Developer: Sucker Punch
Release Date: September 14, 2004
Buy 'SLY 2: Band of Thieves': PlayStation 2
Imagine if you will, a cane-wielding, kleptomaniacal raccoon, an ingenious, crossbow-sporting turtle, and a purple, cape-wearing hippopotamus with violent tendencies. No, Sesame Street hasn’t joined forces with the Twilight Zone. Actually, Sucker Punch has followed up 2002’s Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus with the all-new Sly 2: Band of Thieves for PS2. The sequel expands on many of the themes from the first game and trumps its predecessor in the process.
This time around, Sly, Bentley, and "The Murray" are together again, two years after retrieving the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus from Clockwerk, the leader of the Fiendish Five. Sly’s new problem surfaces in the form of the Klaww Gang, a group of bad criminals (as opposed to Sly’s group of "good" criminals) who have stolen the disassembled pieces of Clockwerk. Of course, the Klaww gang has evil and menacing intentions for the use of these parts. To make things even more complicated for Sly and his buddies, the aptly named foxy lady and Interpol agent Carmelita Fox continues her quest to bring Sly to justice (and you can cut the sexual tension with a knife…yeah!).
Sly 2 requires you to complete missions to advance to the next locale. Most of the time, you can choose between a few missions, creating a somewhat non-linear feel. All three of the thieves are playable this time, and their missions are tailor-made to fit their strengths. For example, Sly’s missions often require you to sneakily pickpocket guards in order to obtain keys. Bentley, who is a genius and an expert demolitionist, may hack computers or blow up strategic targets. Murray’s jobs usually require beating the crap out of the many endangered species that appear in this game. You select which character you want to use at the gang’s hideout, and then follow Bat-Signal-like beacons to the starting point of each job. Once you reach this point, your Binocucom (binoculars/communications device) pops up, and dialogue between you and your boys reveals what it will take to make the mission a success. The Binocucom is extremely helpful in locating enemies or other target points when you are actually in a mission as well.
Back at the hideout, you can purchase new moves and abilities via "ThiefNet." Abilities are unique to each character. For example, Sly can purchase a smoke bomb that hides him from enemies for a moment, Bentley can acquire the ability to toss bombs and detonate them on command, and Murray can increase his punching power by purchasing Fists of Flame. A great feature that Sucker Punch included is the ability to assign different specials to three of the shoulder buttons (the R1 button is reserved for running). All you have to do is press select and choose which abilities you want to equip. Money to purchase these moves is earned by bagging groceries at the Wal-Mart in the Hundred-Acre Wood. Actually, that's not true. You steal the money, of course. Sly can bankrupt enemies by pickpocketing them, or you can locate valuable items such as vases or chests and bring them back to the hideout to sell them on ThiefNet. Dispatching enemies causes large coins to magically bounce from their disappearing corpses. Smashing inanimate objects such as tables and fruit carts also produces cash money. Remember kids, smashing your mother’s coffee table will not yield the same results.
In addition, special moves can be acquired by collecting bottles. Collecting 30 of these bottles in a stage provides you with the data you need to obtain a new move. If you want to complete the game at 100%, you need to find all of these bottles.
In the last Sly, you could only take one hit before you went to raccoon heaven (or raccoon hell, if you were bad). Sly 2 gives you a life bar, which can be refilled by picking up health icons that are dropped by defeated foes or smashed objects. You also have a gadget meter that keeps track of how many special items you have left to use. Picking up health incrementally replenishes both your health and gadget meters, and your thief meter also comes in handy because it monitors your current level of sneakiness. If it starts blinking red, you had better run for the hills; escaping to rooftops or dark corners returns your stealth level back to normal, so you can continue your thieving ways.
There are some typical problems in Sly 2 that are common in 3D platformers, such as depth perception issues and the occasional bad camera angle, but there’s nothing too serious. Control is responsive, which is an essential element of a good platformer. The circle button acts as a multi-purpose action button. Objects or areas that can be manipulated are identified with an aura. Glowing ledges and ropes indicate that you can navigate them by pressing the action button. It’s simple, but it works very well.
Graphically, the game is pretty attractive. The well-designed cartoon style overshadows the frequent aliasing problems. Slowdown sometimes occurs when a lot of enemies are on the screen at once, but it never seriously affects gameplay. The animation of the game’s animal characters is excellent, and is a big reason why the charm factor in this game is so high. Sly lowers himself close to the ground and readies his cane as he stalks behind unsuspecting enemies, and rhinoceros guards shrug their shoulders as they try to locate the cause of a strange sound. Sly 2 is a great example of how animation can add personality to a game.
The presentation of Sly 2 is stellar. The stylized cartoon cut-scenes have animation that is somewhat similar to that of The Powerpuff Girls, except with a bit more animal testosterone. From the menus to the cut scenes to the gameplay, virtually every aspect of the game makes you feel like you’re participating in a cartoon episode. Sucker Punch obviously put some time and thought into details that go beyond actual gameplay.
Another example of Sucker Punch sweating the details is in the sound department. Sneaking up behind an enemy or shuffling along a narrow ledge prompts a jazzy, muted bass line. Defeating an enemy incites a blast of trumpets (kind of like when Adam West’s Batman punches The Riddler for ripping his tights). Little aural nuances like these abound throughout the game, and the voice acting is on par with your typical Saturday morning cartoon. Sly sounds, well, sly and suave, Bentley’s voice is a bad Harry Caray impression, and "The Murray" has an oafish drawl that reflects his lack of cognitive skills.
Sly 2: Band of Thieves is a good time from beginning to end. The spot-on controls, variety, and slick presentation prove that this little woodland creature can run with the big boys in Sony’s platformer stable. Despite its high quality, Sly 2 may still reside in the shadows of the excellent Ratchet and Clank and Jak series. However, that dark horse image is only more appropriate for this larcenist group of anti-Muppets. Do not underestimate this game’s sneakiness.
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