Maybe Sony should have left Sly in the past.
During the PlayStation 2 era, there were three action platforming franchises that were key to Sony's first-party lineup, and in my opinion, Sly Cooper was the weakest series of the trio. Its strengths weren't in the mechanics or actual gameplay but rather the gorgeous art and quirky humor. As such, it wasn't much of a surprise to see Sucker Punch move onto a new franchise when the PlayStation 3 rolled around, and ultimately I believe they were better served for it.
Instead, Sony passed the thieving raccoon's torch over to Sanzaru Games, a studio that had proven they could make a pretty-looking Sly game thanks to their work on the high-def ports for PS3. Unfortunately, that's about all fans have to look forward to in Sly Cooper: Thieves in TIme, as this fourth entry in the series does little to push the platforming genre forward.
First, let's start off with where this game goes right. Upon booting it up, you'll notice right away how stunning Thieves in Time is from an artistic standpoint. The bright and colorful hand-drawn cutscenes are great and easily serve as some of my favorite parts of the entire experience. As the game's title implies, Sly and his gang travel through time, so you'll visit a number of different time periods, each with their own unique hub world that looks drastically different than the one before. It was this visual variety alone that kept me motivated to trudge through the entire campaign.
The story itself is charming… in a juvenile sort of way. Those familiar with the Sly franchise know that it's rooted heavily in its humor and comedic banter between characters, which is all here, but oftentimes comes across as forced and played out. There were more than a few times when I had to mute the television because I couldn't stand to hear any more of the nonsensical stupidity that would spew from their mouths. Don't get me wrong, I did chuckle to myself occasionally early on, but the more time I spent with the game, the less endearing the cast got. Diehard fans may feel differently, but that was my experience.
At its core, Thieves in Time is a platformer, but one that is mediocre at best. There are elements of stealth thrown in—Sly is a thief, after all—but that does little to enhance the experience or hide the fact that it's just average. As I mentioned earlier, the game is built around several different hub worlds that are themed after a particular period in time. I won't detail what each of them are, as not to spoil one of the few exciting aspects of this game, but I will say that while they differ visually, they don't make the platforming any more exciting.
Sadly, traversing the environment isn't quite as fun as you might hope. Climbable portions of the game world are designated by a blue glimmer that oftentimes is easy to overlook. There were several instances in which I found myself stuck in a particular area not knowing what to do, only to see a blue glimmer off in the corner after combing the environment for something to climb or jump on. To interact with any of these points, you must press circle. Even if you land directly where you want, failing to press circle after jumping will result in you falling or gliding right past your objective. You get used to it eventually, but it feels clunky when compared to other platformers today.
The cast of characters in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is quite massive, providing plenty of variety in who the player will be controlling at any given time. While the thieving raccoon is the star of the show, he shares a huge chunk of the spotlight. Each character has its own gameplay style, but because they all feel relatively shallow, there isn't enough there to keep you engaged with the mechanics. You can unlock new abilities and attacks, but they don't dramatically change the way you play like you might have hoped.
As with the prior games and platformers of yesteryear, Sanzaru's take on Sly is incredibly repetitive and formulaic. Select the designated character that has a mission available and enter the hub world—wait for it to load—run to the waypoint on the mini map to trigger the mission—wait for it to load—complete the mission and you're done… after you wait for it to load again. Simply rinse and repeat until you face the boss of that world before you move on to the next.
In addition to the numerous loading screens, players will also have to deal with a camera that far too often swings to inconvenient angles, which can prove to be incredibly frustrating when trying to land a specific jump. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the various mini-games that are smattered throughout the campaign, which serve as shallow and cheap distractions from the rest of the experience. And seriously, tacked on Sixaxis controls are unforgivable this late into the console's life cycle.
When it comes right down to it, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a competent platformer that rests on the laurels its namesake and plays it far too safe. That said, hardcore fans will find plenty to love solely because it's more Sly. So if pretty art and average platforming sounds worth the price of admission, who am I to stop you?