in one section where you guide it through a tiny open area surrounded by bumpers. Movement require precise handling from the player otherwise you’ll lose and have to start all over. There are a few other mini-games involving Sixaxis controls that felt like the feature was unnecessarily tacked on to the game.

Bentley’s gameplay is a weak link of Thieves in Time. His bomb technique isn’t that engaging nor are his platforming sections. His hacks take place too frequently, becoming a nuisance midway through the story. You don’t play as much of the ancestors as I would have liked either. Their play time feels like it gets thinner as the game goes on. They all have unique powers and personalities making them fun to play as so I wish we’d seen more of them. A lesser focus on Bentley and Murray and more on the relatives would have made that bond between the ancestors and the player stronger, much like the one developed with the core team in previous games. The time traveling aspect is well done though. Interacting with Sly’s family and playing on levels designed around old time periods combines together fantastically.

thievesintimerelative

While the ancestor’s get screen time, the main focus is still on Sly. (Image by PlayStation Blog)

At points Thieves in Time shows its age with certain mini-games, like the Guitar Hero style musical scenes involving pressing buttons that come across the screen. One has Murray dancing as a geisha to distract guards. It seems to go on forever. This mini-game is boring and drags on, hitting the same simple button flow. The song in the background doesn’t change and there are no lyrics either. Another with Carmelita belly dancing and shaking her goods in front of gorilla guards, getting coins for not messing up, felt humorously out of place in a family friendly game. These mission types and several others just felt too simple, even for younger players. 

Many of the mini-games are creative though, like training Sly’s most ancient ancestor in becoming a powerhouse. There’s so much emphasis on mini-games at times that they felt out of place with the game’s other focus on platforming and costume skills.

Fighting bosses breaks down into repetition, a memorization of their patterns that’s easy to figure out. You have to use the stage’s costume and its powers for the fight, which is a neat feature for a boss battle. Although it can be trying to quickly switch between an outfit and Sly’s regular look while avoiding attacks. Boss fights have checkpoints so there’s never really a challenge. The final encounter lacks the feel of a last fight and unlike earlier bosses requires hardly no skill at all to beat.

Besides looking for Sly’s relatives in the past, the game also brought back other annoyances with them. Load times in the game are terribly long and some of the worst for a PS3-exclusive game. Going from the hideout to a mission or different stage can take up to a minute long. These are the only instances that the load times hit so they don’t happen following a cut-scene or every time you die, but it’s still super annoying. This can discourage players from replaying missions or doing any collecting since the wait takes forever.

Unlike earlier games Thieves in Time doesn’t feel like you’re ramping up for a huge heist. You’re trying to get back the family cane stolen by that stage’s particular boss. While interesting and fun to play, the missions don’t necessarily feel like they are intertwined leading up to something special like in previous games. There was some slowdown in the fifth stage during cut-scenes too, with the frame rate going bonkers. This technical problem shouldn’t be here because there’s never anything crazy going on. Thieves in Time also includes the Cross-Save feature, so you can upload your save data and resume where you left off playing on your Vita.

Other than a few annoying hacking missions and tricky platforming sections, the game isn’t hard. Thieves in Time is at a nice difficulty but it might turn off seasoned players, many who were probably kids or teenagers when the first game released. The difficulty weirdly spikes during a few mini-games but Thieves in Time maintains the same pace through most of the story. Thieves in Time is for a broad range of people, where frustration is left at the door for a smoother play experience.

Collect the Score

During or after the family reunions there are plenty of side quests in Thieves in Time, like collecting bottles, treasures and Sly masks. Each level has 30 bottles, 12 treasures and a random assortment of masks to find. While there’s some in plain sight, many collectables are cleverly hidden throughout the stages. Once you actually find the treasure it needs to be run back to the hideout under a strict time limit. If you’re hit by an enemy the treasure returns to its location. Bottles and treasures are only located in the normal world, but masks are also scattered throughout mission rooms and areas.

You’ll need all five costumes to collect many of the treasures, so they can’t all be collected until reaching the last stage. Using the Wild West costume to roll across hot lava or slowing down time to grab a treasure before a door slams shut is the only way to get some of them. It’s hard to explore the level and do any collecting with other characters besides Sly and a few of his relatives because they lack the necessary platforming skills. Carmelita can’t hop on wires or blue-lit ledges and Murray can’t reach those high places that Sly can.

thievesintimetreasure

There’s a lot of collecting to do in Thieves in Time. (Image by PlayStation Blog)

Arcade mini-games can be unlocked by collecting all 12 treasures on a stage. There’s an arcade machine for each level but you can’t play all six at one hideout location. You have to visit that stage’s headquarters to play the machine. The arcades are based on Bentley’s hacking games, so they’re worth avoiding after a few plays. Collecting masks gets you an extra costume for each main character and alterations to Sly’s cane. If you own a Vita, you can use the system to uncover all the collectables in a game, as shown in this video. The treasures will appear on the Vita screen for you to easily find.

While the main part of Thieves in Time can be considered too easy, the collecting amps up the challenge. Without the assistance of the Vita or a walkthrough guide it’s tough to find everything. However if you don’t own a Vita, collecting all the bottles on world three and unlocking the level’s safe will show bottle locations on the other stage’s maps as well. You’re still on your own for treasures and masks though.

The game can take anywhere between 12-20 hours to finish, depending on your play style. Towards the final chapter the missions do start to feel dragged out, the mini-games wearing thin. Thieves in Time’s ending leaves it wide open for Sanzaru to develop a sequel, with the possibility of an all-new direction for the next Sly game. There’s also a secret ending for getting the Platinum Trophy. Some of the Trophies are completely ridiculous though, ranging from hitting the compass button 500 times, shooting a bunch of penguins or checking the map on every level and mission.

While Sanzaru Games didn’t drastically change anything to the Sly franchise, it didn’t need to. Thieves in Time isn’t a reboot. It’s a revival for a classic but forgotten franchise. Mixing up the formula would probably have alienated many old Sly fans while questionably being able to attract new players. Thieves in Time still feels fresh since there isn’t that many games like this on the market anymore. Some might say Sanzaru Games didn’t take any risks, but the real risk is releasing a game like Thieves in Time in 2013 surrounded by others with violence and outlandish gore. With its unique content and a “budget” price at $40, this Sly game is a must-play.

Final Thoughts:

Sanzaru Games took control of Sly Cooper and pulled off a great heist with Thieves in Time. It’s a positive game that a wide variety of people will enjoy to play. Thieves in Time is just as appealing to old fans and newcomers with its colorful visuals, platforming and cast of charismatic characters. Thieves in Time belongs right beside the original releases. What the future holds for Sly is a mystery but it’s good to have him back.

Score: 4/5

Positives

  • Level design
  • Fantastic characters
  • Visuals look awesome
  • Time travel makes for good story
  • Length
  • Fan service that also welcomes new players
  • Cross-Buy & Play with Vita

Negatives

  • Excessively long load times
  • Sixaxis mini-games
  • Some mini-games feel dated
  • Combat with certain characters isn’t that fun
  • Needs more time with Sly’s ancestors
  • Limited use with costumes
  • Simplicity may turn off certain players

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time was purchased new for $39.99 on the PlayStation 3 and reviewed on that version. 34/50 Trophies were earned for 60 percent completion.

About these ads