Washington-based Sucker Punch has been diligently crafting its skills as platformer master craftsman with its Sly Cooper franchise on the PlayStation 2. The third-person action game that casts you as Sly, a bipedal raccoon who's into thievery, has been making fine strides since its debut in 2002. Sucker Punch has managed to turn out solid games that improve upon each other with each entry. The latest entry in the series, Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, takes the same approach as its predecessors and adds in some impressive new gameplay elements to the already solid platforming core of the series. We had the chance to see a work-in-progress version of the game recently and were pleased at how it's shaping up.
Sly 3's story picks up not long after we saw the heroic trio last. The Cooper gang was having one of those days at the end of Sly 2: Band of Thieves. While Sly Cooper managed to defeat the evil Clockwerk, the victory came at a price. Bentley, the brainy turtle whose gadgets and keen mind proved invaluable to the caper, was almost made into turtle soup. Murray, the powerful hippo who served as the group's muscle, took Bentley's near-death experience hard and went on a journey to find himself. Meanwhile, the team's leader, Sly, returned to the life of larceny that has been a tradition in his family. It's not the happiest of endings, but the gang managed to save the day nonetheless.
When the third entry in Sucker Punch's platformer franchise kicks off, we find the team still shattered, although some are dealing better than others. Bentley has made himself a wicked mechanical wheelchair that is chock-full of gadgets, while Sly is having a good run of thievery. Sadly, Murray is still in a funk as he treks the globe trying to get his head on straight. However, when Sly visits an aging member of his father's gang, he gets wind of the location of the Cooper family fortune. (We always did wonder why a "master thief" wasn't rolling with a bit more dough.) The seasoned thief heads out with Bentley to reclaim his fortune, but he soon discovers that another gang is in the process of getting at his inheritance. One uneven tussle later, the pair realizes that they'll need some help to deal with the new threat. So the newest adventure in the Sly Cooper saga kicks off as the pair sets out to recruit members for the biggest, baddest gang to carry the Cooper name. Besides picking up familiar faces like Murray, Sly will end up recruiting some old enemies as well.
The rich story lends itself to some equally involving gameplay. The game still features roughly the same mission-based structure, although this time out you'll find a good deal more variety in how you get your business done and with whom. Sly 3 expands on its predecessor's mechanic of letting you control other characters even more by offering more characters to use. While not all the playable menagerie has been revealed, we were able to get a peek at a couple of them. The first should be familiar to fans of the series, as the lithe Carmelita Fox has been after Sly since his first adventure. The second, an Aboriginal shaman who happens to be a koala, is an all-new character who brings a quirky charm to the proceedings that meshes perfectly with the game's light touch.
Each of the characters will have his or her own unique abilities that will come in handy during the adventure. For example, Carmelita is able to leap higher than the rest of the gang and comes packing a gun. The shaman on the other hand can possess people by jumping on their heads, and he can camouflage himself by turning into a bush. Another new member of the team, who was seen but not demoed, should also be familiar to fans of the series: Dimitri, the lounge lizard from Sly 2, is back and apparently in a helping mood. Although we didn't see him in action, the fashionable lizard will be one of the team specialists you'll rely on during certain missions.
And just because there's an influx of new playable characters, don't expect the original trio of heroes to be neglected. Sly, Murray, and Bentley will all come sporting new abilities for this adventure. Sly will have a host of new combat moves and will be able to wear disguises in order to make sneaking about a little easier. Bentley brings to the fray his tricked-out wheelchair, which is fully loaded with all manner of gadgets, as well as his mighty brain, so he can decode puzzles. Finally, Murray will gain upgrades to his powerful attacks, which will come in handy when dealing with the opposition in the game.
To Catch a Thief
In addition to the traditional platforming gameplay to be found in Sly 3, you can also expect to find a good amount of variety in the experience. You'll find yourself whizzing around on a gondola or soaring through the skies in a biplane. Sly 3 will also feature minigames that offer some fun and comical changes of pace. A lemonade-drinking contest and operatic showdown are also chuckleworthy elements of the Sly 3 experience that all look promising.
The most significant new addition to the Sly formula in Sly 3 is the new multiplayer modes Sucker Punch is cooking up. While the reps on hand didn't want to give too much away, they did show off one mode: cops and robbers. The mode lets you play as either Sly or Carmelita, with each character having his or her own agenda. If you play as Sly, your goal is to steal five items in the level and bring them to a set location. If you play as Carmelita, you'll want to kill Sly five times. Whoever reaches their goal first will win. Besides each character's unique abilities, you'll be able to take advantage of interactive elements in the level. For example, you'll be able to trigger booby traps to slow down your opponent or simply squash them, which will buy you some time.
If you've followed the series since its debut you should be right at home with Sly 3's play mechanics. While you'll control a number of different characters over the course of the adventure, the core moves will all be easy to pull off. You'll simply understand the pluses and minuses of each of the teams so you can get around with them efficiently. The various minigames and vehicle chases are equally accessible and keep the pace of the game moving at a good, fun clip.
The graphics aren't quite as refurbished as the gameplay, although there have definitely been a number of enhancements done to the engine. The characters and environments feature slightly more detail, and the animation has definitely been beefed up to accommodate the new moves (pay special attention to the way Sly moves when he's in disguise). The new biplane levels are good and expansive, and they feature an impressive amount of interactivity. However, despite the lack of any massive technical leap, it's clear Sucker Punch's artists have gone to town, cramming the game with a liberal helping of inventive levels and character designs that gives Sly 3 a fresh new look. While there are a few spots where the frame rate becomes inconsistent, it isn't a big problem, as the game already runs pretty smoothly.
The audio in the game, while still coming together, ably lends a good dose of personality to the action. The voice acting sounds to be on par with the previous entries in the series, as do the assortment of familiar sound effects. Sly 3's soundtrack provides a catchy accompaniment to the game's unique brand of action.
Based on the work-in-progress version that we played, Sly 3 is looking like a solid third entry in the maturing series that's more about gameplay than visual flash. The new playable characters and enhancements made to the existing cast appear to keep the single-player game fresh. The addition of multiplayer modes should add a more well-rounded feel to the whole experience. We'll be anxious to see just what else Sucker Punch has in store for Sly's latest adventure when we meet with them at this year's E3. Sly 3 is slated to ship this fall for the PlayStation 2.