Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, the first franchise entry since 2005’s Honor Among Thieves, assumes nothing has changed in the time the series has laid dormant. The story picks up exactly where Sucker Punch left it, with Sly and the tenacious Inspector Carmelita Fox finally together at last – albeit under deceitful pretexts.
Taking the franchise’s reigns from series creator Sucker Punch, Thieves in Time is the first original Sly title from Sanzaru Games – having cut their teeth on 2010’s HD anthology, The Sly Collection. Fans of the franchise need not worry though, Thieves in Time is every bit as much a Sly Cooper game as Sucker Punch’s PlayStation 2 work, which could be considered the game’s biggest compliment, or its biggest criticism.
Following the hub-based exploits of Sly 2 and 3, Thieves in Time uses the exact same episodic structure, with the sole separator being each episode visits a new Cooper ancestor in a different time-period, which curiously gives the proceedings a subtle Assassin’s Creed vibe. Realistically though, whether you’re in Feudal Japan or the Old West, the disparate time-periods provide more flavor than they do variety. No matter where or when you are, you’re still running the same jobs with Sly, Bentley and Murray that you were running nearly eight years ago.
Again, like its PS2 siblings, Sucker Punch’s formula is still fun – case the area, hunt for collectables, buy ThiefNet upgrades, run jobs in preparation for the heist, take down the boss – but the overall results feel underwhelming. You may not have played as Riochi Cooper, or Bob, the very first cave-Cooper, however you’ve played this entire game before; twice, actually. By following their predecessor’s recipe so closely Sanzaru has restrained themselves, yielding a game that frankly feels quaint on a PlayStation 3.
To the developer’s credit there are some truly great moments and clever platforming sequences in Thieves in Time. Many use some of the new costumes (read: abilities) and characters to satisfying effect, such as Tennessee Cooper’s Crackshot, which pauses time and allows for some fancy split-second six-shooting. In fact, many of the standout jobs are those of Sly’s ancestors, because in these rare instances Sanzaru shows that it not only possesses the talent to add to Sucker Punch’s work, but in some cases actually improve it.
Perhaps the biggest single issue with Sly 3 was its glut of underdeveloped playable characters. Given the time-traveling nature of Thieves in Time, it seemed like Sanzaru might repeat these mistakes, but the developer wisely skirts these concerns by basing all of the ancestors off of Sly himself, minus his own signature assortment of moves. Most of them can still spire jump and run along cables and other narrow services, resulting in peripheral characters that don’t feel nearly as useless – outside of character-specific jobs – as some of those found in 3, such as The Guru or Panda King. You’ll likely still use Sly primarily to poke about in between missions but they remain viable, and sometimes necessary, options to fully explore each episode.
One lesson Sanzaru unfortunately didn’t learn is more isn’t always necessarily better, especially when it comes to mini games. Sly games have had a long history of sneaking alternate playstyles into missions and often at surprising moments. Thieves in Time not only carries this torch, but to its detriment, runs with it, highlighting some of the more glaring deficiencies in Bentley, Murray and Carmelita as normal characters. A significant portion of their jobs and contributions devolve into hacking, mindless arena combat and stationary firing ranges. To varying degrees some of the mini games are fun, or at least funny, like a few rhythm sections, but it’s likely you’ll be done with certain game-types long before Thieves in Time is also done with them.
Still, despite succumbing to some of the series’ pitfalls, which Sanzaru seems to have knowingly fell into, Thieves in Time is a remarkably faithful recreation of the classic 3D platforming the series was known for; and as such, it’s easy to get lost in the nostalgia of it all. Many of the hub worlds are an absolute joy to scour for clue bottles, treasures and masks. You’ll scale peaks and bell towers to survey the land, identify distant points-of-interest and be perpetually teased by locations and baubles as-yet unreachable with your current arsenal of costumes and relevant abilities. And during those moments it’s easy to look past the overall lack of ambition that permeates Thieves in Time and enjoy it for what is: just another Sly Cooper game.