Tuesday, April 23, 2013

One Hour Playthrough: Sly Cooper - Thieves in Time

I'm playing through my vast game collection one game at a time, one hour at a time.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of Sly Cooper Thieves in Time from my good friend Jason Weesner, a designer on the game. He sent me a copy after he found out I had been hospitalized with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. If you would like to contribute to combat leukemia and lymphoma and aid in continuing research, please donate here.

Game: Sly Cooper Thieves in Time
Developer: Sanzaru Games
Publisher: SCEA
Published in: 2013
Genre: Action
Rating: E10

Sly Cooper. It's been a long time. The original games were some of my favorites on the PS2, so I'm glad to see him back. The game's cover keeps things simple - Sly swinging in action. No Bentley, No Murray, No clock faces whirling around. None of the usual stuff I'd expect to see in a "time-travel" game. (I'm making this assumption purely on the cover) I open the case for... Waaaaaah? No manual?! Actually, SCTiT does something very smart - they use the inside of the cover to show the control scheme as well as including a digital manual on disc. While it's a little hard to read on the toliet, in this day of publisher cost cutting, it's a sensible solution. But since I never read manuals while I play, let's game up!

Timey-Wimey Vortex

After a quick data load and the (hilarious) Sanzaru logo, we are dropped right into the start/logo screen. Sly's tricked out time machine/van flops TARDIS-style down a time vortex. If you look carefully, you'll see the expressions on the character's faces in the van. Hilarious. I can almost hear them saying "NOOOOOOOOO" in slow motion. I am prompted to create a new game and asked if I want the full story. That's downright considerate since most games want to cram the story down your throat first and then have you play the game. During the load, a brief outline of the original game as well as the percentage of pickups the player has earned is displayed. Once again, smart use of space that most other games just waste on static artwork or worse still, an almost black screen.

The opening cutscene is fully animated, different than the original game's flash-style animations - I kind of miss those simple cutscenes. While dated, they did give the original games a unique look. The cutscenes provide background on the characters, the world and what their goals are. A second cutscene focuses on Bentley, his missing girl friend Penelope and the vanishing pages of the Thievious Racoonus. A third cutscene brings us up to speed about Murray, now a pro-racer. The gang is reunited to find out who is erasing Cooper history and start their plan to travel back in time. A puppet show opens up the action where the gang finds themselves in Paris on the trail of a mysterious samurai sword.

Sly's controls are smooth as ever. He has fun animations (I love a game with a good idle animation) and the character's cell-shaded look has a slightly sketchy quality to it this time around. All the basic moves are there - jump, double jump, swing staff, perch on narrow platforms, etc. Just like the original game, everything that isn't part of the scenery is breakable - yielding golden coins. Time to crate: 1 second.

Paris has never looked so nice
During this first level, Sly clambers along the rooftops of Paris as helicopters shine spotlights looking for our hero. If Sly is caught in this beam, (with a single button press) he is immediately brought back into the game - and I mean, immediately - no "death animation", no "I've been caught" animation, no "waaah-waaah" sfx, not even a load. This game isn't messing about with getting you back into the action! Sly's thieving skills are used right away to walk on cables, climb up pipes and creep along ledges. Anyone who played the original will feel right at home here. A fun mechanic is pickpocketing - where Sly can steal from enemies before defeating them.

One of the game's many navigation systems in action

The game world looks great. It's colorful and lushly detailed with fun details that occur when the player passes by. The game is packed with information systems to guide the player - "thief sparkles", a radar, an arrow pointer, a text message and character dialogue all keep the player from ever getting turned around or lost. My only complaint (granted this is only the first level) is that with all these useful navigation systems, the levels could stand to be a little less linear - at least it has lots of verticalty which keeps the playing jumping around.

Bentley is ready to rock (and roll)

And then there's Bentley the turtle. He might not be video gaming's first handicapable character, but he's one of the best! Bentley was tragically injured in Sly 3 but that doesn't stop him from being awesome. Bentley wheels around in his rocket-powered, bomb-dropping chair. He's a great character who enables one of the game's other modes - an Armored Attack style cyber-hacking game where the player drives a turtle-tank thru a Tron-style cyber-space. It makes me happy to know that characters like Bentley still exist in video games. He's a great role-model for kids and adults alike.
Murray can even pick up and slam enemies and objects
Just as I hit the hour-mark, I finally get to play as Murray the hippo. In addition to being the gang's driver, Murray is an (almost) unstoppable fighting machine. Diving into a group of baddies with a belly-flop attack or just a series of punches provides a nice change of pace to all that sneaking around.

Computer hacking turtle-style

Well, what's the verdict on Sly Cooper Thieves in Time? Should the gang be locked up in jail or set free to continue their thieving ways?

What I would do differently? Not much. Some could argue that there was too many information systems going on, but if it keeps me from getting turned around (always a danger in a 3D game) then keep it in. But I was able to get a nicely rounded survey of the game (all three characters pull an additional game mode) within the same hour. I'm sure I would have gotten further if I had elected to skip the cutscenes.

Would I keep playing? Absolutely. I feel like I barely scratched the surface and am looking forward to travelling through time with the gang. Solid platformers are few and far between on any system these days (well, except for on the DS) and Sly Cooper Thieves in Time is a worthy successsor to this great series. Which is a shame as I learned that developer Sanzaru was closed down just as SCTiT' was released. While I don't know the particulars, I feel that sometimes publishers don't make the effort try to nurture quality developers. It's a real shame that the SCTiT team wasn't given a chance to stick together like Sly and his gang. I would have liked to have seen what they would have come up with.

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