Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Hands-on Preview -- Racoonus Familiaris Totally Fine By Us (Get It?!)By Miguel Concepcion - Posted Mar 02, 2012
With a seven-year break, the first foray on the PlayStation 3, and a new studio at the helm of Sly Cooper’s latest adventure, you’d almost expect that Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time would mark some notable changes to the series. After all, games like Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction, Medal of Honor, and SSX ended their hiatuses with significant design changes over their respective predecessors. So it might surprise many that Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time appears to be plays things very safe, with very few changes in gameplay, as if the series never skipped a beat. In my Thievius Raccoonus, that might turn out to be a very good thing.
Speaking of this legendary tome, the Thievius Raccoonus plays a central role in the story of Thieves in Time. Around the same time Bentley makes a time machine, odd changes take place in Sly’s coveted book. We soon learn that Sly’s ancestors are suddenly in dire straits due to a time anomaly, and it’s up to the Cooper Gang to fix things.
Don’t expect this adventure to be a mind-jarring non-linear exercise in time travelling a la Final Fantasy XIII-2. The story progression in Thieves in Time is pretty much on a single path. The incentives for coming back to previously visited time periods comes later in the game when you can use newly-learned abilities to reach previously inaccessible areas and find more collectibles.
How this latest Sly Cooper ended up in the hands of a developer like Sanzaru has been a tale of opportunity and profound admiration of the series by the five-year-old studio (founded by seven former Activision developers). This was one of many instances where a developer pitched their wares to a publisher in taking on the next installment of a game series, mindful of the fact that original Sly studio Sucker Punch Productions was busy working on inFamous. Sanzaru first proved their worth with The Sly Collection and now have this new story to tell. When was the last time an outsourced studio got this opportunity after working on a series’ HD remaster?
The nostalgia strings were first yanked the moment I clicked on R3, bringing up Sly’s classic binocucom. The voice of Matt Olsen as Bentley was an all-too familiar sound; with his classic cartoon cadence, I was all the more excited to have Sly’s team back together again. As if the Sly series never over-extends itself in competing with Sony’s other IPs, Sanzaru keeps Thieves in Time close to the series’ roots.
The game doesn’t feel like it’s maxing out the PlayStation 3 hardware, not that it needs to. The graphical textures keep to the series’ cel-shaded cartoon style with some newly added details, most noticeable on the characters’ faces. To further add a sense of continuity, Sly Cooper 2: Band of Thieves and Sly Cooper 3: Honor Among Thieves music composer Peter McConnell returns. It didn’t take long to recognize that Henry Mancini-influenced sound, not to mention the always amusing sneaking footsteps sound effects.
This strong familiarity unsurprisingly includes the gameplay. There’s certainly an old-pair-of-shoes charm when diving right into the first mission of this demo session, a finely balanced mix of platforming, sneaking and pick-pocketing. I was playing as Rioichi Cooper, a Japanese thief who speaks with a gruff stereotypical sensei-like voice, just without the excessive proverbs.
While he’s appeared in past Sly games but was never playable until now. Longtime fans will recognize his contribution to the Thievius Raccoonus to be the Ninja Spire jump, a very helpful long distance jumping ability and one used heavily in this particular level Elevated platforming on beams and lanterns, pick-pocketing guards, and monitoring their flashlight-assisted field of vision all made it feel like I was playing the first Sly Cooper all over again.
Switching gears to medieval Europe, the other hands-on mission found Sly himself tracking down Sir Galleth Cooper. The time anomaly has turned the once courageous knight into a court jester, entertaining royalty in a circus of torture; it’s essentially a way to justify a platform-intensive level. And when it’s a circus, you can expect a ton of tight ropes, trapezes, and oh-so tiny landing areas to jump on and off.
I was particularly enamoured with how cannons were firing balls as I made it across a couple ropes without getting hit. The way the camera accentuated the depth of the cannons at ground level with Sly high above reminded me another beloved PlayStation 2 platformer, Klonoa 2. It should be noted that Sly was also tasked in creating some of the tight ropes himself. This was done by donning a Robin Hood-like outfit and shooting rope-tied arrows using the first-person perspective.
By the end of my session, I unexpectedly drew a mental connection between Sly Cooper and Assassins Creed, with how these two series are steeped in multi-generational lore where the protagonist is carrying on a legacy. It’s almost a shame there aren’t more of these stories in gaming, but at least Thieves in Time is taking the next step in making the hero’s predecessors more involved in the story, let alone gameplay. Cynics can argue that including other similarly designed thieves and spreading the skill tree among them artificially extends the playthrough. From what I’ve seen and played, this is hardly an issue since Thieves in Time’s most promising attribute is in characterizations, enhanced further by a script that by all accounts aspire to the same kind of humor from the previous Sly Coopers.
With any luck, we’ll find out more about other ancestors before Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time ships this fall, exclusively for the PlayStation 3.