Developer: Sucker Punch
Release Date: September 27, 2005
Buy 'SLY 3: Honor Among Thieves': PlayStation 2
Thievious Racoonus Maximus
While not the iconic industry figure as Mario or Link, Sly Cooper has worked his tail off within the platform adventure genre for what will now make three iterations of an elite PS2 franchise. Perhaps by the third time around, Sly will begin to garner the recognition he and his crew deserve. After all, Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves is clearly the best iteration of the Sly series thus far.
My claims on Sly 3's prowess are based on several aspects of the game. First of all, the game laces together a solid narrative that is compelling and characters that you can care about and become attached to. The second aspect of the game is its simple yet competent platform gameplay. The third aspect of this game is that Sucker Punch Productions has done great things with the PS2's aged hardware to create a wonderful looking game with a distinct art style.
Let's look at Sly Cooper's story. Sly's background and character is very reminiscent of The Saint's Simon Templar and Robin Hood: an orphan, an anti-hero who breaks the laws but never hurts anyone in the process. Sly is loyal to his crew and teamwork is a major theme throughout the game. The game opens up with a prologue the likes of which a big-budget Hollywood caper-flick would strive for. You see, Sly comes from a long line of thieves, and each generation of these thieves has deposited their stolen treasure into the Cooper Vault which is secured on Kaine Island in the South Pacific. The island was purchased by the malevolent Doctor M years ago and has since been built into a fortress while Doctor M tries to open the safe.
While you play through the prologue, you come to a point where things seem to be as bad as it can get, and there is no discernable way out for our furry hero. One then wonders, "Hmmm ... now what am I to do?" It is then that you're rolled into the game's real narrative that goes back to the beginning and sets you up to get yourself back to the point where the prologue leaves you. It's a simple narrative convention; however, such consideration for a non-linear narrative style in a video game is something that is always good to see. It reflects a maturing design process and a maturing audience.
The narrative is further evolved in a sense that there's continuation from Sly 2 with recurring characters and events. At the end of Sly 2, Sly's buddy Bentley gets mangled and confined to a wheelchair (that he has outfitted with a jet pack and cannon). Your other buddy, Murray, holds himself responsible for Bentley's impairment and, like Cane from Kung-Fu, proceeds to wander the Earth in search of redemption and self-forgiveness. Where else would you see such a concept in a cel-shaded game about a fox, turtle and hippo? Needless to say, the first order of Sly 3 is to find Murray and get him on board because he can do things Sly and Bentley can't, and besides, reconciliation and forgiveness are in order here.
Sly Cooper is a thief and so it goes without saying that Sly's gameplay would be based around stealth, but there are also equal parts platforming and cooperative team-based play to be had. Sly 3 is based in wide open areas to sneak around and plan out your heist. You can scout things out with binoculars and the planning of your moves creates a great sense of open gameplay that is both emergent and immersive.
Confer with your map for the locations of specific objectives, and you'll find them color-coded by which one of your operatives is able to do the job. You'll use Sly most of the time and navigate some great platform puzzles. Thanks to some forgiving controls, you can meander through each challenge with minimal frustration. Bentley will allow you get to places you can't jump to via his jetpack, and Murray can go toe-to-toe with sentries that would otherwise savage Sly and Bentley. One of my favorite characters was the koala bear Guru who can use his mind control powers to take over enemies, which reminded me of the mind control tether from one of my all-time favorite adventure games, Metal Arms: Glitch in the System.
Gameplay is spiced up with the ability to play Sly's nemesis/love interest Carmelita, and there are some nice diversions in vehicle levels. Whereas many adventure games recreate platform puzzles in increasing difficulty as a formula for challenging gameplay, Sly 3 keeps you moving from different gameplay types. Just as you're getting comfortable with Sly's rope sliding and double jumping, you'll have to sprint your way through a course in Bentley's wheelchair or hop in a bi-plane to blast your way out of an ambush. The core gameplay consists of platform jumping and tight-rope walking, and a lot of context-sensitive mini-games like lock picking and safe cracking.
Overall, Sly 3 is forgiving, which will mean veteran platform junkies will find it easy to complete, but I didn't find the game lacking in challenge. Rather than falling off a cliff and dying if you miss a jump, Sly is bounced back to the last platform and a little bit of health is subtracted. Some might find this too much of a concession, but I found the design decision to be a frustration-reducing measure.
Another of Sly's greatest strengths is the game's visuals. Sly 3 is a well honed and maturely presented cel-shaded affair that is both colorful and moody. The character models are vibrant and full of life, and the voices match the characters well. Despite being cel-shaded and treated as an animated cartoon, Sly avoids looking like an anime knock-off. The characters are original and given a life of their own. The villain, Doctor M, is a chimpanzee with what appears to be a toaster mounted to his brain, and he can plug himself into a variety of devices or suits (like a winged jetpack or a monstrous cybernetic rhino suit) that towers over Sly. Bentley looks cute in his little wheelchair, and Carmelita has a slight sex appeal to her curves that most mothers should be able to cope with if their little boys are playing.
All in all, Sly 3 is a great game, especially for kids, and the gameplay is simple but deep enough for anyone to enjoy. The humor, dialogue and narrative are approachable, well-executed and doesn't pander to an illiterate audience. There are some fun multiplayer distractions, one game that reminds an older version of two-player Asteroids and a split-screen chase game between Sly and Carmelita. The background story and mythology surrounding Sly and his band is touching and thoughtful and generally a fun romp through a simple caper/heist plot. While Sly 3 may not revolutionize the genre or earn itself a spot among classic adventure games, it is certainly a step in the right direction for the franchise and not another recycled rendition of last year's crop, a la Tomb Raider. Sly reminds me a lot of Metal Arms, and while that is a good thing, the game still reminds me of something else , ather than paving a way for itself into my gaming memory. Even so, Sly is fun to play, and that's all that matters.
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