Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (PS3)

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Fans of the Sly Cooper franchise have had to wait over seven years for a new instalment in this popular platformer series, but thankfully the wait has been well worth it. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time serves up a highly entertaining, lengthy adventure that can be enjoyed by gamers young and old, and features enough memorable moments and comical situations to go down as one of the most engaging platformers in PlayStation history.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time kicks off in Paris where Sly, Bentley and Murray once again come together to plot an art museum heist in order to track down the mastermind behind the mysterious vanishing of words from the pages of Sly’s family treasure – the Thievius Raccoonus. It isn’t long before the gang is travelling through time and visiting exotic locations such as feudal Japan and ancient Arabia on a quest to confront the ultimate villain behind the disturbances in each of these time periods.

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The game’s structure is noteworthy in that each new location and corresponding story strand feels like a self-contained episode of an animated TV show, complete with its own unique villain and playable ancestor from Sly’s bloodline. Regular animated cut-scenes help to move the overarching narrative along, but each episode can be enjoyed in isolation as you complete a range of missions involving members of Sly’s gang, his love interest Carmelita Fox, or his ancestor from that particular time period. It’s a brilliant setup that ensures Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time always feels fresh despite a few dull missions that fail to reach the creative heights achieved by the rest of the game.

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Every character you control during the course of your adventure has a unique range of abilities, and Sly can obtain a costume in each time period that grants him skills, such as being able to create a makeshift tightrope by shooting a rope-carrying arrow over large gaps between platforms. You can also buy new abilities for the four main characters (i.e. Sly, Bentley, Murray and Carmelita) with money obtained by smashing breakable objects in each level or completing other objectives. Furthermore, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time’s typical platforming and stealth-based gameplay is expanded with a range of mini-games inspired by genres such as tower defence, rhythm, and twin-stick shooter games. There are also sections where you need to steer a ball to a certain destination or balance an object using the DualShock 3’s motion-sensing capabilities. Many missions offer a wide variety of gameplay over a fairly brief period of time, and some even require you to play as multiple characters to achieve the mission objective. This type of variety ensures that the two hours or so you spend in each historical era never feels like wasted time.

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Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time retains the series’ cel-shaded look and features large environments brimming with small details such as birds flying overhead or sunrays filtering through palm fronds. The animation is excellent throughout, with the game’s eccentric cast of villains made all the more memorable with a unique range of defining movements and postures. The voice acting is also excellent for the most part, but unfortunately large sections of dialogue have been left unsubtitled which will undoubtedly pose a problem for deaf gamers. The frame rate is supposed to be a smooth sixty frames per second on PlayStation 3, but certain environments are clearly putting the engine under strain and this leads to fairly substantial frame rate dips on occasion. Another performance issue I encountered are the lengthy load times that separate each part of a mission. Thankfully if you die the game quickly returns you to the most recent checkpoint, but long loading times elsewhere are disappointing considering that a mandatory installation of some of the game data could have alleviated this issue.

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A great bonus awaiting people who buy the PS3 version of Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a free, digital copy of the game on PS Vita. Both versions support Cross-Save so you can start playing the game on one platform and continue playing it on the other provided you have an internet connection that will allow you to upload and then download your save file. The PS Vita version of the game runs at thirty frames per second and features heavily compressed pre-rendered cut-scenes based on the demo I’ve played.

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As someone who’s new to the Sly Cooper series, I was bowled over by the excellent creativity and humour on display in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time as well as the game’s cleverly self-contained structure, entertaining cast of characters and highly engaging overarching narrative. This game does a very impressive job of keeping you interested throughout the lengthy adventure on offer, and every hour or so of gameplay contains plenty of highlights such as well-designed boss battles that you won’t soon forget. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is one of those rare games that feels like something you’ve never played before, and all of its superb qualities add up to make it one of the most enjoyable and memorable platformers for PS3.