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The Next Level In Gaming

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Super-duper thieving Cooper is back after an exile of nearly 8 years and long-time fans have been craving a new installment of ingenious thievery, explorative adventuring and of course taking the reins of the mighty Murrrrray!

We kick things off by getting a juicy look into the current on goings in the life of famed thief; Sly Cooper. He’s finally entered a peaceful relationship with his long-time law-enforcing pursuer, Carmelita Fox, and they seem quite content with their life. But Sly’s old ways are digging away at him like a bout of pin and needles. To cure his lust for notoriety he swiftly assembles his news team…or his gang I should say and start devising plans for their next heist. But during it, pages from the Thievius Raccoonus (a book comprised of all Cooper ancestors talents) start disappearing and it’s up to the gang to figure out why; subsequently reuniting them all. With an angry Carmelita back on the hunt to lock up Cooper for lying to her and the evil megalomaniac that is Le Paradox is trying to alter the past to make his present more pleasant and rich. As the gang van explodes straight back in time leaving behind 2 trails of fire and a fallen license plate, that are quite clearly reminiscent of Back to the Future, its clear the gang once again have a job to do!

Thieves in Time is a throwback to a bygone era that I think desperately needs to return and in a modern age that is flooded and dangerously over-saturated with shooters, sequels and sports titles galore. Where is Spyro? Where is Crash? Where are Jak and Daxter?!? Is Sly the catalyst? I doubt it, LittleBigPlanet was as basic a platformer as you could get and it didn’t really kick-start anything major so here’s hoping.

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Sly fills the void for now and blatantly shows that jumping and negotiating obstacles is classic fun whilst collecting stuff is an insatiable pleasure. It’s the definition of completionism and each of the unique hub worlds offers this to you. It won’t just be Sly you complete the game with. Oh no. You can use Sly, Bentley, Murray, Carmelita occasionally and ancestors from each world.

The game is spread across Paris briefly before you gain access to 5 massive hub worlds of hills, caves, open land, trains and perilous hazards. Each of them utilise a distinct time period ranging from the Ye Old Medieval times of pillaging and chivalry to pre-historic times in the Flintstone age. With all 5 worlds you get the return of those little green clue bottles of awesomeness that dance oh so gracefully and clink with delight. It was such an incredible to leave them out of Sly 3 as they’ve become a bit of a mini-icon in the series. Along with these you have 60 Sly masks that are hidden throughout the hub worlds and levels; unlocking additional rewards. Plus the optional treasures from Sly 3 also return and are now part of each world to collect and get your 100% completion.

I love the feeling of starting a new period of time so I can start collecting everything in the level, even if you have hundreds of coins that are endlessly stockpiling in your inventory, you’ll still find yourself smashing stuff to collect more just because it’s fun. Within each world is the main villain with his own evil intentions for going back in time (because everyone go back in time apparently) to “correct” the past. After the first couple of missions of each world you will gain access to the costume for that level and it can be used to complete specific levels and grab treasures that can only be attained later on with a later costume. The Arabian costume allows you to slow time, in England you can become Robin Hood with your bow and arrow etc. It adds to the theme of each level and certifies what the developers are aiming for in the big open world.

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The words spoken by all the characters are terrific as usual; I’ve come to associate the Sly games with superb voice acting and excellent dialogue. Sly’s voice seems tailor made for him as it’s smooth and calm like a composed thief should be. Dialogue itself is usually amusing with the typically deliberate lame jokes acknowledged by each other and each character has vocabulary best-equipped to their own characteristics and idiosyncrasies. Although I found the game repeated lines occasionally and overlapped other dialogue. Bentley is an Einstein-like turtle who talks combustion this and theoretical physics that. On the other hand Murray is short on words and big on confidence and food.

Gameplay handles very well and retains the old school qualities that I’ve come to expect from a Sly game. The aerodynamics of our hero have been made a big weightier, perhaps a sign to suggest that time has elapsed and Sly is slightly less agile than previously? Either way, he’s still very nimble and using him is as satisfying as ever. His careful footsteps still emit the funky bass note to indicate stealth is still there.

However the game’s camera has decided to make my blood boil and I don’t like it! Countless times I’ve tried looking around somewhere, tried looking at something or my character is impeded by a wall. But it’s like trying to film a passionate love scene whilst on a bucking bronco; an uncontrollable mood killer. It can also become as fixed as a repayment loan at the most inconvenient times. I can be chilling as I walk along without a care in the world and suddenly I get automatically locked onto an enemy and I circle straight into their path. It’s a problem that you can get used to after a while but it’s an annoying little niggle.

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It’s a cute and colourful game that is as mixed and majestic as it can be. You get a lovely assortment of white and blue for the prehistoric world whilst the Wild West world is a fiery blaze of orange and desert. I never once thought that this was a bad looking game which is testament to the graphics department; kudos. Character designs are superb too and some are memorable such as Sly’s BC ancestor who is so far down the evolutionary line that he can say very few words and can’t even say his name; instead he is Bob. Murray’s pink stands out like a VERY sore thumb yet he retains so much masculinity and personality.

The game has so much personality and charisma that it needs to be contained and locked away. Tennessee Cooper oozes confidence, Bentley’s shy persona even gets angry at one point! The story is cohesive and is very well worked; even leaving a twist at the end. I can’t help but be attached to all these characters in the game. They have emotion and passion in their own respective areas that makes them individuals yet they are a collective. Back story adds so much and gives each new nugget of information you receive more context and understanding. Our protagonists don’t have to stand on ceremony to illustrate their own problems and points e.g Carmelita certainly doesn’t with regards to Sly.

I revert back to my earlier argument that Thieves in Time is a throwback to a bygone era, unfortunately the game has some of its principles firmly set on sticking to the past. For instance, the AI system is obviously designed for precision stealth in that you need to evade line of sight. But it’s so outdated and feels tacky now when I’ve experienced this level of espionage immersion in the first Metal Gear Solid waaaaay back. Conversely I would argue that it’s necessary for the sake of the series to keep it like that but I still think it should have been updated to give AI greater periphery vision.

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Load times actually mortified me and I probably could have travelled across das autobahn and the motorway put together before some sections had loaded. We’re in an age where games like God of War can run throughout the game without one loading screen. The repetition of hub worlds is a bit frustrating as its essentially the definition of formulaic. Have reconnaissance mission, gather data, find areas for plan, execute plan, defeat boss, next world. The combat is a bit unpleasing at times too, even with a large amount of upgrades I can’t help but feel helpless against bigger enemies unless I use Sly, but then again it provides the diversity and unknown factor that you get with having multiple allies to choose and utilise.

At least throughout the worlds I’m enjoying myself too much to care to be honest as Sanzaru has thrown a mixbag at you to salivate over. One moment you’re tailing an enemy using a chicken disguised RC car and then the next you’re playing as Murray in a belly dancing costume as you infiltrate an enemy premises. I was pleasantly entertained by some of the missions in the game.

One big aspect of the game is the new Bentley hacking mini-games which, for the most part, I found to be enjoyable and made for a nice change of pace. There are 3 different types; one consists of a dual stick shooter as you become the Arnold Schwarzenegger version of Bentley as your muscular turtle shoots enemies and levels up throughout the level before eradicating the evil CPU core. Another is a tank based one as you shoot enemies and change types of tank to complete small objectives whilst the last one makes use of the forgotten sixaxis. The built-in motion sensor for the controller finally gets good use as you guide around your spark of electricity trying to find the circuit. I didn’t find them repetitive and they’re a nice little challenge.

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The familiar Sly Cooper tune is present in a variety of songs, again specific to a hub world. Some of the songs in the game were so catchy that they were ever-present in the rest of my day. You cannot beat some casual saxophone as you use your thieving cane to steal coins and treasures from the pants of unsuspecting foes.

Pros

+ Great characterisation and accompanying story

+ Lots of variety

+ Lots of collectibles

+ Charming soundtrack and sounds

Cons

- Annoying camera

- Outdated mechanics

80 / 100XP

I think it’s vital that developers wake up and see that Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time has put the cat amongst the pigeons, or in this case a raccoon. Platforming is a vital mainstay in gaming and it’s leading a charmed life I think so it’s important for titles to get the genre back up on the pedestal and Sly does it in great fashion. It’s cool, calm and collected with a very good story that has characterisation as its primary tool for engagement. The gameplay can be shaky when it comes to camera and combat but more than redeems itself for pure entertainment value and multiple hours of playing, trying to collect everything. The soundtrack is wonderful and the dialogue is awesome and comes out of detailed orifices that are conveniently attached to even more wonderful characters. I truly hope that I don’t have to wait another long period of time before sampling a new Sly game as the Murrrrrray would not approve.

-Andy

Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time is out now for exclusively for PlayStation 3.

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AndyHighton_YNWA On April - 10 - 2013

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