Remember when games weren’t focused tested to within an inch of their lives? Remember when 3D platforming was a thing and anthropomorphic characters were all the rage? Well, in that case, you probably remember the 90’s. Since the N64 and the glory days of Banjo-Kazooie et al, things have gone decidedly quite for the once dominant 3D platformer. We’ve had a few spring up over the years, but in a world now dominated by first person shooters, it seems that there is no longer a place for the humble 3D platformer.
Obviously, somebody forgot to tell Sanzaru Games. After their mostly stellar work in bringing Sucker Punch’s much loved but little played PS2 era Sly Cooper trilogy to the PS3, they have since been entrusted with bringing Sly’s first new release in eight years to a new generation of PS3 gamers. The result, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time; a game pleasingly un-fussed with modern trends created by a developer clearly eager to deliver an experience befitting a once beloved genre.
Be warned though; if you’re looking for innovation, triple-A polish or eye popping visuals, Thieves in Time isn’t the game you’re looking for. Nothing here is what you might call new, revolutionary, or heck, even modern. The core gameplay in particular, as solid as it may be, is hardly removed from that found in its predecessors. The visuals too, with their cel-shaded style, might be easy on the eyes, but it’s hardly cutting edge stuff. The game is never anything less than solid, but believe me, it certainly has its fair share of foibles and rough edges.
As negative as that may sound, for many, that will be a big part of its charm. Rather than feeling lazy, those rough edges give it a hand built kind of feel, almost a personal touch that is so often lacking from big money, modern day releases. Yes, Thieves in Time has its problems, but it’s also packed to the rafters with personality. It won’t be for everyone and I have little doubt that some will flat out dislike it, but for those who click with this game, who have fond memories of the series or of the 3D platformers of yore, Thieves in Time will prove incredibly easy to love.
Following on from the events of Sly Cooper : Honor (read: honour) Among Thieves, Thieves in Time sees all the old crew back together along with (thanks to some of that time travelling goodness) a collection of Sly’s multi-talented ancestors. They’re a clichéd bunch, but like so much of the game, their charm inevitably shines through.
With pages from the Thievius Raccoonus going missing (essentially a book chronicling the Cooper family tree), it’s down to Sly, Bentley, Murray and Carmelita Fox to travel back and, with the help of Sly’s ancestors, go on heists, find out who is responsible for such time travelling skullduggery and, of course, collect loads and loads of shiny things along the way.
In fact, collecting shiny things is one of Thieves in Time’s greatest joys. Each episode is linked to a specific point in history, be it feudal Japan, the Wild West, medieval England or even the ice age and, while the missions themselves are certainly enjoyable, it’s the individual hub worlds linked to each location that offer the greatest sense of freedom. With collectibles, challenges and enemies aplenty, these vast areas allow for experimentation at your own pace, presenting the Sly Cooper template at its very best.
Platforming may be a bit finicky at times, but for the most part, core control of the numerous playable characters in the game is a joy. Sly in particular, with his host of athletic abilities and cool animations is a delight to control. The same goes for many of the additional characters with wheelchair bound Bentley providing a pleasing change of pace thanks to his rocket based attacks and basic flight controls. It’s just a shame that combat is so often forced upon you. Compared to the rest of the game, it feels cumbersome and for the most part, all a bit repetitive. Be it excessive use of Carmelita’s guns or yet another bout of basic button mashing with Murray, it’s a shame that the games’ weakest aspect is so often forced upon you. It works fine for the more intricate, challenging boss fights, but for the majority of the adventure, in which challenge is often at a minimal, taking down enemies in direct combat is rarely all that fun.
There are other issues too with many of the jokes falling flat on their face and many of the mini-games not as fun as they should be, but honestly, nothing sticks around long enough to become a genuine issue. By the time you realise you’ve enjoyed or disliked a mini-games, it’s over and you’re onto something new and equally, while a joke may have missed the mark, it’s usually followed by another so quickly that you’ll hardly have time to notice. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is certainly not short of content and while not everything is out of the top draw, the good certainly outweighs the bad and thanks to its underlying charm, I for one found it surprisingly easy to forgive its few inadequacies.
It’s worth mentioning too that this is another title in Sony’s very cool cross-play promotion in which all copies of the PS3 version will come with a free code to download the Vita edition. On top of that, Vita users can also use the additional screen as x-ray goggles to find hidden collectibles scattered across the world through the use of augmented reality. It’s hardly essential stuff, but if you do happen to own a PS3 and a Vita, it will certainly prove an intriguing if inevitably limited extension to the core experience.
So then, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is far from perfect and individually at least, nothing here is especially new or groundbreaking. As a whole though, Thieves in Time just works. From the hit and miss script to the disparate gameplay elements, Thieves in Time is a product far greater than the sum of its individual parts. Sanzaru Games’ time travelling adventure, ironically enough, is itself a game out of time; a product of 90’s style game development on modern day hardware that despite its foibles, manages to deliver an enjoyable and sizeable adventure, one that perfectly walks the line between nostalgic entertainment and good old fashioned solid game design.
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