Developer: Sanzaru Games
Medium: Blu-ray Disc/Digital
With Sucker Punch Productions either busy with another inFamous title, or a next-generation PlayStation console release, (or both) the Sly Cooper series has seemingly fallen into the hands of Sanzaru Games. Sanzaru did a nice job with The Sly Collection, which is a triple pack of classic PS2 Sly Cooper titles enhanced and repackaged for the PS3, so they at least have some history with the series. After it was announced that Sanzaru Games would be developing a wholly original new Sly Cooper title from the ground up, both for the PS3 and the PS Vita, we were curious if they were up to the task. After seamlessly jumping back and forth between the console and portable versions for more than a dozen hours, I'm inclined to say they were indeed ready and more than capable.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is Sly 4 for all intents and purposes. The game takes place directly after Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves during a period of time where Sly, Bentley and Murray are enjoying a bit of downtime. Sly pairs up with Carmelita Fox (finally) and vacations around the world, Murray gets more serious about his pro wrestling and eating careers, and Bentley has become the keeper of the Cooper family's ancient book, the Thievius Raccoonus. One day, even under incredibly tight security, Bentley discovered that the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus were mysteriously vanishing and reaches out to locate Sly and Murray. The team is quickly reassembled after Bentley theorizes that someone has gone back in time to disrupt Sly's family history for some reason, so they decide to head back in time themselves to investigate.
Sly's missions in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time take him to 5 time periods/locations where he inevitably meets up with an Sly Cooper ancestor in each. The time traveling aspect gives the game a good opportunity to showcase some very diverse settings such as Feudal Japan, the Wild West, Medieval England, the prehistoric era and the ancient Middle East. During the team's travels they meet up respectively with Rioichi Cooper the ninja, Tennessee Kid Cooper the thief/gunslinger, "Bob" the powerful, climbing cave-Raccoon, Sir Galleth the knight, and finally, Salim al Kupar, one of the legendary 40 thieves. Most of the missions in the game are centered around Sly Cooper himself with Bentley, Murray and Carmelita in playable, but supporting roles, in addition to Sly's ancestors being required for certain jobs. Beyond those characters, Sly can acquire a new costume in each time period which can be swapped out in real-time (during any chapter) which provides him with a new bag of tricks and abilities. Needless to say there are a lot of characters to play as in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time with many different abilities, though in terms of story-based jobs, the game always requires that you use someone specific.
As with the more recent Sly Cooper titles, the missions in each Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time chapter are set up around what looks like an open world hub. I say "looks like" because the game progression is totally linear. There is never a point in the game where you need to choose between more than one job at a time, so you are always pushed forward. The open world aspect is just for item collection purposes, and presumably because it is more interesting than just picking a story level from a menu or just connecting each one with a cut scene. Once you leave the hideout, Sly (or whoever you choose to use) can collect clue bottles, find Sly masks, beat down or pick-pocket enemies for coins and health, or locate and race to retrieve treasures. The coins can then be traded for character upgrades at the hideout, and the clue bottles, assuming all 30 are found in a level, are used to open a safe with a powerful Sly ability. The Sly masks are used to unlock in-game features from the options, and when all treasures are located, a new arcade game at the hideout becomes available. So gamers who crave optional collect-o-thons in their games will be quite happy with what is available in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. Thankfully these are entirely optional, so you can zip through the game without hunting down even a single treasure, mask or bottle if you feel so inclined. It's unlikely most gamers can resist the "tink tink tink" sound of a nearby bottle or treasure just asking to be picked up.
I'd label Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time stays true to the series' roots and can be best labeled as an "action platformer". Thieves in Time plays as you would expect a new Sly Cooper game to play with smooth animation paired with good controls, both on the PS3 and the PS Vita. Sly, Bentley, Murray, the Sly ancestors and others all serve different purposes and have distinct moves and abilities. Sly can climb, sneak, jump, glide with a chute, stick to objects, traverse lines and rooftops and perform a variety of attack and stealth techniques. His time travel costumes give him a new move or two which are utilized to progress past specific obstacles, such as a long grabbing leap to get across inaccessible gaps or slowing down time to sneak under closing gates or navigate fast moving sequences. Bentley uses primarily bombs and darts in his robo-wheelchair and is also utilized to hack systems with retro-styled minigames and drive RC vehicles. Murray is the brawn who can fight past hordes of enemies if required, and he also has no problem dressing up in women’s clothes. Sly's ancestors have Sly's basic moveset along with unique abilities which are needed for specific jobs. Even though variety is definitely the strong point here, the game most definitely lets players know which character or costume is required at any given time, so it's not as confusing as it sounds. At the end of each chapter, a good chunk of the characters work together to assist Sly in getting to what is almost always a boss fight of some sort.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is the same exact game on the PS3 and PS Vita and I split mygameplay time pretty much in half over both platforms. Thanks to the PS3 – PS Vita Cross-Save ability, everything you do in one version is synced with the other version by using cloud saves. We're talking coins, treasures, abilities, collectibles and even PSN Trophies. The Cross-Save process is a bit manual and requires a user to "Upload to cloud/Download from cloud", but it's a fast process works out really nicely when you want to put one version down and pick up where you left off on the other. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is also a Cross-Buy PS3 game, which means that you get the PS Vita version for free via download if you purchase the retail or downloadable PS3 version.
Visually, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a fantastic looking game on both platforms, with large colorful environments, excellently animated cel-shaded characters, and gorgeous lighting effects. The PS3 version maintains a 60fps framerate nearly the entire game versus a locked 30fps on the Vita version. Besides the framerate, the shadows and cel-shaded style is more toned down in the portable version, and the animated cut-scenes and a few of the textures appear more compressed. The Vita version does look to be native resolution and maintains the lush environments, smooth animations and striking lighting as seen in the console version. I didn't feel shortchanged at all by switching between both platforms, so I feel that Sanzaru did an excellent job balancing the game to work well on both.
The writing in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is witty and the voice-overs are enjoyable and amusing. The soundtrack is keyed in with the location and time period you are playing through at any given time, and is pleasant and appropriate enough for both sneaking around and fighting bosses.
Thieves in Time is a decently long game, and with splitting my time between the console and portable versions, I sort of lost track of the number of hours spent playing through it. I'd say 12 hours is fair if you don't get hooked into the collectibles or replaying jobs all that much.
Even with all of the perceived variety in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, I sort of found myself thinking that some of the jobs were a little bit too repetitive and by-the-numbers. The characters, settings and abilities may change from time period to time period, but some of the filler-type missions that take place within the city aren't particularly interesting. The other issue is the replayability after completing the game. You can jump back to any previous job, except since there is no ranking system in place, so there is no real reason to beyond just experiencing them again or to find a few missed collectibles. You can freely navigate the city environments to pick up collectibles also, or to max out your character abilities, but there's not much incentive to do so other than Trophies or the feeling that you've unlocked 100% of everything in the game.
After a nearly 8 year hiatus, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a worthy 4th installment in the Sly Cooper series (especially for under $40), and Sanzaru Games did a great job picking up where Sucker Punch left off. Overall, it's an interesting take on the Sly formula, though ultimately, a fairly safe one. If you're a fan of the Sly franchise, own a PS3 or PS Vita (or both ideally), and/or are looking for an enjoyable action platformer, then definitely consider Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time.