(PlayStation 3)

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (PlayStation 3)

Game Review

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Sammy Barker

Crime traveller

It’s fairly obvious that newcomer Sanzaru Games has poured its heart and soul into Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. The long-awaited fourth instalment in PlayStation’s premier theft simulator is bursting with reverence for the franchise that Sucker Punch introduced over ten years ago, and that’s evident in every inch of the sequel’s agonising attention to detail. But does the classic series still have the skills to perform the perfect heist, or is it on a crash course with a spell in the slammer?

In an era where most developers are actively attempting to blur the lines between digital entertainment and cinema, the resurrected platformer certainly stands out. The titular tea leaf’s latest adventure is brimming with mainstays from yesteryear: mini-games, collectibles, and hundreds of hidden items. Sadly, for all of the game’s endearing moments, it’s hard to shake the niggling feeling that it’s all been done before.

The plot picks up almost directly after the conclusion of 2005’s divisive Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves. Sly is loved up with feisty law enforcer Carmelita Fox, having feigned amnesia to get in her good books. Elsewhere, debilitated brainbox Bentley is hard at work constructing a time machine with soul-mate Penelope, while Murray is carving out a career as a demolition derby driver. Alas, it’s not long before the rambunctious raccoon’s swag bag starts scratching, and when pages from the Thievius Raccoonus – the series’ MacGuffin master thief guide book – begin to disappear, the band are pulled back together for a tantalising trip through time.

For the most part, the title sticks closely to the blueprints that the series’ original trilogy founded. Missions take place in non-linear hub-worlds, each of which represents the former stomping grounds of one of Sly’s ancestors. There are five full locales in total, spanning feudal Japan, the Wild West, medieval England, the ice age, and ancient Arabia. The sequel’s biggest new bullet point is that in addition to controlling the franchise’s core trio of characters, you’ll also get to steer the protagonist’s predecessors, who come equipped with their own interesting roster of abilities.

Tennessee Kid, for example, can switch to a classic third-person shooter perspective and pick off multiple targets in Red Dead Redemption-esque slowdown style, while Rioichi Cooper can dash between platforms using his perfectly honed ninja skills. Discovering each of the ancestors’ special moves adds to the appeal of uncovering the next hub-world, and the characters themselves are well tailored to their region’s associated stereotypes. Sir Galleth, one of King Arthur’s most prominent associates, speaks in the kind of riddles and rhymes that you’d expect from a true English gent, while the brilliantly animated caveman Bob struggles to even string a sentence together.

But each district not only includes a new character, but also a new suit for Sly to wear. Once again, these outfits are built around the district, but augment new abilities that play a pivotal role in the level design. The armour that you obtain in Japan, for instance, allows you to navigate furnaces and deflect fireballs, while the archer’s costume gives you the option to create new tightropes within the world. Unsurprisingly, you’ll need to obtain a full wardrobe in order to unlock all of the collectibles on earlier stages, adding a hint of Metroidvania to proceedings that encourages replayability.

The variety feels overwhelming at first, not just in the range of mechanics that you have at your disposal, but also because the game’s opening hours are packed with as many mini-games as possible. By the end of the first chapter you’ll have completed two heists, spent an afternoon fishing, and even completed a Guitar Hero-esque mini game in which Murray tries to distract a gaggle of lovesick swines by dressing as a period appropriate Geisha. It’s truly impressive just how much is crammed into the package, but unsurprisingly it can’t maintain the pace.

Many of the mini-games get repeated multiple times during the course of the campaign, and you’ll be delighted to see the back of them once the credits roll. Hacking is a repeat offender, as you’re frequently forced into side-scrolling shooting galas, isometric car combat levels, and poorly realised two-dimensional Marble Madness clones that take advantage of the SIXAXIS motion detection in the DualShock 3 controller. Yeah, remember that?

While undeniably quirky, each idea is repeated so frequently during the course of the adventure that you’ll be banging your head against your console by the tenth time that you encounter them. To add insult to injury, many of the arcade cabinets that you unlock after collecting a specific quota of treasure are based on the exact same mini-games – and you’ll need to set a high score on all of the cabinets in order to obtain the Platinum Trophy.

Having said that, there’s something admirable about a title that includes a fully functioning table-tennis mini-game just because it can – and not all of the mechanics are bad. One particular mission sees you competing in a slew of Winter Olympic-esque challenges in order to get the aforementioned prehistoric racoon Bob back into shape, and it’s one of the most memorable and humorous moments in the game.

The writing throughout is exceptional. It thrives on the silly style of humour that Sly Cooper has always been recognised for, but there’s a maturity to it that most comedy games struggle to achieve. Unlike, say, Borderlands 2, the game never relies on shouting, screaming, and tired memes to raise a smile – instead it focuses on fun puns and genuinely calamitous scenarios.

Furthermore, you’ll really develop an attachment to the cast. If you haven’t played any of the previous titles in the franchise, then you may not be quite as invested, but, as with the initial trilogy, the title relays an inane amount of detail about its characters. All of the villains have fully formed motives, and the credits even spend ten minutes or so relaying the activities of much of the cast after the conclusion of the plot.

With so much care and attention invested into the entire package, it’s unfortunate that the moment to moment gameplay feels a little archaic. There’s nothing wrong with the core platforming and stealth gameplay, but it quickly becomes predictable. The level design attempts to keep things interesting throughout the course of the campaign, but you’ll be traversing environments blind-folded by the end of the game. As with the previous entries, there are the usual array of unlocks and upgrades that can be purchased with the finances that you accrue, but none of these items have a particularly remarkable impact on the gameplay.

Boss fights are similarly mundane, relying on the same pattern-based mechanics that have become a chore in the industry at large. There are a handful of highlights, including a shootout against a three-headed dragon, and a skate off versus an artistic bear – but even this repurposes the rhythm action mentioned earlier in the review.

Still, at least the game looks great, with bold uses of colour creating a striking visual appearance. The art direction is exemplary throughout, with many of the enemy designs stealing the show. In the Wild West you’ll encounter cows that use their udders as machine guns, while medieval England is crawling with thuggish hedgehogs out to stab you with their spines. The game runs at a fairly solid 60 frame-per-second throughout, though it is susceptible to dips in areas of high activity – especially on the PlayStation Vita.

As with PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, you get both versions of the game for a single cost. The handheld version is virtually identical, though there is a noticeable lack of detail in some of the environments, in addition to the aforementioned performance hiccups. Sanzaru Games deserves credit for bringing the entire package to the portable platform, though, and it’s an ideal venue for the adventure. The relatively bite-sized mission structure and simple platforming makes it a perfect fit for on-the-go sessions, and the inclusion of cloud save functionality means that you’re never confined to a single device.

The title even includes a very basic riff on the cross-controller functionality that LittleBigPlanet 2 recently introduced, allowing you to find hidden items in the PS3 game by pointing the Vita at your television like a pair of binoculars. Once you’ve set the feature up – which, admittedly, can be quite convoluted – you can scour the environments to find hidden items, making the search for collectibles that bit more palatable. The only real downside is that the feature only works in co-op, as it’s difficult to hold the handheld and the DualShock 3 at the same time. We’d have preferred some kind of in-game option to help us find the hidden items, but what’s on offer is still a strong example of the interoperability potential between Sony’s current consoles.

Conclusion

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a decent adventure with some memorable moments, but it’s hampered by repetition and a lack of desire to build upon the foundations of previous entries in the franchise. There’s still enough animal magic to make this platformer worth playing, but it’s more of a petty thief than a notorious armed robber.

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User Comments (30)

irken004

#1

irken004 said:

Having so many minigames thrown in is what killed the series for me. I've beaten 1,2 and working on 3 now. I'll probably skip this until it hits the bargain bin.

RaymanFan2

#2

RaymanFan2 said:

If nothing else, I just love the fact that the medieval Cooper is voiced by Yuri Lowenthal. We haven't heard much from the Prince of Persia recently.

NathanUC

#3

NathanUC said:

Wow, I'm really surprised this got such a low score. I was expecting an 8 or 9 honestly. The boss fights, the abilities, the treasures, the mini games, the variety in character... I think it is an excellent title and easily the best of the 4. I was never a huge fan of the series, but I wasn't able to put this one down. Considering all this, the price point, and cross buy/play (if applicable), I couldn't disagree more with a 6.

RaymanFan2

#4

RaymanFan2 said:

Never mind, I can see how the new review screenshots system works now. It cycles through them at random for each page request, yes?

Gemuarto

#6

Gemuarto said:

Great review and very right score =).

The game is really medicore. It is well build, sometimes has fun moments, but only sometimes.It seems like game itself stack somewhere in the past.

rastamadeus

#7

rastamadeus said:

Will be waiting for this to drop in prove before purchasing it. For me the worst thing they did with the series was make other characters controllable. Yes do it now and then but the amount of non Sly time in 3 was ridiculous and almost put me off the game as those bits were increasingly un-fun.

get2sammybAdmin

#8

get2sammyb said:

I really enjoy the variety in these games, but I think it's really obvious here when they start recycling stuff. Nevertheless, worth reiterating, 6/10 is "Not Bad" on our scale.

SammyOfMobius

#9

SammyOfMobius said:

Hahaha! No. I'm sorry, but no. This game deserves way higher than a 6... 9 even seems like too low a low score for this game. I personally give it a 10 out of 10, but that's just me.

rastamadeus

#10

rastamadeus said:

@get2sammyb Exactly. Really irks me when people whine about scores. 6 is a good game. Look at Multimariosonic above my post saying its a ten - there are only a handful of games ever made that should get a ten as that means its perfect. I'm sure Sly 4 will be a good game but the perfect game? I'll eat my hat if it is.

Splat

#11

Splat said:

I have planned on waiting for the price drop all along. I enjoy Sly but not as much as say Ratchet & Clank.

naruball

#12

naruball said:

@rastamadeus

I'm gonna have to disagree with you. I consider Naruto Ninha Storm 2 and 3 as 10/10. Most reviewers and even fans of the anime would disagree with me. It's all quite subjective really.

Jaz007

#13

Jaz007 said:

I have to agree with those who say this game is better than a 6 and I'm going by this games s prong system. I guess it's just the writers opinion but I find myself in strong disagreance with it. I think it deserves 8 at the bare minimum. I think GI's review nailed from what I remember about it. I thought it was a great game.

rastamadeus

#14

rastamadeus said:

@naruball So you could quite happily live with just those two games? No others, ever? The only game I would give a ten to is Super Mario 64 and I could quite happily play it and no other game until I die (likely tonight when Shinobi88 sees I'm daring to drop Mario's name on a PlayStation site) - the very definition of a ten. It's for the few perfect games that are in existence. If you think those two games are tens then sound but with magazines/sites they should very, very rarely give a perfect mark, which is what I was trying to say with that fella saying Sammy should have give Sly 4 a ten.

brendon987

#15

brendon987 said:

I love the mini games. I am currently playing the game on the Vita and I would give it a solid 8. What you guys say about the boss fights is true. Bit too easy, but at least they are all different.

Question for the reviewer, would you give this a better score on the Vita. As it better then most other game like it, on any mobile device. Or will you review it compare to the PS3 version and say it worst graphics and therefore its a worst score.

ShogunRokAdmin

#16

ShogunRok said:

I thought this was a well written and very informative review - although I've never played much of the Sly series. Anyway, like what's been said, a 6 is above average - therefore it's a good score.

We have to realise there's a distinct difference between favourite games and great games. Perfect example: Skyrim is one of my favourite games of all time, but does that mean it's a 10/10? No way - it has far too many technical issues.

We have to use logic when reviewing games, our favourites can't always be 10/10 just because we love playing them. In other words, we can't let personal preference get in the way of being critical. Of course, no one said you can't enjoy playing games which score 6/10, either.

Jaz007

#17

Jaz007 said:

@ShogunRok Skyrim got a good number of 10/10 reviews by critics though. So your example may not help your argument very much since you chose a game with a lot of 10/10 reviews of it. If you enjoy a game enough some issues in it may not matter if the good in the game overshadows the bad enough.

ShogunRokAdmin

#18

ShogunRok said:

@Jaz007 If they had the problems I and many other had after playing for many hours, they wouldn't have been throwing 10/10s around - I know that much. Not to mention hardly any sites reviewed the PS3 version of the game.

bauckster

#19

bauckster said:

Hmm, I wasn't in love with the demo, so I'm not totally shocked at a 6/10, though I guess I thought it would get at least a 7. The thing is, I think that even if a 6/10 is technically above average, a lot of people will see that score and think...meh, mediocre, skipping it. Which is unfair, of course, because they need to take the time to read the actual review (which I thought was very well written by the way). At any rate, it's a shame that they couldn't have stretched this game a little more, and avoided some of the repetitive pitfalls that seem to be present. Like others, I may eventually pick it up, but this review and my experience with the demo has convinced me to wait for now.

JayArr

#20

JayArr said:

Solid review.

Also surprised you scored so low. Personally I would have scored this a 6.0001/10 but that's just my opinion.

RaymanFan2

#22

RaymanFan2 said:

@IAmNotWill I'd say it's more that this is sequel to a game from nearly two gens ago (with PS4 incoming) and it doesn't modernise too much. You still have to jump and press circle to spire land, and while that's a minor example, most games (such as infamous, funny enough) this gen that involve that kind of thing do it for you. You know, Cole grabs ledges and lands on pipes by himself etc.

Jaz007

#23

Jaz007 said:

@RaymanFan2 It wasn't a PS4 game so its just a sequel to a game from one gen ago. a Sly game wouldn't be nearly as fun if you didn't press the circle button do bad example. What this game delivered in the more if the same context is was wanted and Sly 4 also had a much different flavor than the previous sly games did. The fact it was made by a different developer was very apparent and sanzaru found their own identity for sly when they made this game, inFamous also contains very different platforming where he automatic style fits while for other games automatic like that is a bad thing. It all depends on the game at hand. New isn't always better, sometimes something's from the last gen need to come back. A lot of things didn't need "modernization" in sly 4.

NathanUC

#24

NathanUC said:

I agree that the review was well written, I just don't agree the review justifies a 6/10. I understand 6 is a "not bad", but myself and most my friends all thought it was a 'very good' game. It wasn't a lazy sequel and added a lot to the series I thought. It had a ton of gameplay (I don't agree that they had to recycle a lot).
it's all subjective I guess. For $40 (and again, if you have a Vita, this is an absolute no brainer), I don't think you'll get a better game in 2013. I'd recommend this title over anything else that's come out this year so far as well. To me, most other AAA sequels or reboots this year felt stale and forced. This one felt like a true sequel with extremely solid development.

Gamer83

#25

Gamer83 said:

I'm definitely surprised by the lower score but given that the game does play very much like a last gen game I can understand it. I also didn't care for the ridiculous amount of minigames. That said, and maybe it's just because games like this are rare now, overall I thoroughly enjoyed the game, even the non-Sly bits and would give it a solid 7.5 despite its flaws.

DHW

#26

DHW said:

We get new Ratchets, we get a new Sly, now where the hell is Jak?

craigun

#27

craigun said:

I love this game! It's a shame Sony didn't put a bit of marketing muscle in to it though.

PMRex

#28

PMRex said:

The game's fun enough for a solid $40 purchase. It did have some humerous moments and fun gameplay, but it had some pretty bad things about it. The two big ones in my opinion are the hacking minigames and the rather poor ending.

CanisWolfred

#29

CanisWolfred said:

I've never been one to agree with you, Sammy...and that hasn't changed here. That said, I've noticed a lot of critics saying the same things you do, especially the lack of "moving the series forward", and I don't think I can see why it's a problem. The fans wanted more Sly cooper, which is what they delivered. I don't recall anyone asking for an evolution or revolution of the series. It didn't have to advance the formula, because it's been so long since we've seen a game like it that it's already fresh again. They never promised anything more, no one asked for anything more. So why were you expecting it?

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