Sly Cooper games aren’t really made anymore. As an industry, we’ve moved beyond collecting things to encourage exploration, injecting mini-games into platformers and doing everything possible to make the player feel like they’re controlling a cartoon. And it’s a shame. Games like Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time are fun, and everything else stems from that. It’s silly and easy, but the whole journey is fun.
Sanzaru took over the Sly franchise from Sucker Punch when it moved one to create inFamous, and it’s clear that the folks at Sanzaru were paying attention to what made the Sly games fun. The team eased into things by working on the HD re-release of the original trilogy, and if I hadn’t seen the logo at the front of Thieves in Time, I would have thought that Sucker Punch came back to revisit the PS2 franchise.
Everything feels familiar here. You’re still controlling Sly, Bentley, Murray, Carmelita and whatever cohort you recruit in each world. Sly is sneaky, Bentley is bomb and computer-happy and Murray just wants to rough guys up. Blue sparkles denote special areas where Sly can perform his signature thief moves, security systems are easily foiled by Bentley’s mini-game rich hacking and, when there are more enemies on the screen than you’d care to count, Murray can belly-flop them into submission.
Nine characters is a lot, but each feels unique and useful in their own right. The era-specific Coopers are the most impressive, since they play similarly to Sly, but portions of each world would be impossible without them. They’re integral to the gameplay, instead of just story beats. Being able to take ancestors out of missions was a nice surprise, and by the end of the game I found that they were actually my favorite characters to play.
Clue bottles and safes are back, giving players a great reason to return to past worlds and look around. Sly masks are new, scattered around each world, and reward the player with concept art, new skins and the like. And one of my favorite additions from the PS2 games, ThiefNet, is also back, allowing you to purchase new moves and upgrades for each character. It adds just enough RPG flavor to this platformer to make me feel like the Sly I’m playing is genuinely mine. It also gives me an excuse to keep pickpocketing every enemy out there.
Characters are vibrant, and the art style matches brilliantly. I wasn’t certain that Sly and the gang needed or would benefit from and HD facelift, and I’ve never been more pleased to be wrong. Larger and more detailed hub worlds are a blast to sneak through, and characters are more detailed without giving up their cartoon aesthetic. Sound effects are still as good as ever, and I’ve never felt as sneaky as when that bass line kicks in while sneaking around a corner as Sly. The stealth is simple, but it’s fun and feels great to pull off, and the sound effects play a large role there.
If Thieves in Time has a flaw, and it does, then it’s loading times. I’ve been spoiled by the 360’s ability to copy games to the hard drive, and an optional install would have been welcome here. You have to load the short cutscene, load the hideout, load the world after character selection and then finally load the job. There’s a lot of loading here, both in terms of frequency and duration.
Technical missteps aside, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a great entry in the Sly franchise, and a great game in its own right. Sanzaru made a new Sly game, and I mean that as a compliment. I hope it gets to keep making more, because what it has done is fun, and very few developers are making great 3D platformers anymore.
Pros: Tight controls, diverse cast, fun mechanics, worlds that are fun and rewarding to explore
Cons: Long load times with no install option, no physical manual