Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is regarded as one of the most promising first-party games in the works by Sony, and it was presented to the public for the first time last month at E3. The game is under development by Sucker Punch, the group that previously created Rocket: Robot on Wheels for the N64, and as such, it's the studio's sophomore effort at creating a brandable mascot character. The mascot in question is Sly Cooper, a walking, talking raccoon with a set of stealth moves that rival those of the human world's best. The game he stars in blends elements of platform games with some light hide-and-sneak mechanics, and the blend, from what we've seen, is rather compelling. It's also a very good-looking game, even at this point, with a sharp and distinct visual style and some technically impressive graphical touches.
The game's story has Sly Cooper and his brainy turtle friend, Bentley, scouring the hideouts of various ruthless criminals on a quest to retrieve an heirloom stolen from Sly's family. This heirloom, called the Thievius Raccoonus, is a legendary tome that contains the knowledge of history's greatest burglars. The Cooper family is the greatest in the thieving world, thanks to the book, which it has traditionally passed to its eldest offspring upon their coming of age. On Sly's big day, though, a bunch of criminals break into his house, rob his family of the book, and tear it into many pieces, which they distribute among themselves. Sly then grows up for 10 years, bookless, and upon turning 18 journeys forth to attempt to recover each piece of the book. This would imply a series of different "worlds" in the game, each one housing a separate criminal and piece of the book, but Sony hasn't revealed the exact count yet, so it's all conjecture at this point. Sly also has a second compatriot who's yet to be elaborated on by Sony or Sucker Punch. He's called Murray, and he'll reportedly be burly and good-natured.
The demo that was present at E3, which Sony made available to show attendees, allowed us to explore a nice-sized chunk of one stage in particular. It was set on the estate and surrounding grounds of a criminal called Raleigh. The level's architectural style is pure colonial, but the security systems guarding the place are anything but. Incendiary floodlights scour the outside grounds, and searing lasers protect the interior. Scores of thugs patrol the grounds too, and they range from squid-headed guards that spit poison gas, to large oafish guards that look like the mustached walrus from Chilly Willy. Roughly four areas were playable in the demo: three genuine stages and one hub area--the outside of the estate proper--from which the other three were accessible. The game's pseudostealth elements were apparent in every one of the stages we played, though each one had a pleasing overriding theme to it that defined its experience. Sony has promised a diversity of environments in the final product, each focusing its gameplay in different areas. In videos that have been released by Sony, we've seen Sly doing a bunch of interesting things, including rappelling down gigantic neon signs and using awnings as trampolines to jump from one tall building to another. Vehicles will also reportedly come into the equation, though at this point, all we've seen is Sly's own Mystery Machine-looking van pulling up to Raleigh's estate in the game's introductory cutscene. And it wasn't playable.
Fins and Giant Tubes
Each of the stages we played were quite distinctive, which bodes well for the final product. The first stage, in terms of arrangement, actually leads up to the hub area mentioned on the previous page. Its design is largely linear, and it boasts a couple of cool elements and sequences. In one area, for instance, you have to traverse a body of water that is bridged by a sort of giant, rotating tube with fins on its surface arranged at different angles. These fins have gaps, and you have to wait until they surface to cross them. It wasn't incredibly hard, but it looked cool and hinted at the sorts of things we can expect from the level designs in the final game. Another stage takes place inside the actual estate and features long hallways, platforms in water, and deadly traps. Its principal area is a large, elevated surface sitting at the end of a series of floating platforms, which lead into the chambers beyond. Accessing the path leading out, though, means navigating a series of motion-detecting lasers, and contact with them turns deadly. After you set them off, they'll continue on their regular paths, but any subsequent contact with them means death. That actually seems to be a running theme in the stealth elements. If you come into contact once with any of the searchlights you'll encounter in the game, any subsequent contact will kill you. It's definitely a platformish take on the stealth gameplay conventions, a philosophy that we saw a few more examples of in the demo we played.
The final stage is the one that incorporates the arrow-pegged barrel that's been in some of the more popular screenshots released for the game. The level in which it's set takes place in a library of sorts, whose passages are lined with deadly traps. These take the form of machines that shoot arrows at you if you get too close. Bentley, your tortoise friend, warns you about them, which prompts you to look to a ragged barrel sitting nearby. You jump into it, using it as a shield as you walk through the passages, getting pegged with arrows the whole way, and then jump out of it once you're clear, with the option of scrapping the machines from behind once you pass them. You have to baby-sit the barrel throughout the level, pushing it onto elevators and the like, since there's only one barrel and loads of arrow traps. The level itself culminates in a precarious walk through the building's upper levels, in which you have to follow a tiny path to reach the key that will, in the final game, open up the later levels in Raleigh's compound.
Sly Cooper is very much a platformer first, with its pseudostealth elements serving largely to lend it some interesting, distinct gameplay. In a nod to a more classical take on the game style, one hit will kill Sly, regardless of whether it's delivered by an enemy's weapon, a flaming searchlight, or a thorny bush. One level does have a horseshoe-shaped power-up that grants Sly an extra "hit point," but most of the time, it's a one-hit affair. There are also items to collect, ranging from coins (100 for an extra life) to bottled notes, of which a set number are hidden in each level. Finding them all, at least according to our demo, grants you access to the contents of a chest at the end of each stage, and during cutscenes, Bentley will mention that he's using them to decipher some clues.
We'll have lots more on Sly Cooper for you as soon as we see an updated build of the game. It's currently set for release in September, so we'll likely have something new for you in the near future. Until then, check out the new media we've provided.