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Review: Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time
Developer: Sanzaru Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PS3, PS Vita
Release Date: February 5, 2013
ESRB: E for Everyone
This review is based on the Vita version of the game
The critically acclaimed action-adventure Sly Cooper series has made a name for itself back in the PS2 era, debuting with Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus in 2002 and receiving two follow-up sequels in a relatively short time. When the next wave of consoles came around however, it seemed Sucker Punch Productions had become more occupied with newer IPs (InFamous), and its proud Sly Cooper series was nowhere in sight for some time.
However, Sanzaru Games, a lesser known independent developer mostly known for their work on the Sly Cooper HD collection, took the reigns of the franchise and intended to make a faithful 4th entry with Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time; otherwise known as Sly 4 in everything but name. With one foot planted in the past and the other towards the future, Thieves in Time hopes to make this heist its greatest.
Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time takes place shortly after the end of Sly 3. The main trio: Sly, Bentley, and (The-)Murray seemingly have all gone their separate ways after what was believed to be their final escapade. Of course, old habits die hard, with Sly itching to steal from other thieves once again while Bentley, as the game says: "almost on cue", brings an incentive to do so. The Thievius Raccoonus, the manuscript accumulated through the Sly Cooper family for generations, was gradually having its records quite literally being erased from what is believed to be sabotage to Sly history. To undo the damage done in the past, Bentley constructs a time machine and has the old gang trying to find the mastermind behind the attempted rewrite of Sly history by going back into the past.
Narrative in Thieves in Time is structured so you don’t need previous entries, but players will certainly appreciate it more due the various nods it laces throughout the game. Overall, the story plays out predictably enough: you go to a new time period, meet up with an ancestor of Sly, and eventually stage a heist within that time period. However, what stands out more than the narrative in Thieves in Time to me is the interactions between characters; there is a lot of back and forth tongue-in-cheek-dialogue between the entire cast. Initially, the writing came off as a bit forced and somewhat juvenile to me, but either it really grew on me as I kept playing, or it got legitimately sharper, so I didn't mind it as much (probably the former).
For those unfamiliar with the series, Sly Cooper may look like a platformer with stealth elements, though in reality it is a bit more in lieu of an action-adventure game. Thieves in Times represents this the most out of the entire series by constantly changing up pace in its gameplay objectives, playable characters, and other gameplay mechanics. The newest addition, aside from the new playable characters, is the costume system. Sly in particular will get a new costume to complement each new motif, which grants Sly new abilities with many of the main story missions designed around it. For more thorough players, there are more Metroidvania-type purposes for using the costumes in previous stages like collecting new unlockables and such, adding for an extra layer of replay value.
In general, Thieves in Time is a rather meaty game by today's standards for action adventure titles. Just focusing on the main game alone can easily clock in around 15 hours, and more meticulous players than myself who want to get find every collectible, purchase every upgrade, and even unlock a secret ending will easily be held over for even longer. Because of the lengthy main game, I do respect how well Sanzaru was able to change in-game objectives for the main story as well as they did throughout. Admittedly, some in-game objectives were handled better than others (for example, I grew tired of a certain hacking minigame), but as a whole, though, it really shows that Sanzaru put a solid amount of respect toward the game's level design and having new mechanics and playable characters being introduced consistently throughout.
On the audio side, the game's music is solid, sneaking a jazz flair into a large chunk of the tracks while also staying fitting to the current setting it accompanies. The voice acting doesn't offend either, feeling appropriate for most characters, and I think two of Sly's ancestors really stood out to me in particular with their humorous delivery. Needless to say, Thieves in Time's audio is certainly appropriate for the game, and for such a densely populated title, it is a good thing it holds up.
From a more technical perspective, Thieves In Times makes some noticeable visuals compromises, especially with the Vita version. Early in, I almost felt as if previous Sly games were better looking than Thieves in Time. Animated cutscenes have very noticeable compression, and I had some real frame rate dips for certain portions of the main story. Apparently both versions of the game suffer from lengthy load times, with the Vita version being slightly more so, and from my experience, they easily last 15 seconds or more on average. Despite these criticisms, Thieves in Time is by no means a bad looking game; the cel-shaded art direction holds up rather well and you can tell it has a lot of visual personality, though the visual sacrifices to the Vita version do occasionally detract. Presentation issues certainly didn’t stop me from playing the game, but for those who don’t have a particular preference on playing on a specific platform may want to focus on the PS3 version since it has a higher framerate and is more polished in terms of visual fidelity.
My biggest complaint with the game comes in the form of its controls; the troubles of which feel as if they are almost entirely specific to the Vita version. A core mechanic to the overall game, which is the costume changing, is mapped to the bottom right of the touch-screen screen. This doesn’t sound like a big deal until specific scenarios in the game, such as certain bosses who encourage the player to be mobile while swapping costumes, which can be annoying. Also, several minigames are centered around the Bita's tilt controls, which, while responsive, require a fair amount of precision making it much less practical in a portable environment. In all fairness, Sly has never been a particularly challenging series, with Thieves in Time in particular being forgiving with frequent auto saves and checkpoints. Still, it is annoying to have progress halted by awkward controls, and it has gone as far as hindering my experience when I tried to it to play it, well, portably.
Making for a faithful 4th iteration of the series, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a charming game with plenty of personality, variety, and things to do. Certain presentation and control issues mar the experience for the Vita version specifically, but hidden beneath is a fairly well fleshed out action-adventure game worthy of the Sly name. Sanzaru Games has made a proud successor to Sucker Punch's previous games, and I may be bold enough to say it has even surpassed them in terms of being my favorite entry to the series despite its occasional rough edges.
-Lengthy adventure with a lots of collectables and unlockables
-Plenty of variety with the in-game mission objectives
-Characters and visuals show off a fair amount of distinct personality
-Solid soundtrack and voice acting
-Tacked-on touchscreen and tilt screen controls
-Long load times and some noticeable visuals compromises for Vita
-Some setting/motifs and gameplay objectives are handled better than others
Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time makes for a very faithful and proud entry to the Sly series. Some presentation and control issues mar the experience for the vita version specifically, but hidden beneath is a fairly well-constructed action-adventure game with lots of personality and plenty of things to do.
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