Few phrases create a more elegant image than "master thief," and few heroes are as elegant as Sly Cooper. Over the years, the raccoon cat burglar has used stealth, team strategy and ninja-like skills to pull off his capers, and in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, he's got more resources than ever to snatch treasures from canine mafiosi, dingo miners, and other cartoon lowlifes.
Ramping up the charm and the underhanded tricks, Sly 3 takes Sly and his accomplices on a globe-trotting, platform-hopping adventure. The action is Metal Gear-meets-Mario, with players sneaking past guards (or stealing from them, or knocking them out from behind, or just smacking them around), squeezing into hiding places and leaping onto rooftops, all while laying the groundwork for Sly's massive capers. Like Sly 2, the game is divided into hours-long, free-roaming "episodes" packed with missions that set up the episode-ending heists. Each mission requires the skills of a certain character; Sly's sneaking, jumping and climbing abilities are the mainstay, but sometimes you'll need to use Murray the big pink hippo - who's good at throwing things and hitting people - or Bentley, the wheelchair-bound turtle genius who excels at demolitions and computer hacking.
This time around, though, they're not your only options. Sly 3 is the story of the Cooper Gang's biggest job yet, infiltrating the lair of an evil genius who's set up shop around Sly's gigantic ancestral vault. A caper that big takes a big group of specialists, so in a nod to Ocean's 11, Sly 3 has players seeking out and recruiting a psychic guru who controls enemies with his mind, a heavy-weapons expert with a vendetta against Sly, a scuba diver who fights sharks and recovers treasure in first-person sequences, and a mechanic with a fleet of remote-control vehicles. At certain points, you'll even get into gunfights as Sly's love interest/nemesis, Inspector Carmelita Fox. None of these newcomers are as versatile as the three main heroes, but riding around on hypnotized enemies or blowing up Chinese vampires with fireworks does make for nice changes of pace.
The new characters aren't the only departures, as gameplay in Sly 3 seems to change dramatically every few minutes. You'll spend most of your time hopping around and stealing things, as per usual, but the action is regularly broken up with safe-cracking, target-shooting, toy-car-driving, and other minigames.
A few of these get tedious fast, but most are enjoyable enough that they actually feel too short. Still others aren't minigames so much as game parodies, aping the tank action of Vindicators, the giant-climbing of Shadow of the Colossus or the galleon combat of Sid Meier's Pirates! These also get recycled for the game's multiplayer modes, which let players pilot biplanes, ships or computer-generated tanks against each other, or just play cops-and-robbers in a Sly-vs.-Carmelita chase mode. It's no Splinter Cell, but it does give you a reason to play the game after you've finished it.
The whole thing is tied together by the series' unique charm and personality, which haven't lost steam after two sequels. Also, while it's ostensibly a kiddie game, the production values and acting are top notch, and the unique, cel-shaded art style is as compelling as ever. (Although it's less compelling if you use the included red-and-blue 3D glasses, which add little other than a bad case of eyestrain.)
Seemingly engineered for short attention spans, Sly 3 is overall a lot of fun and keeps a snappy pace from start to finish. The action is tight, the running time is surprisingly long and the cheerful amorality makes it extremely likable. Whether you're a fan of the series or just looking for a family-friendly crime game, you can't go wrong with Sly 3.