Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a time capsule from a bygone era, but has it got enough to make it feel at home in the modern world?
It’s finally arrived, the review you’ve all been waiting for. Just a month after other reviews went live, a month after the game was released in the US, and roughly two to three months after we had review code in our hands, our Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time review is here. No, we didn’t attempt time travel and get it completely wrong, we were just faced with an incredibly silly embargo.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, in contrast, is a proper exercise in time travel, and this both works in its favour and against it. The blend of stealth, platforming and action in a 3D cartoon world is a throwback to a style of game that once dominated the gaming landscape, especially during the late ’90s and early ’00s, when Sly himself rose to prominence. Now, the formula almost seems quaint, and it’s more Dreamworks than Pixar – delivering something that’s enjoyable and family friendly, but that doesn’t quite have that magic spark.
The plot that exists is just a flimsy excuse to stick Sly in a variety of different of timezones and uniquely stylized areas – from modern-day Paris to Ancient Japan and Medieval England – as he travels around with fellow anthropomorphs Murray and Bentley, attempting to discover the Cooper family secret by meeting up with his various ancestors. It’s silly, but not quite silly or funny enough to be engaging throughout, and just about keeps everything hanging together by a loose thread.
The levels themselves are rather open, with a central hub in the form of Sly’s secret hideout, allowing you to revisit different areas or timezones in order to discover every hidden item or collectible. There’s also different roles and quests for each character to take on – Sly’s involve thievery, Bentley’s technical wizardy, and Murray’s wanton destruction – meaning there’s plenty to do in every area of the game, and plenty to keep you mildly amused.
You traverse levels by jumping across the rooftops and tiptoeing across high-rise wires and structures. Guards patrol, but aren’t the brightest bulbs, and their area of vision is highlighted for you to see, meaning sneaking round them to pickpocket or incapacitate them isn’t too much of a challenge. This is one area where Sly excels: everything you need to know is communicated visually without breaking immersion or the art style, and it looks clean and slick as a result.
One thing that vastly improves Sly’s adventures that’s a result of modern invention is sticky platforming. 3D platformers used to be blighted by the inability to accurately judge a jump, and Sly’s ability to lock-on to any surface emitting blue sparks makes for much less frustrating brand of platforming, even though annoyances still occasionally crop up should you accidentally stick to the wrong object.
Sly’s biggest flaw is that you’ll always be entertained, but never amazed or wowed. It’s an incredibly competent game: the platforming is neat, the story is inoffensive, the characters are goofy, and the combat is slapstick. It never takes any risks, though, and never pushes you into any realm of discomfort. The difficulty is always medium, the humour is always lukewarm, and everything exists in this bubble of safe mediocrity. There’s enough nostalgia to make it compelling, and enough enjoyment to keep you playing, though, so being forced into a child’s safety seat doesn’t ruin the journey too much.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, from Sanzaru Games and Sony, is due out March 29th for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.