It’s tough to keep track when something notable emerges from the House of Sony, as the giant owns over 80 franchises and properties. Sure, we’ll all know about the high-profile, big budget releases such as Killzone, Resistance and LittleBigPlanet, but most of Sony’s exclusive offerings tend to fall under the radar. Sadly, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is one such title.
For the uninitiated, the Sly Cooper series debuted back in the days when Nokia was your first (or only) option for a cellphone and MTV still played music. Yes, it was a series of PS2 games. A heady mix of platforming and stealth backed up by stellar cel shaded graphics, the games follow the adventures of an anthropomorphic raccoon called Sly and his friends (namely a turtle, a hippo and a fox) as they try to pull off high stakes heists.
A direct sequel to the decade-old original
It’s a series from a bygone era, when console developers weren’t afraid to experiment and platforming games that weren’t Mario or created by obscure indie studios actually had a chance of being commercially viable. Having said that, it’s been eight long years since we’ve seen a new entry in the franchise. In place of the series’ creators Suckerpunch Studios, Sanzaru Games is filling in. As the studio is responsible for titles such as Secret Agent Clank (PSP) and Ninja Reflex (Wii, DS, PC), you’d think this game would be nothing but a mere shadow of the earlier games. And you couldn’t be more wrong.
In spite of being a direct sequel to a game that was seen almost a decade ago (and then re-mastered in 2010), Thieves in Time spares no expense keeping you up to date with Sly and gang, right up to the point when they realise that pages from the Thievus Raccoonus, a book chronicling the exploits of Sly’s ancestors, start disappearing. This results in the gang travelling across various periods of time in an attempt to restore Sly’s ancestors to their former glory.
Along the way you’ll visit exotic locales such as feudal Japan and medieval England, and the game offers a slew of new environments to keep things from ever getting boring. Each location is designed to be a hub; you travel from one area to the next, completing various missions and sidequests in order to unravel the mystery of Sly’s dwindling legacy.
It’s smartly done and you never feel like there’s a gun to your head, forcing you to accomplish tasks (that's you, Far Cry 3). Besides Sly, you're also able to control his pals—Murray, a hippo and Bentley, a wheelchair-bound frog—in specific instances. These occasions include serenading a battalion of soldiers by dancing to the tune of a rhythm-based control scheme a la Guitar Hero or hacking a variety of security protocols as if they were retro-styled shoot ‘em ups.
Thief finds treasure
At times, you also play as both in their attempts to do something as mundane as fishing, which ends up being as appealing as the game’s core segments. Needless to say, the developers have to be applauded for making the gameplay as diverse and imaginative as possible. It rarely skips a beat.
The controls are simple when you play as Sly and you’ll soon get used to them. There's a button to jump and another one to swipe at enemies or climb over obstacles. The developers have carried over what are essentially the same mechanics from 2005 with a few hints and cues to ensure you’re never wondering to do next, which works well. Moving in the shadows and sneaking up on guards never gets old. While there's nothing too new at its core, it does manage to elicit a chuckle or two. Pass the controller to a PS2 veteran and his eyes will surely light up with joy as the game is essentially a souped-up, tricked-out version of a cult series.
And that’s also where it tends to falter. Thieves in Time remains too similar to what was acceptable a generation ago. Jumping from one platform to another is a bit of a chore thanks to the camera angles, which lose direction from time to time. Newbies may have a hard time adjusting to the fact that even after pressing the jump button, you need to press another button to hold onto the ledge or rope or whatever it is you’re jumping towards. It’s this rigid insistence on old-school gameplay that keeps Thieves in Time a notch or two from greatness.
Sly and the gang
In addition to this, the game suffers from some odd technical issues. Regardless of your choice of platform (the game is available on PS3 and Vita, more on that in a bit), you're subject to almost criminal loading times. This is surprising since we played the game on the PS3, both off a disc and as a digital copy off the hard drive, and were subject to excruciating load durations both times. Ditto with the Vita, which was a digital copy as well (as the physical copy of the Vita version has been cancelled for India).
Oh, and keeping in sync with their decidedly “retro” control scheme are tacked on motion controls. We’re of the opinion that Sanzaru didn’t get the memo from 2007 that more or less outlawed the use of Sixaxis functionality on the PS3, or more recently, the accelerometer on the Vita. But they both exist as massive obstacles towards having fun.
As we mentioned, the game is available on both the PS3 and the Vita. Pick up the PS3 version for Rs 2,299 and you get the Vita version free. It’s a commendable attempt to boost Sony’s ailing handheld, and what's more, the Vita version plays a lot better than its big screen brother in most cases. If you’re one of the handful of individuals who owns both a PS3 and a Vita, you can transfer saves across devices and continue the game in true cross-platform fashion as well as double your trophy count, which is something everyone is always happy to do.
A slew of characters to control
Graphically, Thieves in Times isn’t as stunning as, say, BioShock Infinite nor does it possess the quirky art style of Mario. Instead, you’re treated to a stylised, whimsical world with anthropomorphic animals and cartoon-laced eye-candy. But it works well and holds its own. With five diverse eras in time to uncover and a slew of characters to control (you get to play as Sly’s ancestors as well), you’ll run through Thieves in Time in around 20 hours. That's not too shabby considering the fact that most titles that cost a lot more offer less than half that gameplay time.
All in all, if you’re a fan of the series or just a passerby looking for something different to sink your teeth into, you can’t go wrong with Thieves in Time. It does have a few vexing segments, but that shouldn’t keep you from enjoying what is quite a varied and pleasantly long adventure.