Thieves can't really steal from other thieves--they can only liberate that which has already been stolen. Such is the practice of the eponymous raccoon thief in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, the fourth installment in the sneaky platforming series. The triumphant return of Sly and the gang in their first PS3 adventure will have you feeling sentimental for the timeless gameplay of the PS2 era. But this is no mere rehash of previous heists--the slew of new features mixed with classic stealth and platforming bits easily make Thieves in Time worthy of the Cooper legacy.
The game borrows its basic premise from Marty McFly's book, as Sly and co. travel back in time to foil a continuum-wrecking group of villains. Playing as members of the larcenous raccoon bloodline has an invigorating thrill akin to being a G-rated Batman--performing daring leaps across rooftops, sneaking up behind enemies, then walloping them with a stealth takedown is incredibly satisfying.
As with previous Sly games, each aspect of Thieves in Time’s presentation has been polished to a mirror finish--but this time around, the PS3 has the power to add flourishes that earlier games couldn’t. These includes graphics that look like a playable Dreamworks movie, massive draw distances, and greatly improved facial animations (most apparent during the multitude of entertaining dialogue exchanges). The only technological drawback comes in the form of overly long load times. Though they’re not a crippling hindrance, the overworld load screens can feel like spike strips when you’re cruising down Sly’s road of thieving fun.
Tight controls are the most crucial element to a great platformer, and Thieves in Time effortlessly nails it. Sly and his entourage all control as smooth as butter, and rare are the moments when a missed jump feels like anything other than user error. New abilities come in the form of era-appropriate thief costumes, and as you build up your wardrobe, you'll have the satisfaction of approaching enemies from different angles, as well as the option of revisiting previous time periods to access previously out-of-reach areas. Each mission is smartly paced to feel like a vital chapter leading up to a grandiose heist, and fresh mechanics get peppered throughout the stages with a pleasant regularity.
The only hiccup in the pacing comes in the form of mandatory minigames, which sometimes miss their mark by dragging on instead of keeping you on your toes. Bentley gets the bulk of the good ones, with hacking scenarios riffing on classic arcade games like Marble Madness and Gradius. But poor ol’ Murray stars in minigames that stay way past their welcome, and will have you begging to get back to the outstanding running-and-jumping bits. Thankfully, though the minigames are far from brainless, you should be able to clear them without much fuss and return to your regularly scheduled platforming.
Level designs follow the basic blueprint put forth by the previous games: A lavish, detailed overworld acts as a hub for missions, and each visually distinct time period is littered with secret treasures and imaginative enemies just waiting to be pick-pocketed. The series' staple of safes housing invaluable power-ups returns, and veterans will be tickled by how tricky it is to track down all the cleverly hidden collectibles. Any thought that this is strictly a kid’s game will be shattered when you just barely secure a time-sensitive treasure, or finally find the last clue bottle that’s eluded you for the past hour. As an added bonus for the game’s Cross-Buy feature, you can use a Vita to help you scope out the most artfully concealed secrets, and your save games will carry over between systems.
It’s fortunate that the game’s hidden valuables are so rewarding, because the ending is a bit of a cliffhanger. Though Thieves is a consistently fun, 10-plus-hour ride, the wrap-up feels abrupt compared to the great storytelling up until that point. That said, it’s a tribute to how enjoyable the game is when you find yourself wanting a sequel long before you’ve beaten the campaign.
Sanzaru Games did its homework with the Sly series, and the result is a sequel that handily does justice to Sucker Punch Productions' originals. It doesn’t have to change the face of platforming as we know it to be a thoroughly delightful trip through time, with gameplay that will enchant you no matter your age. If you’re a fan of the classic PS2 platformers, consider the budget-priced Thieves in Time a steal.
This game was reviewed on the PS3.