Hands On With Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is all set for release on February 5, and I’ve recently had the chance to sit down with a small portion of the game to see if the mischievous racoon and his gang have returned with a heist story to last the ages. With eight years and a change of developers (previously Sucker Punch, now Sanzaru Games, who curated The Sly Collection), it’s understandable the fans of the series may be experiencing a sense of trepidation surrounding the new game. But from the evidence on show in the demo, their fears are unfounded.
Through the Paris prologue, players will find themselves controlling Sly’s entire gang, including Sly himself, Bentley the wheelchair-bound turtle, and Murray, a pink hippo with mild anger issues. Each character has a distinct play style, which helps in keeping the game fresh, with Sly acting more stealthily, Bentley operating behind-the-scenes, and Murray taking the more straightforward route of smashing everything in sight. These differences are also mirrored by the move sets available to each character. Whilst Murray has the standard brawl set-up of punches and slams, Bentley is able to hover across gaps in his wheelchair, and throw bombs to clear passages and remove blockages.
Sly, on the other hand, is more of your stereotypical platformer, traversing high wires and ledges while attempting to stay out of the sight of searchlights and enemies. In a particularly inspired design move, Sly jumps from one point to another (when he’s off the ground at least), using indirect player control. What this means is that rather than relying on pixel-perfect jumps, the player is instead required to press the jump button (X), then the interact button (O) in mid-air whilst pointing the analogue stick in the direction of the object that they wish to jump to. This ties Sly to that particular object, making for a lot less frustration as you’re not constantly missing your intended point by a fraction of an inch (a common problem in the platforming genre).
There’s a brief introduction to Sly and his gang’s back-story before the demo gets going, outlining just how it came to be that the gang reunited following Sly’s previous retirement, and how they found themselves in Paris. In a Back to the Future-style set-up, Sly’s family history (written in the Thievius Racoonus), is slowly being erased, and the trio must travel back through time to correct the damage. According to the two levels experienced during the demo, this is done by stealing items from a certain time period in the present day, and using them to travel back to various eras so Sly can aid his ancestors. In one such sequence, Sly dons a Robin Hood garb and meets Sir Galleth, a medieval-era ancestor of the Racoon.
This sequence highlights the importance of the various outfits that Sly can wear, with the Robin Hood costume that he wears here making a big difference to his abilities. Whilst wearing it, Sly can fire grappling-hook-like arrows that allow him to cross large gaps by walking along the rope. These arrows can be steered in mid-flight, and most of the time the target that you’re aiming for is obstructed by rings of fire or flying cannonballs, making a deft touch on the analogue sticks a necessity. Whether these costumes stay unlocked for the duration of the game or merely tied to a certain level is unclear, but they certainly add a good deal of variation to Sly’s repertoire of moves.
Aesthetically, Thieves in Time both looks and sounds impressive, with the cel-shaded character models looking particularly sharp, and a seemingly wide range of environments to explore. Particularly in the Paris level, players get to traverse across shadow-draped rooftops, grimy sewers and subway systems, and even through dingy warehouses. The soundtrack works well to set the scene as it is full of wailing brass sections, sounding like it’s been taken straight from an old-school detective movie. In Bentley’s hacking sessions – in which you guide a computerised ship around a course – the music changes to a more up-tempo digitalised style, which works equally as well as the brass.
These hacking sections are just another example of Sanzaru’s attempts at preventing the game from becoming too repetitive, and they work brilliantly. Viewed from a top-down perspective, players control a turtle-shaped ‘ship’, which they guide around a predefined course towards and end goal. Along the way, players encounter firewalls (which resemble a string of pearls), which must be destroyed using the ship’s cannon. The cannon is controlled with the right analogue stick, making the sections feel a little like a twin-stick shooter, but with a far more serene pace. The Shell Code, as the ship is called, can also be upgraded to a Panzer Code, which changes its appearance into that of a tank, and allows the player to fire missiles using the right stick. Each Code has its own particular ability, much like Sly’s outfits, with the Panzer being able to destroy certain walls, and the Shell having the ability to pick up data keys, which open otherwise inaccessible areas.
From the evidence on show in this demo, Sanzaru has done a great job of bringing Sly Cooper into the current generation – a generation which has suffered from a dearth of high-quality platformers of this particular vein. With a fair amount of genre-hopping, from stealth to platformer to action, Thieves in Time seemingly does a great job of preventing itself from becoming stale, with the varied environments only adding to this further. With just over a week until the February 5th release date, platforming fans don’t have long to wait, and I’m sure Sly Cooper and his gang will have plenty of adventures to keep them occupied.
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