PS2 REVIEW: SLY 3: HONOR AMONG THIEVES

I have always admired Sucker Punch Studios, even going as far back as their Rocket: Robot on Wheels game for the N64. That game forshadowed the incredible potential that they are now bringing to the table with their Sly games.

The first Sly game was one of those incredible platforming experiences that was over all too quickly. All the game journalists we knew were saying "It was a blast, but over far too soon!" Sly 2 was a tighter overall experience but it too suffered a bit from a lack of longevity. Well the third time is definitely the charm. Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves will keep you coming back for more as it's jampacked with the same great platforming/stealth goodness from the previous titles and continues the tradition of three playable characters; heck it even offers two players a chance to go at it head to head with a few minigames.

What's really nice about Sly 3 is that unlike other Sony exclusive franchises that have recently sought an older demographic such as Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank, our favorite stealth raccoon remains completely true to his original roots. The violence is cartoony of course, but there is no salty language or gratuitious adult themes that pop up unexpectedly just for the heck of it. While it's an innocent game I'm not suggesting it has no "teeth" or appeal for older gamers. Anyone who appreciates a well designed romp will definitely get their moneys worth out of Sly 3 - and as an added bonus, might even be able to enjoy some of the lines spoken by the bosses on a completely different level then younger gamers. But again, it's nothing that will make you cringe.

The primary objective in Sly 3 is to gain access to Sly's family fortune which the mysterious Dr. M has built a fortress around so he can crack the safe and get into it himself. To foil Dr. M, Sly must "put the gang back together" as you've seen in countless heist movies. Sly will have to rely on Bentley the brains of the operation from Sly 2 who is now confined to a wheelchair due to an accident that Murray the hippo blames himself for. It's actually kind of tragic which contrasts greatly with the light-heartedness of the game, although I'm sure most kids will be of the attitude "Awesome! Bentley's all crippled up and can never walk again and he has all these cool gadgets on his chair! I wish I was paralyzed too!" I wouldn't put it past the youth of today.... Although I don't want to give too much away, you will be able to play as more than just the three heroes from the last game, inlcuding a certain foxy female... However the extra characters seem a little added on and aren't as satisfying as the headliners.

Sucker Punch really took the story and the characters to the nth degree in Sly 3 and for the most part the game is better for it. However some players will become almost instantly put off with the amount of detail and conversation taking place on screen. It's one of those "glass half empty / half full" kind of deals: without the added bulk, Sly 3 would be over faster and not seem quite so thorough but some gamers just want to have fun minus the lectures.

The game features the central hub concept which allows the team to access the various levels at their will. Once in a level the game retains its trademark gameplay in a similarly linear fashion as the previous titles with perhaps a little more emphasis on platforming this time. Coins must be collected again but this time they are used to buy various gadgets off of ThiefNet, which at least gives the hackneyed collecting mechanic a purpose. I've hated collecting things back in the SNES days and I can't believe it's still being used in games today. The game mechanics haven't changed all that much although the aforementioned gadgets ramp up the playability factor.

My only problem with Sly 3 in terms of gameplay is the somewhat split personality of the entire project - the graphics, content and platforming are telling me "casual gamer" but the later boss battles are telling me "hardcore gamer". I think it's much too ambitious to assume that casual gamers will improve their techniques to the point of being able to best some of the later bosses.. Maybe it's just me who sucks and trust me when that's usually my first line of thinking, but I'm not so sure it's my sucking that was the problemo this time out. It seems there are some inherent balance issues that will rear their ugly little heads down the road. In any event the boss battles seem to contrast greatly with the ease of which the most of the game is played and that might come as a shock to some unsuspecting players.

One area of Sly 3 that thankfully doesn't matter a whole heckuva lot is the gimmicky 3D levels. I'm an old fart so 3D glasses and I don't get along too well. The pseudo 3D effect almost instantly gives me a headache - but for the sake of science, I decided to take a bullet (and some Tylenol) for the team and test it out. The effect primarily allows one to feel depth by having certain objects appear in the foreground while others remain in the background. It's impressive but not nearly impressive as my 40 year old ViewMaster. Man, they really knew what they were doing when they built those crazy toys. Anyway gamers are given the choice of playing the 3D levels in good old 2D and trust me when I say, you aren't missing much, unless you happen to really enjoy eye strain.

The 2 player action is an added bonus but seems to be more of a token gesture than anything you'll be engrossed in long term. There are four games to choose from (Sly vs. Carmelita, Bi-Plane Dogfight, Ship duel and a Matrix style game) and since they're based on single player mini-games that you'll experience during the game, you may not be able to wring a lot of entertainment value out of them.

Visually Sly retains it's cell-shaded look and sleek artistic style which is complemented by the cartoony but very fluid and often downright incredible animation. You'll swear you're watching a cartoon that you're controlling right before your eyes. Sucker Punch knows how to wring the PS2's bottleneck and get it to perform some nice looking tricks and Sly 3, while looking very similar to previous games, is an impressive looking title that would look easily at home on the Xbox.

Sly 3 is a fun romp that lives up to the reputation the franchise has earned over the last couple of years. The new elements aren't entirely out of sync with previous Sly games and most fans of the series will enjoy almost everything - save for the later boss battles. The 3D is a throw away gimmick and the 2 player minigames will add a day or two of replay value - more if you can lure in different friends to your house to play, assuming you have more than one friend. Sucker Punch has delivered a quality product that will at least give you more bang for your buck then previous Sly games. It's not perfect, but it's fun for the whole fam damily.

System: PS2
Dev: Sucker Punch
Pub: Sony
Release: Sept 2005
Players: 1 - 2
Review by Vaughn
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
4.0
GRAPHICS
5.0
CONTROL
4.0
MUSIC/FX
4.0
VALUE
3.5