To understand where this review is headed, it’s important to understand the pedigree of the Sly Cooper franchise and the appeal of 1970s and 80s Warner Bros. cartoons. Although they sound unrelated, they’re surprisingly similar. Well, they were until the release of Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves.
During the reign of Sly Cooper and Sly 2, those two games were reason enough to purchase a PlayStation 2. Although their Saturday-morning-cartoon appearance gave the impression that the games were geared toward kids, the gameplay was classic platforming goodness, with complex jumping puzzles spread among periods of weapon-slinging action. Added to that were some basic but fun stealth components, all of which combined to make the first two Sly Cooper games virtual genre masterpieces.
The writing, too, in spite of its ability to resonate with kids, was similar to classic Warner Bros. cartoons in that the dialogue and situations were rife with double entendres, keeping the games as entertaining for adults as they were for kids. But somewhere between Sly 2 and Sly 3, the team at Sucker Punch missed a step. There are the graphics, but gone is the entertaining gameplay. There is the script, but gone are most of the entertaining double entendres. Sly 3 is still a very good game, but considering its pedigree, it’s not quite up to the high standards of its predecessors.
Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, like Sly 2, expands the three-man Cooper Gang to include additional playable characters. It also introduces some new moves for each of the classic three. Murray, for example, can now roll himself into a ball and bounce-destroy enemies and obstacles, not to mention activate switches from above. Bentley, one the other hand, who’s relegated to a wheelchair after the events of Sly 2, has a nice spinning attack and a nitrous-like turbo function that belies his life as a turtle. Playing as Carmelita Fox, meanwhile, gives players a handy dandy gun, while The Guru (Murray’s Outback-born, pacifist mentor) gives the game a distinctly stealth-oriented option he turns invisible and has no weapon (he’s a pacifist, remember?).
The purpose of the game is to travel the world adding to Sly Cooper’s gang so Sly can finally make his way to the Cooper Vault. To achieve this, Sly 3 is divided into chapters that take place at various locations around the world where each of these new characters resides. Naturally, as the Cooper Gang’s ranks expand, players need to learn the new characters’ moves. But no matter how entertaining those moves may be, it’s this very structure that takes away from the classic Sly Cooper feel.
Each episode in Sly 3 takes place in a small, contained level, with sublevels scattered throughout that contain the objectives necessary to complete the chapter. With the new characters, though, each sublevel is only open to a certain character, and in order to involve all the characters in a chapter, the sublevels are surprisingly brief. To be perfectly honest, the sublevels are so brief, in fact, that Sly 3 feels more like a bunch of minigames held together by a plot than it does a fun, cohesive platformer. This results in a game that sttil feels like it wants to be a platformer but is struggling to expand its horizons simply for the sake of expanding. Sure, bouncing on top of pistons is a new element, and completing various on-rails shooting sequences is commonplace for many games, but Sly has never been one of those games.
The gameplay in Sly Cooper wasn’t broken, so why did it change? Probably to make the game more appealing to a younger demographic, one with a shorter attention span and that likes its gameplay in brief, more action-driven sequences. The addition of multiplayer options also implies this logic, as the Cops and Robbers mode is a fun but surprisingly brief Capture The Flag-like game, and the dogfighting Biplane mode is sure to entertain two kids but not hold the attention of two adults. Kudos to Sucker Punch for thinking of ways to involve more people in Sly 3, but if there’s a Sly 4, perhaps they can find ways to expand the Co-Op Hack mode to appeal to gamers over the age of 10.
If there’s one thing that didn’t change, it’s the graphics. The Sly Cooper franchise has always had a certain look to it, one that just oozes Saturday-morning style, and the high-quality graphics are intact in this latest outing. One particularly interesting development is the incorporation of 3D technology, which lets certain sublevels be played entirely in 3D (with the use of the glasses included with the game). On the whole the illusion works pretty well, but, much like going to any 3D movie, the effectiveness of the illusion depends a lot on how close to or far away from the TV you’re sitting. When you’re the right distance away, it works great, with flames, coins and enemies seemingly bursting from the TV screen. For the technical details of how it works, you can read our interview with Sucker Punch by clicking here. It may be a novel inclusion in Sly 3, but here’s hoping they decide to refine and include it for their next outing as well.
Sucker Punch is trying some new things in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, and not just from the technical/3D side. The new characters, multiplayer modes and shorter gameplay segments all bring something new to the franchise, but they don’t all quite hit the mark. Sly 3 is a surprisingly long game by platforming standards, but it’s largely due to the necessary wandering from the safe house to the next sublevel using each new character. Had the game turned out this long due to lengthy platforming sequences rather than an onslaught of minigame-like segments, Sly 3 would probably rank among platforming’s elite. Instead, it’s lost a bit of its luster and isn’t as entertaining or instantly classic as its predecessors.
- Gameplay: 8
- When it’s a platformer, it’s magical, but the minigame-like structure gets tiresome.
- Graphics: 9
- Sly’s always been about cartoon-like graphics, and once again, they don’t disappoint.
- Sound: 9
- The effects, voices and music are Saturday-morning perfect, even if some of the dialogue is a bit iffy at times.
- Replay: 8
- Kids will dig the multiplayer, and collecting coins allows upgrading characters, but I, personally, won’t be playing this one again.
- Overall: 8.7
- A solid outing, but not quite the excellent experience one would expect from a Sly Cooper game.