Sly Cooper and the gang return in an all new adventure.
Sly Cooper Thieves In Time (Sly 4) is an excellent game and one hell of a value. With an MSRP of just $40, you get the game not only for the PS3, but also a code that unlocks the full game for your Vita, too. And thanks to the wonderful cross-play / cross-save ability of the PS3 and Vita on games that support it, you can start your adventure on the PS3 and take it with you on the Vita. Having played on both devices, although primarily on the PS3, I found Sly 4 to be a fun platformer that's kid friendly and yet still interesting enough for adults.
Let me also say at the outset here that you need not have played the previous Sly Cooper games on the PS2 (or the HD Collection on PS3) to be able to get right into Sly 4 and thoroughly enjoy it. As with any sequel, though, I'm sure the experience is fuller and more rewarding for those that have played the other games in Sly's past. I however had not, so I was going into Sly 4 pretty much new to the series. You're given an option right from the start to get 'the full story,' which amounts to a nicely animated cutscene that explains that a particular book, handed down by generations of Coopers, is literally being erased. Fortunately, Bentley, the turtle character and brains of the crew, had been working on a time machine (ever since the very end of Sly 3 in fact). Bentley, Sly, and their hippo pal Murray (also known to himself as The Murray) decide to go back in time and try to figure out who's behind this and stop it.
Sly and the gang travel across five different time periods, meeting a different Cooper ancestor in each. All episodes (as the game calls them) play very similarly to one another in that each episode is made up of about eight or nine 'jobs' which are essentially distinct segments of the level as a whole. Most jobs are started by one character and finished by the same character, but sometimes you will begin a job as Sly and finish up as Bentley, for example. The jobs usually involve finding the ancestor, getting them back to the hideout so that they can explain what evil has been happening in that particular time period (it's learned very early on that the main villain also has the ability to time travel), and then running several covert ops to hinder the villain's progress before finally battling him and inching ever closer to the main bad guy.
Besides significantly different environments -- including 1700s Japan, the old American West, and 11th century England -- you get the chance to play as Sly's ancestors, each of which has unique abilities. Take Tennessee Kid Cooper for example -- he's a crackshot, and uses a cane like Sly's but it's actually a gun. His ability to target five or six things in one swoop and then nail them with dead-eye accuracy is used to open doors and solve some basic puzzles. Sir Galleth Cooper in England is a bit of a buffoon, but a headstrong one that has an awesome catapult attack that he uses to smash the Black Knight's surveillance gear and get to heights that even Sly can't get to otherwise. I think if you only ever got to control Sly, Bentley, Murray (and to a much lesser extent Carmelita), Sly 4 would have been a much less interesting game.
Gameplay in general is largely stealth based. Sly Cooper gets the majority of the jobs, but expect to play as Bentley and Murray a lot too, in addition to the ancestor Cooper of that particular episode and even Carmelita a time or two. Sly's ability to navigate the environment swiftly and acrobatically is crucial to the gameplay. Sly can climb up certain trees, tight rope a line between two buildings, balance on tiny decorative objects, and also use his cane to hook onto rings. All of these actions are controlled simply by pressing X to jump (or double jump), and then Circle to automagically engage the nearest environmental 'hold.' You can see these interactive holds or objects once you get fairly close to them -- a bluish sparkling cue appears. You're not likely to ever get lost thanks to this system and the handy compass and arrow that appears in the gameworld. One big arrow points directly to the spot you need to get to, the other, placed below the character's feet, shows the general direction to go, including up or down. If you forget where to go or need a reminder of your objective, you need only press L3.
All playable characters control a lot alike, but they have their inherent differences, which is what makes them so formidable as a team. Sly is your platformer and main character. Lots of his jobs depend on his sneaking ability to get photos, follow certain enemies, and retrieve objects. Bentley gets in on the platforming action too, but not to the degree of Sly. Bentley's main role is in coming up with the plans and hacking a variety of terminals and other electronics. These hacking sequences are actually mini-games. One mini-game plays like an old school shooter, another involves using the SIXAXIS or Vita's tilt functionality to navigate a ball of energy around a map within a time limit, and the third hacking mini-game is another shooter type. Murray is a hippo wrestler, and thus anytime there is a lot of combat against the guards (aka minions), he's your man. Often, Murray will have to fight his way on a basic item retrieval mission. Carmelita becomes playable at times to shoot things with her shock pistol, too.
Before starting a job, players are taken to the hideout. Here, you can see which character has a job (i.e. story mission) available. However, you can go out into the game world as any of the available characters, which always include at least Bentley, Sly, and Murray. Although you won't advance the story with any character besides the one the job is designated for, you can go about collecting Bottles and Coins. Coins are earned from pick-pocketing guards and smashing objects. They're spent at the hideout on ThiefNet, where you can purchase miscellaneous upgrades for the three main characters. Some of these are essential, like Sly's para-glide that allows him to jump from a high point and coast down safely to a distance landing point. Others -- like a lot of Murray's wrestling moves and Bentley's attacks -- are far less appealing and important. I ultimately have found the upgrades to a be a bit of disappointment in terms of interesting things for sale. Anyway, Bottles on the other hand are used to open a safe. There is a safe in each episode that you must find and it can only be opened if you have found thirty bottles spread throughout the episode. Treasures and Masks are also out there to find. The Masks -- there are sixty total in the game -- are usually out of the way and harder to find. The treasures are as well, but when you pick one of these up, you must quickly get back to the hideout without being detected. As with the upgrades, I found collecting the bottles, masks, and treasures to be underwhelming.
Underwhelming is not the term I would use to describe Sly 4 on the whole, however. I found its characters and presentation style immediately likeable and I was not disappointed all game long. I commend Sanzaru for upholding the quality and kid-friendly nature of not only the characters, but of entire experience. The cel-shaded-like art style is great and surprisingly detailed in parts for what basically looks like a well-animated cartoon. The cutscenes are also stylish and clever and the game looks great in 3D, which I played it on for roughly half of the time. Framerates are smooth, too. However, I found the actual pacing of the game a little disjointed -- some of the jobs are really short and you may be surprised how often you see the same old load screen. While the messages in the load screen change slightly from episode to episode, I felt like the transition between jobs could have been smoother. After each job, you're sent back to the hideout to give you the chance to change characters, go to ThiefNet, or replay jobs, but most of the time I ended up just going right back out of the hideout (load screen here). Regardless, even though the gameplay seems a little disjointed with all of these jobs and load screens, the story and action always comes together well going into the boss fight.
To the summary...