On the PS2, Sucker Punch struck gold with a fun platformer about a thieving raccoon named Sly Cooper, who, along with his pals Murray, a pink hippo, and Bentley, a wheelchair-bound turtle, pulled off jobs across the world in upholding Sly’s heritage as being from a long line of master thieves. The anthropomorphic world was brightly designed with cel-shaded graphics and the gameplay benefited from tight controls and a variety of tasks. Two sequels followed on the PS2, with Sly and co. only appearing on the PS3 in an HD collection of the three games. By this time the torch had been passed from developer Sucker Punch, who was working on the inFamous titles, to Sanzaru Games, who did an excellent job with the collection. The fourth title in the franchise was now fully in Sanzaru’s hands, and fans had high hopes for the next chapter in Sly’s story.
And story is a strong suit for Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. The story begins with Sly and his pals in Paris, attempting their latest heist behind the back of Interpol cop and girlfriend Carmelita. Things don’t go quite as planned, and Bentley discovers that pages of the Thievius Raccoonus, the tome chronicling the Cooper family’s exploits, are disappearing. Someone is traveling through time, putting Sly’s ancestors out of the way and altering history. Bentley, being the team’s tech wizard, creates a time machine, and off the gang go to rectify the changes in the timeline and preserve Sly’s heritage. Their journey takes them to feudal Japan, the American Old West, a prehistoric village, medieval England, and the sands of Arabia, battling villains sent back in time from the present day by the mysterious Le Paradox, a skunk who has it in for the Cooper clan. Along the way, Sly meets his ancestors and works with them to make things right. The story is well told, with plenty of humor and even a slight twist here and there. It engages the player throughout, and provides the incentive to play through the game.
And incentive is needed. Things start off well enough, but the fun doesn’t last, giving way to frustration as controls don’t always respond and sequences go on for longer than perhaps they should. The control scheme hasn’t changed since the PS2 titles, and one would think that could be a good thing, as they were fairly tight. But, something seems to have happened, because they’re not as tight as I remembered them. Sly tends to land more with a thud than light on his feet, and there is a lag at times between button presses and the action desired. When the controls work, they work well, but when they fail, they all too often lead to cheap deaths. Checkpoints for the most part aren’t too bad, but replaying the same section due to slippery controls is never any fun. Add to that a camera that goes from maneuverable to fixed and not always providing the best view only adds to the frustration. And then there are sequences that just go on too long (two dance numbers, one involving Murray and one with Carmelita, which require precise timed button presses get more aggravating than fun). And speaking of dragged out sequences, the boss battles are also a weak link. They’re a repetitious affair, requiring you to avoid the villain’s predictable pattern of attacks until you can get in and do some damage of your own. And you need to do this three to four times per boss. Failing a sequence forces you to replay all over again, and if the voice acting on the bosses and their lines were more enjoyable, this might be forgivable. Sadly, they’re not, and hearing the same lines over and over as controls fail you becomes quite annoying.
And speaking of annoying, there’s Bentley. He was never my favorite character in the three previous games, but I never found him that objectionable, either. And while the same actor voices Bentley this time around, his voice just seems to have become more grating on the nerves. He talked way too much, and often I just wanted him to shut up so I could get on with what I had to do. Add to him constantly nagging with hints that I already knew only served to make things worse. And there is a lot of Bentley in this game. His hacking sections range from annoying (moving a ball of light along the grid with the use of the Sixaxis controller) to okay (where you control a digital tank) to relatively fun (a side scrolling shooter). You’ll see all three plenty of times over the game’s seven sections, each in turn. Had all been fun or had they been varied more, this wouldn’t have been so bad. Instead, it just added to the repetitious nature of the game overall.
Five of the game’s seven sections are divided further into seven to nine missions to complete until you tackle the chapter’s boss. Each chapter is set up like an episode of a series, complete with a title card in the beginning. Touches like this add to the humor, and there are some references for genre fans thrown in for good measure (a Star Wars line comes to mind here). These touches add to the game’s strength, which is its story. The other incentive to travel the levels is, of course, the collectibles. The bottles, Sly masks, treasures, and safes all make their return here. Collecting them all is necessary if you wish to platinum the game, as doing so reveals a hidden ending following the credits that hints to a possible next title in the franchise. Whether you want to go to that trouble is up to you. Completists of course will strive for this, but things proved more frustrating than fun for me that I just wasn’t motivated to try.
Despite the flaws, this is not a bad game. It just doesn’t live up to the earlier Sly Cooper titles. There’s a good story, terrific graphics, and most of the voice acting is decent. But the flaws foil the fun, making this more a rental than a purchase. It will take about eight to ten hours to play through the story, and you can add a few hours to that if you’re going to attempt platinuming the game. It held a lot of promise, but it fell short, making this a bit of a disappointment. If a sequel is to follow in Sanzaru’s hands, hopefully they right the wrongs and give us a Sly Cooper game worthy of the franchise.
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