It’s been so long since a new Sly Cooper game came out, one could be forgiven for thinking Thieves in Time is his “one last job” – that fateful errand that proves to be the undoing of so many retired crooks.
Perhaps it is so – Sly has been in a retirement of sorts, faking amnesia to be with his cop girlfriend Carmelita following the events of Sly 3. However, once pages of family heirloom and stealing guide the Thievius Raccoonus begin disappearing, Cooper is forced to join Bentley the turtle and the annoying hippo fella in a caper that involves travelling back through time to retrieve the sacred text.
Those familiar with Sly 2 or 3 will recognise almost everything offered here, for although the franchise is in new hands at Sanzaru Games (Sucker Punch has since moved on to the Infamous series), not a whole lot of new stuff has been introduced. Sly still sneaks about, picking pockets and clambering up all manner of vertical objects; Bentley zooms around on his bomb-launching wheelchair and hacks computers; and Murray continues to be irritatingly dense, but at least he knows how to punch.
Indeed, the game plays much as before: avoid detection by dim-witted guards or be prepared to throw down, play twin-stick shooter minigames to access computers, collect coins and bottles to unlock abilities, and punch the feistier animals in the face when they get in the way of the loot. The platforming is typically solid, with Sly able to hang from or anything that glows blue thanks to his thief sense, and all time periods are filled with amusingly-mannered and well-animated anthropomorphic creatures.
An expanded roster along the lines of Sly 3 is present too, with a reshuffled cast. Sly’s trips through time allow the player to complete some missions using an ancestor of the present-day Mr Cooper, each of whom has their own handy special moves. For example, the Wild West’s “Tennessee Kid” Cooper totes a rifle that’s handy for smiting enemies at anything up to medium distance, but he can also slide along railway tracks, which is great for covering large distances quickly.
Additional tools are at the player’s disposal in the form of costumes. As was the case with disguises in previous Sly installments, when worn in the time period of their origin, costumes allow Sly to walk directly past guards, his path unfettered. However costumes also confer special powers. The samurai armour found in Feudal Japan is fireproof and its accompanying shield may be used to bat fireballs back to their source, for example, while an archery outfit from Medieval England allows Sly to create new ziplines at specific points using roped arrows. The most satisfying to use is the jailbreak outfit, whose accompanying boulder-size ball and chain may be propelled at nearby objects to smash or set them in motion. Sly may also balance on top of the ball and roll it around to avoid nasties on the ground. To extend the game's length, new costumes may be used in visits to already-conquered levels to reach hidden areas.
The game's open world bits are allegedly double the size of that in any previous outing, but there isn’t much of interest to do outside of the missions other than simple environment puzzles or collect-stuff minigames, making it a largely frivolous addition. As usual, in the missions, gameplay variations beyond platform-y sneaking are slotted into the action fairly regularly, such as sudden FPS on-rails sections, timed challenges, or in one instance, a tedious rhythm game.
This is all fine except that it won’t hold anyone’s attention for too long. Thieves in Time is just far too easy, and most will breeze through its five main time periods (and bonus Carmelita campaign at the end) in pretty short order. The forgiving platforming, apathetic enemies, utterly basic stealth, pattern-based bosses, and generous checkpoint system see to that. Naturally, it’s a game designed to be very accessible to younger gamers so a brutal difficulty isn’t expected, but other things have been sacrificed in aiming for that demographic.
Simply put, the characters are just too dull, too black and white. While smoothly animated using an inviting cel-shaded cartoon aesthetic, many are completely personality-free in all other ways. Main characters including Sly are also cursed with flat, explanatory dialogue. Some very ordinary voice-acting does not help matters at all, nor do the weak quips and the slow, talking-head cutscenes. This is too bad, as each time period is introduced with a neat cartoon vignette, and the music, sound effects, and aforementioned enemy animations possess a lot of personality and hint at something deeper that is never explored.
In fact, the main cast is outclassed even by the environments themselves, which have much more elevation variation than previous games, and which are easily on-par visually with television cartoons. The first Sly Cooper game to be developed since the PlayStation 3 was released updates the series’ style well, and the resultant visuals possess a clean, defined, and handsome style.
That alone will give Thieves in Time a lot of traction with younger players, and the gameplay variety should also keep them entertained. It's a well-put-together, inoffensive, slick, straight-forward title that – new settings and graphics aside – just serves up more of the same old Sly Cooper play. But unless they are existing fans of the series just looking for a lot more of the same, adults are advised to try before they buy.