Sly Cooper has a long history with the Sony Playstation, dating back to the early 2000’s with a trio of successful games released on the PS2. Back then the game was developed by Sucker Punch Productions before they moved on to make the inFAMOUS series, one of my personal favourite franchises. As Sony have liked to do recently, they re-released the adventures of Sly and his gang in an HD collection for the PS3 back in 2010 (The Sly Collection), with Sanzaru Games handling the HD makeover. I watched my brother-in-law (who couldn’t stop raving about it) play the game for a while and I could see certain similarities in the two franchises. With Sucker Punch now working on inFAMOUS: Second Son for the PS4, Sanzaru have ventured out and created the fourth game in the series, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. The result is an excellent little game that definitely skews toward entertaining a younger audience, but is ultimately held back from real greatness by a few notable problems.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a an action platforming game with stealth elements to it. Sly finds out that his family history is being erased by some nefarious time traveller, so him and his gang (Bentley the turtle and Murray the hippo) head back to various eras in time to find and stop the culprit, meeting up with some of Sly’s ancestors in the process. Each member of the gang has specific abilities: Sly is quick and nimble allowing him to sneak around and climb; Bentley is the tech wizard who hacks computer systems (manifested by arcade-style minigames, some with twin-stick shooter inspirations) and uses bombs to attack enemies; and Murray is the Heavy, strong and tough, best used in situations where subtlety is not going to cut it. Along the way they’re helped by Carmelita with her gun and Sly’s ancestor du jour, who works similar to Sly, but also has an ability specific to them.
Thieves in Time is divided into five main hub worlds corresponding to the five eras in time the gang visit. Each world is fairly expansive and is free for exploration, though despite being an open world, the game is fairly linear in that typically only one mission level is available at a time (with a couple exceptions here and there) and to only one of the characters. There was probably an opportunity here to let you choose which character you thought was best for a particular job, but if there’s one thing Thieves in Time does, it’s simplify things.
Thieves in Time is kind of a watered-down version of games like Assassin’s Creed, inFAMOUS, the Rocksteady Batman games, etc. and that’s okay because it works. It also marks a great way to introduce younger gamers to this kind of game. My oldest son Owen (9) got a real kick out of playing it. Most of the time, the game holds your hand through levels, either dropping hints or less subtly putting the appropriate buttons for you to press on the screen at that particular moment. Plus, it doesn’t throw a whole lot of activities at you, making it less complex than your typical open world game.
The game itself is for the most part is fun to play and entertaining. The banter between Sly and his buddies is witty and some of the situations are funny. It’s got a Saturday morning cartoon feel to it. The different abilities of the characters and the rather sizable variety of level activities that the game throws at you keeps things fresh. And while the game hits a majority of the time, there are times that the controls mar the experience. It’s not a good thing when you inexplicably don’t land on a platform and fall to your death as one example. Also, while you have control over the camera, it has a tendency to want to reset itself to a certain angle really quickly. And when these two issues work together? Ugh.[row][span2][/span2][span8][divider_1px]
The Cloud doesn’t leave you Cross
Once again, I’ve come away from a Sony first-party title thoroughly impressed with Cross-Buy/Play/Save. At $40, the PS3 version of the game is good value on its own, but when you add in a free digital version of the game for the PlayStation Vita, it’s even better. Sony’s done a few things wrong with the Vita, but it’s refreshing to see them rewarding gamers who made the investment in the system by letting them take their console games on the road. The Cross-Save makes it super easy to bang out a few levels on the Vita, upload to the Cloud, then resume on your PS3. I will say that you lose a LOT of visual fidelity on the Vita version. The environments aren’t nearly as lush or detailed. Plus, there are times that the small screen hampers gameplay. Still, it’s better than being stuck somewhere on the road not being able to play. [divider_1px][/span8][span2][/span2][/row]
While I mentioned that the game sometimes dumbs things down, there are times where it doesn’t do enough hand holding and you’re left to figure things out on your own. It’s a little too inconsistent in this regard (boss fights in particular tend to leave you hanging, reducing them to a trial and error exercise), and there are some borderline cheap moments. Luckily, death doesn’t usually carry a huge price, as checkpoints are typically plentiful. Finally, I have to mention the load times. They’re awful. And they’re made worse by the questionable design decision to make you return to the hideout after every mission (load time) and then select a new mission (load time) which is sometimes then followed by navigating to the mission start point and starting the mission (load time). Most open world games will load in the background while you navigate from point to point, making for a somewhat more seamless experience, but Thieves in Time sometimes gets disjointed by the load times.
Despite these, the game gets enough right to somewhat overcome these challenges. There’s a good amount of gameplay here for the money (kudos to Sony for deciding on a $40 price point), there’s lots of stuff to collect, the presentation is solid overall, and it’s still a fun game to play. It’s also quite appropriate for kids (10+ is about right), despite being about stealing stuff and featuring a healthy dose of mild cartoon violence, gunplay, and explosions. Enemies simply disappear in a poof of smoke when vanquished and you never see any blood or anything else disturbing.
The GamerPops Recommendation
Despite the loading times and some control/camera tech issues, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is still a quality, fun game that will be enjoyed by gamers of all ages, and provides lots of entertainment along the way. It’s great value which gets even better for PS3 and Vita owners with the Cross-Buy feature. With a bit more polish in some areas, this game would have achieved “must-buy” status. Instead, it’ll have to settle for “highly recommended”.
A review copy was provided to GamerPops by the publisher.
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ESRB Rating Summary
Rating Category: E10+
Content Descriptors: Alcohol Reference, Cartoon Violence, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco
Rating Summary: This is an action game in which players assume the role of Sly Cooper, a master thief on a quest through time to save his clan’s legacy. Players control Sly and his friends as they run and jump through levels, using melee attacks (e.g., bouncing on enemies’ heads) and various weapons (e.g., swords, stun guns, oversized bombs) to defeat whimsical animals. Fighting sequences include occasional gunfire effects; enemies generally disappear amid puffs of smoke/scattered coins. One prison scene depicts machines that continuously tickle, slap, and kick restrained characters. During the course of the game, a handful of female characters are dressed in outfits that expose moderate cleavage. One mini-game depicts a hippo dancing suggestively for nearby soldiers; another sequence requires players’ character (a female fox) to distract enemy guards with her dance moves (“Shake it!” and “Move that thing!” can be heard in the background). An Old West-themed level depicts barrels/bottles labeled “hooch” and “XXX.” One boss character is portrayed with a lit cigar in his mouth.