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E3 2011: Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time

by Andrew Yoon, Jun 09, 2011 7:20am PDT

QUICKTAKE: Sly Cooper is making his return, seven years after Sly 3 on the PS2. Thieves in Time, developed by Sanzaru Games, takes the time-traveling motif a bit too far, though. Instead of offering a PS3-level Sly experience, Sly 4 feels like a much-too-late PS2 game.

THE DEMO: Although Sly Cooper made his debut at Sony's E3 press conference, he wasn't quite ready for the show floor. Shown behind closed doors, the developers provided a hands-off walkthrough of a level and a boss battle. The platforming sequences look ripped out of the previous Sly games, even including some nostalgic banter between Sly, Bentley and Murray. There's a new costume gimmick that allows you to gain various time-altering powers. In the demo, Sly was able to slow down time, letting him jump on platforms that would otherwise be too fast.

At the end of the demo, Sly had to face off a flame-throwing tiger, voiced by none other than Nolan North. Following classic 90s game design, you had to learn the pattern of the boss and go through multiple phases before defeating him. Any Sly Cooper vet will know exactly how this process works.

DETAILS: If you've played the Sly Cooper Collection, you know what to expect from Sly 4. In fact, when Sanzaru booted the game, I had to do a double-take. I didn't immediately recognize it as a new game. While Sanzaru's HD port of the original Sly trilogy was excellent of a previous generation effort, I didn't expect it to serve as the foundation for a current-gen title; I certainly expected much more out of a game that's being built from scratch for the current generation. But, at least you have a consistent look across all four games of the Sly franchise, right?

What made the presentation so awkward was the hyperbole used by the developers to explain how "the power of the PS3" made everything possible. The developers claim to have made Sly more detailed, but he looks more awkward instead. Apparently, the designers wanted to make him look older in this new game, making his previous look seem adolescent by comparison. The transformation isn't as drastic as Old Snake's, but I'm not exactly sure how fans will respond to the change.

Every other element of the game will feel incredibly familiar. The piano music that plays while you sneak, the sparkling HUD elements that show you what you can jump on, and even the overlay that appears when you speak to Bentley are stolen from the previous games. Some sequels pay homage to their predecessors; Thieves in Time goes a little bit further than that. At least fans can appreciate the fact that Sony has managed to re-hire the same vocal cast as the original games.

Perhaps Sly's new costume abilities will change things up. Because costumes give him new powers, there's the possibility for really fresh gameplay ideas to get introduced into the series. Unfortunately, being able to slow down time isn't a particularly novel one for the raccoon. It's going to take much more clever puzzles to win this cynic over.

Fans that have been waiting for a "new" Sly Cooper game for so long might appreciate how authentic the experience is. However, I'd like to think that gamers expect much more from their games now. I would've loved to see a Sly game that felt as ambitious as series progenitor Sucker Punch's Infamous 2... because that would've been a game that justified the seven year wait.

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