You could be forgiven, playing Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, for having a twinge of nostalgia for the PlayStation 2 era, in all its 3D platforming glory. Normally, of course, looking backwards is, if not a sin punishable by flaming, then at least something no-one really bothers to do in the world of gaming. Games are, after all, getting better all the time. What Thieves in Time does a bang-up job of is getting the 3D platforming that seemed to have its heyday in the previous generation of consoles just about exactly right.
As we pick things up Sly's given up the game and he's been playing it straight with his sometime opponent but current girlfriend Carmelita. The set-up of their relationship's somewhat morally dubious, given that she's under the misapprehension that he's suffering from amnesia, but he seems to be enjoying the quiet life.
Fortunately for us, he starts getting itchy feet. Even more fortunately for us, words have started disappearing from the Thievius Raccoonus, and Sly's pal Bentley realises that something is amok IN TIME
. Specifically, someone's going back and messing with Sly's lineage. Which means, of course, a roadtrip through history.
What ensues is a stealthy platforming romp that takes in eras ranging from Feudal Japan to Medieval England to the Ice Age.
Platforming is the main order of business. Supplementing X as your jump button is the circle, which enables you to interact with shiny blue objects while you're in the air. It's a mechanic that takes a little getting used to if you've spent a lot of time with this generation's crop of parkour-infused open world games. That said, it's refreshing to play a platformer that's not afraid to just be what it is without being a callback to the 2D days.
Being a thief, you'll often be called on to do your thing unseen and, if enemies only being able to in their lantern's pool of light is a little implausible, you know where you stand and the system works well.
New to the series are costumes that can be acquired that offer different abilities. Samurai armour, for example, deflects fire and projectiles, while a pirate-y Arabian outfit enables you to slow down time. These could have been cheap gimmicks, but serve to enrich the game considerably. The samurai armour, for example, is key to infiltrating part of the Feudal Japan stage as well as in beating its boss, and victory comes down to your ability to switch in and out of it quickly.
Bentley and Murray are both back, and both get their time in the limelight. Murray is the muscle, and consequently his sections have a brawlier feel to them. Bentley's the brains of the operation, so his sections... well, they have all the coolest mini-games in them, because everyone knows that when you hack a computer it's just like a game of R-Type.
Also thrown into the mix are Sly's ancestors, bringing further tweaks to your ability set.
In fact, the game mechanics rarely sit still. Mission types are constantly changing, constantly driving you to new areas of the game world and constantly pushing you in different ways. And every time there's even the faintest whiff of a hint of a possibility of a chance you might be about to get bored, some new mechanic is introduced in the form of a new character or mission type or ability you've bought to keep things fresh.
An added bonus is the fact that if you have both a PS3 and a Vita, you can transfer your saves and use the Vita as an augmented reality device with which to hunt down some of the many (many!) collectibles.
Everything about the game looks great. Like, really great. Basically, like an animated film come to life. And the stages are bright, vivid, rich, multi-layered and lively. I have not a bad word to say about how this game looks.
Niggles? Weeeeelllll... there's a lot of loading. Boss battling can be a smidge unbalanced. But, really – minor quibbles.
I feel a vague obligation in almost every review I write to tell you whether there's anything new or essential about the game in question that you couldn't find elsewhere. The answer here is: no. I daresay you could go out and get a Ratchet & Clank game and have more or less the same itch scratched.
But here's the thing – no attempt was made to reinvent a damn thing here. This is a budget title coming out late in the console cycle designed to keep the kids happy for 10-15 hours, and a very fine one it is, too. That a game of this quality can slip out quietly for less than 30 quid is testament to how far development has come this generation.
+ Great mechanics
+ Loads of variety
+ Looks gorgeous
- Long loads
- Occasional wee balancing issues
SPOnG Score: 8/10