Just when you thought it was safe to start leaving your valuables sitting around without fear of them being pilfered, raccoon master thief, Sly Cooper makes his stealthy return to the PlayStation family. Though his latest adventure comes six years since the last game, Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves shipped, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a direct sequel, being developed not by its original creators, Sucker Punch, but rather Sanzaru Games, the team who brought the high-definition The Sly Collection to the PlayStation 3 in 2010.
Porting the previous three games to the PS3 has given Sanzaru time to get to grips with the franchise, and while what we saw in our first hands-on play with Sly's new adventure is certainly in the same style and format fans have come to know and love, there are also new tricks in the works.
Not content to have turned an everyday suburban van into a monster truck and mobile artillery strike, Sly's buddy Bentley has now found a way to allow their ride to travel through time. As luck would have it (or perhaps in direct response) the modification coincides with pages of the Thievius Raccoonus--Sly's family heirloom, and guide to raccoon robbery skills--beginning to disappear. A little creative space manipulation is required, and the game puts you in the playable shoes of Cooper family members throughout the ages.
The first mission we saw had us playing as Sly's ninja ancestor, Rioichi, in a traditional Japanese-themed setting. As a great thief, and the inventor of sushi, he had a bit of a thing for knives. So much so that he had created a door lock system that required using three of his favourite blades as keys to gain access. Unfortunately for us, guards had stolen the precious daggers, and we needed to pickpocket them in order to get them back. Fishing around in coin purses now serves a third function. In addition to rewarding coins to spend on abilities, and giving you quest items, each enemy also has a chance to reward you with a gem that can be sold for bonus cash.
It wasn't all bad news though, and while Ryoichi had some work to do, the tasks were made easier by having access, not only to the Ninja Spire move Sly learns and uses throughout the original trilogy, but a new, and exclusive trick that works as a long range pounce while perched on objects. Tapping the R2 button and pointing the analog stick brings up a landing spot on other surfaces, and we used it to span huge gaps in the environment. This was particularly useful to help avoid the delicate porcelain plates on the floor that once touched would break and alert guards to our location.
Spotlights with machine guns and laser trip floors return, and while seemingly a little out of place in ancient Japan, we were assured they're there for a good reason. While the bad guy(s) responsible for their installation remains a secret, the dev team hinted that Sly isn't the only one who can mess around with time travel.
While this section chasing knife keys had us feeling right at home with the sorts of gentle stealth and platforming we've seen in previous Sly games, we did come across an issue with gauging danger from some of the roving searchlights. One set in particular appeared to sweep over a rope we needed to jump to, but it was only once we had rotated the camera to get a better view that we realised the two were some distance apart.
The second mission we got to play moved from the wooden floors of a traditional Japanese village to a slightly more chaotic circus theme and complete with fire rings, huge golden musical horns, and trapezes to swing on. It also gave us a quick glimpse at the game's new costume feature. While you will only play as one of Sly's previous family members at a time, costumes will grant you extra abilities you may need to do more exploring. For example, if you were to come across an arrow bucket but hadn't yet obtained the Robin Hood-inspired archer look, you wouldn't be able to traverse across certain areas. Once you had gained it, you could then fire an arrow with a tethered rope attached, and use it as a makeshift bridge. The team wouldn't be drawn on exact details of what would be given to players who backtrack to use the new found talents, but alluded that they may be tied to both extra missions and better rewards.
Firing arrows during the circus level offered a welcome relief from the standard platforming, and came with its own challenges as we steered them towards targets and dodged enemy cannonballs.
Fans hoping that Sly's first new outing on the PlayStation 3 will finally allow for online cooperative or competitive play will have to keep on waiting, with the development team saying it currently has no plans for adding an online multiplayer mode. That said, if you liked Sly 3's split-screen competitive modes, they may make a return here.
If you were expecting that after such an extended hiatus, Sly's return would mark a completely new look and style for the series, then from what we've seen so far, that doesn't appear to be the case. This is a sequel, not a reboot. What we did see was familiar, and grows on the already successful mix of jumping puzzles, stealth combat, and humour. Our brief look at the new costumes system gave us a taste of potential for a much deeper exploratory experience, and we're interested to find out more about how it works, and the rewards for players who take the time to go searching out all the nooks and crannies of the game world. Look for more on Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time when it hits the PlayStation 3 later this year. Hey… where did my wallet go?