Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is the fourth installment in a series that rose to prominence in the PlayStation 2 era, arriving just in time to help close out the PS3. Interestingly, its development mirrors that of the last two titles in the Halo universe, with the original developer, Sucker Punch, stepping aside to allow newcomer Sanzaru Games to take over, first with an HD remake, then with an original title of their own, much like Bungie has made way for 343 Industries. You’ll be glad to hear then that Sly 4 has been treated with the same level of reverence as Halo 4, marking a wonderful return for everyone’s favorite ringtailed thief.
Thieves in Time picks up right where Sly 3 left off, more or less. Sly Cooper is faking amnesia to be with his favorite vixen slash nemesis, Carmelita Fox. Murray the hippo is racing the team’s van, and Bentley the turtle is working on a time machine with Penelope when suddenly several words of information on the Cooper ancestors start disappearing from the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus, along with Penelope herself. This calls for the crew to get back together again, blowing Sly’s cover with Carmelita in the process. Together they go back in time to set things right and figure out who is behind all the historical shenanigans.
As for how you go about doing this, Sly 4 offers the familiar gameplay of Sly and his pals for the most part. Sly himself still has to get by on sneaking around for the most part, jumping from pole to pole, climbing ropes, and shimmying along ledges with the use of the circle button, which also allows him to pickpocket guards as well. The difference is that in each time period visited, Sly gains some new abilities care of the costumes he picks up along the way, such as a suit of armor that protects him from fire, or an archery outfit that comes with a bow and arrow that create tight ropes for him to walk on. Each of these costumes becomes integral to defeating the bosses at the end of each era. The other characters unlock new abilities through collecting coins and thus purchasing them on ThiefNet between missions, with Bentley focusing on different kinds of bombs and darts, Murray adding more fighting moves to his repertoire as well as elemental effects to his punches, and Carmelita improving her pistol’s capabilities. There are also other collectibles such as clue bottles which can unlock new weapons and masks which give you more aesthetic upgrades like outfit changes and different paraglider colors.
The biggest change in gameplay comes with each of the Cooper ancestors you’ll come across during your time travels. Riochi Cooper in ancient Japan for instance has the ability to practically teleport between ledges, while Tennessee Cooper carries a gun in his cane which gives him an ability to paint several targets at once and take them out in sequence much like the Dead Eye ability in Red Dead Redemption. Between that and the minigames that primarily come up in Bentley’s hacking missions there’s enough variety to keep the game fresh for the many hours you’ll spend playing it. The game does bring back the specter of Six Axis controls for one of the minigames but it fortunately doesn’t end up being too aggravating, and the same goes for the couple of rhythm game segments which also involve a bit of “Simon Says.” All in all the level design and missions are fantastic and it plays off the comical nature of the story with aplomb. While the game is a bit easier than its predecessors, there is still difficulty to be found in defeating the bosses and getting all the collectibles, especially in getting treasures back to your hideout within the time limit.
Thieves in Time is obviously limited by the Sly Cooper art style in how far it can push the graphical bar, but it certainly is an upgrade over even the HD remakes of The Sly Collection. The cel shaded effect does not detract from the detail put into each character’s design and their expressions, though the difference between the animated cutscenes and the way they are represented in game can be a bit disorienting at first, particularly in the case of Carmelita Fox, whose long muzzle in the cartoons gets shortened to match Sly’s face for whatever reason. But overall the effect is seamless and it feels like you’re truly playing in an animated world with everyone’s personalities shining through. And the best part of it is the framerate is a rock solid 60 fps with no hiccups at all. Of course it wouldn’t be a Sly Cooper game without the great voice acting, and most of the cast returns to put in their solid performances, with the few new names filling in well. On top of that you have a soundtrack that fits each setting perfectly, keeping things upbeat and cartoony.
If all this weren’t excellent enough, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time comes in at a price that’s discounted from the average new title, and the PlayStation 3 version is cross-buy, which means it includes a downloadable Vita version for free! What makes the latter version compelling is the addition of a cloud save feature, which allows you to continue your game on one version of the game or the other. The only downside is you do have to remember to download and upload your cloud save before each transition, so it’s not automatic like Steam or other cloud save systems. I made great use of it during my review and I can say the Vita version is pretty much an exact replica of the PS3 version, besides the graphics obviously. My only real complaint about this game is the load times, which inexplicably vary from perfectly tolerable to making you wonder if the game locked up. This can be a real pain when having to start over at a check point repeatedly while attempting certain trophies. But that wasn’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm for the game. Whether you are a long time fan or someone just looking for a fun and truly hilarious platformer to play before the PS3 comes to an end, Sly 4 is a highly recommended purchase. Hats off to Sanzaru for keeping the franchise more than just relevant with this release.