Less Like A Time Machine, More Like A Time Capsule
It’s been a while since Sly Cooper and I have had a chance to hang out—almost eight years, in fact. When Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves hit the PS2 in 2005, the world was a much different place. Hurricane Katrina had just destroyed Louisiana and people were still obsessed with Kelly Clarkson for some reason. But now that Sony’s kleptomaniacal raccoon is finally making landfall on the PS3, in the console’s twilight years, he seems a little out of place.
Granted, Sony released The Sly Collection in 2011, so it’s not like PS3 owners have been completely deprived of Mr. Cooper’s thievery, but the franchise hasn’t had the opportunity to evolve over the past eight years. So, now that Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time has finally hit the shelves, it feels less like a newly minted adventure game and more like a time capsule.
The reason for Sly’s extended vacation has to do with the shifting priorities of Sucker Punch Productions. Sucker Punch was the original developer behind the Sly franchise, but they’ve since focused their attention on the Infamous series, which, if you think about it, actually makes sense considering all of the vertical gameplay and tightrope riding.
Sanzaru Games hated to see the Sly Cooper franchise collecting dust, so their development team worked up a Sly Cooper prototype for the PS3 and showed it off to Sony. The bid worked, and Sony put Sanzaru in charge of the Sly Collection in 2011 and eventually green-lit Thieves in Time.
Sanzaru definitely understands what makes the Sly series unique. But part of the franchise’s charm is rooted in nostalgia, and that doesn’t always translate into a compelling game. In fact, there are moments in Thieves in Time where modern video game design has obviously been supplanted by outdated techniques. It often feels like the players are the actual time travelers here.
Don’t get me wrong. I definitely think that there’s room for Sly Cooper in today’s world, but this title doesn’t quite make the transition. The characters feel outdated. The storyline was worn out years ago. Even the voice acting and animations are a little elderly. It has all the charisma of a Saturday morning cartoon from the 1990’s, which may sound interesting, but it looks a little out of place on the shelf with XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Far Cry 3.
Obviously, Thieves in Time is aimed at a much younger audience than XCOM and Far Cry, but even that’s a little muddy. The game’s cast is made up of cartoon animals, but there’s an underlying sexuality that proves the developer had an older audience in mind.
If you’re even tangentially familiar with Sly Cooper’s history, you’ve already met all of the key players from Thieves In Time. Bentley, a computer-hacking turtle, and Murray, a hippo who frequently crashes cars, make up Sly’s gang. And players will get their hands on several of Sly Cooper’s ancestors, some of whom made appearances in the previous titles.
The storyline is one that any sci-fi aficionado has already become very familiar with; a time-traveling villain has been altering the course of history by meddling with Sly Cooper’s family tree. So, in order to reconstruct the timeline, Bentley whips up a time machine and the crew retreats into history.
Each historical era is essentially an open world hub for the main storyline. Players can choose to explore the world, collecting treasures and uncovering secrets, or they can branch away from the hub by launching missions from the primary storyline. The developers have hidden trinkets throughout the open world portions of the game, which translate into unlockable items and trophies. Just to warn you, though, collecting these trinkets often involves a strange difficulty jump from the game’s main storyline. So, it can be surprisingly frustrating.
However, completing missions from the primary story arc isn’t terribly stressful. The levels often cater to younger players, so the puzzles aren’t particularly complicated. Plus, the game’s unsophisticated clues are extremely difficult to miss.
Obviously, though, if you’re ten years old, none of what I just said applies to you.
However, even with all of its faults, Thieves in Time occasionally squeezes out a genuinely enjoyable experience. The action is intermittently broken up with entertaining minigames that are inspired by video games like Guitar Hero and Marble Madness. You’re probably never going to laugh out loud, but the game definitely has its moments.
Plus, Thieves in Time showcases Sony’s underused cross-platform feature for the PlayStation Vita. I was able to continuously switch between consoles throughout the campaign, which freed me up to have dinner with my wife at a fancy restaurant without stopping. (Don’t judge me. She’s lucky to have me.)
The control scheme for both consoles is equally responsive. And even though a few of the buttons are shifted, switching between consoles feels natural. However, I doubt that many people are actually going to make use of the cross-platform feature, which is a shame. It might be the coolest part of Thieves in Time.
In the eight years that Sly Cooper has been absent from the video game universe, things have changed a bit. Pacing, characterization, and storytelling have become an important part of the industry, but all of these things are missing from Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. What we’re left with is a schizophrenic collage of historical tropes, pop culture references, and antiquated storytelling.
Thieves in Time might have been brilliant on the PlayStation 2, but the PlayStation 4 is right around the corner. And we don’t listen to Kelly Clarkson anymore.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Underwhelming, but not disappointing. 4.0 Control
Both the PlayStation 3 and the Vita have perfectly responsive controls. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Schizophrenic sound design and heavy-handed voice acting. 3.0 Play Value
Very little has changed in the last eight years. And that’s a bad thing. 3.3 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best