by Matthew Thompson
(I am counting down my 25 favorite games of the last console generation. I explain a little about how I put the list together in this introduction. And you can see a collection of all my articles on the Best of 7th Gen compiled here.)
It had been years since Sly 3 released when we found out there would be a new entry in the franchise coming to the PlayStation 3. As a big fan of the series, I was ecstatic to see the thieving raccoon and his band of animal pals returning. Yet I couldn’t help but be slightly apprehensive since the game would feature a developer switch which gaming history had taught me to be wary about. Thankfully, these worries were unfounded. Not only did new developer Sanzaru Games deliver a worthy addition to the series, they managed to beat Sucker Punch at their own game giving us the best Sly game yet.
Before Sanzaru tackled Thieves in Time, they cut their teeth on the PS3 remaster of the original trilogy. It seems clear that this gave them a great understanding of what worked and what didn’t in those games. As a result, Thieves in Time feels like a Sly Cooper greatest hits tour of sorts, one that preserves most of the best elements of the series while excising some of the more problematic ones. Some Sly fans preferred the linear setup of the original game, while others preferred the more open design introduced in 2. Thieves in Time gives us the best of both worlds. While it retains the hubworld structure of 2 and 3, it features a lot more linear levels outside those open world portions. The hubworlds allow for a bigger, more fleshed out game featuring more mission variety while the linear segments allow Sly’s unique brand of platforming to shine in ways it can’t in more open environments. It is a wonderful compromise and Thieves in Time is better for it.
Another divisive aspect of the franchise has been the increase in playable characters as the series has worn on, but I feel Thieves in Time gets this right as well. The half-baked additions from the third game are gone. The characters I’d want back – Sly, Murray, Bentley and Carmelita – are here. But playing as Sly should be the focus. That is the case here too though they accomplish this in a new way: by adding characters that play a lot like Sly – his ancestors. The series is built for Sly’s travsersal abilities first and foremost. Playing as other Coopers allows the series to regain a greater focus on this while also adding a bit of variety due to each family member’s unique characteristics.
Thieves in Time brings plenty to the table beyond finding the right balance for these crucial elements of the series. The hubworlds are bigger, but also denser and more detailed, providing more to do when roaming around between story missions. The central time-traveling conceit allows for new creative locations and environments from the Wild West to Medieval England. And despite my expert knowledge of the Thievious Raccoonus, they managed to surprise me with one of the time period/ancestor combinations. I really love seeing Sly interact with his legendary and colorful fellow Coopers too. They’ve also improved on Carmelita as a playable character – she gets her own power-ups this time around – and beefed up the hideouts which while not exactly something that needed to be fixed, certainly doesn’t hurt. Even the music has taken a step up and is my favorite from the series.
There is, of course, more of what I’d come to expect from the a Sly game. Great platforming. Creative mission designs. Fun mini-games modeled after retro video games. A unique sense of humor. Some of gaming’s best sound effects. It even includes what has become a bit of a tradition for the franchise: a great rhythm-based bit, this time a hilarious one involving a belly-dancing Carmelita. It all comes together to create a memorable new Sly Cooper adventure. I was so happy to have Sly and the gang back in my life and I really hope they return again especially given Thieves in Time’s cliffhanger ending.
A few more things:
- This was the only Sly game this gen, so nothing else to debate from the series for this list. I do think it is the series’ best overall too though. Having said that, there are things that the other games do better (heists and story in particular). The final boss fight in Thieves in Time was pretty lame too for a series that had some really great bosses over the years (this game included).
- My favorite world was Medieval England. Best hubworld. Best ancestor. Best outfit. Best music. Best missions taking place outside the open world area. I loved it. I do wish the final mission there was better and it features what is my biggest issue with the story, but still my favorite overall. All the hubworlds are great though.
- This game apparently sold pretty well considering its budget and with a movie supposedly coming, I figure a sequel is likely. Evidence seemed to suggest that Sanzaru was working on one at some point, but they have since said they aren’t. I am wondering what happened (assuming it isn’t subterfuge). Hoping we hear something about this before too long.