Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sly 2: Band of Thieves

Continuing the legacy of Sly Cooper, Sucker Punch released another entry in the series two years after its predecessor, entitled Sly 2: Band of Thieves. The first game, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, was a short, yet highly enjoyable platformer with enough variety to keep the player invested. This sequel not only improves on the formula, but also delves deeper into the mythology and characters.

After the defeat of Clockwerk a couple years ago, Sly Cooper and the gang perform a heist in Paris in order to steal back a Clockwerk piece so he may never be resurrected. However, Inspector Carmelita Fox and Constable Neyla are there to ambush Sly in an attempt to capture them. When Sly tries to explain what he was doing, Neyla casually tips him off to the Klaww Gang, a group of criminals who are using the Clockwerk parts for their own schemes. Once Sly, Bentley, and Murray make a quick getaway, they set off in search of the Klaww Gang, hoping to once and for all rid the world of Clockwerk.

The story of this game is somewhat deeper than the last one, setting a more heavier tone by including more serious and dramatic moments to drive the narrative, such as a point where Bentley is separated from his friends after they were taken into custody, along with a few interesting plot twists throughout. However, there is still some of the humor from the first game thrown in to help relieve the tension. The game still retains some of the Saturday morning episodic feel the first game had, but that's not necessarily a bad thing since you can say which episodes you liked and which ones you didn't.

Which brings me to the level design. Contrasting with the presentation of the first game, each of the 8 episodes comprising this game consist of an open world (instead of a hub world) with mission points spread throughout. These missions are based on the current state of the narrative and are, of course, mandatory to progress. However, you do not have to do them immediately, since you are also given the opportunity to explore each stage and become familiar with its architecture. Personally my favorite episodes are a pair that are set in Canada, since they are brightly-lit compared to the rest of the game worlds and they are much more open (plus the first of these stages is an excellent source of coins).

Now that I mention coins, I should mention that some game mechanics are different here than before. For starters, whereas the first game had a life system, this one replaces it with a health bar, so that you have more than one hit during combat. As such, health is something you can pick up, which not only refuels your life, but also another gauge underneath. This gauge allows you to use special powers for a limited amount of time, which you can obtain either by opening safes after gathering enough Clue Bottles, or purchase at the Safehouse through ThiefNet. This is where coins come into play, which you can get by smashing objects or taking out various enemies. You also have the option to pickpocket enemies as well, during which you can get a valuable item that you can sell through ThiefNet if the target's pocket is glowing.

The characters, much like in Thievius Raccoonus, are good in their own ways, and the villains have unique and interesting backstories that help explain their motivations; those that survive even have their own happy endings as indicated by post-credits sequences. I'm still not sure exactly why Clockwerk had such an intense hatred for the Cooper clan, but that's not necessarily required to enjoy the narrative. The background music is still nice to listen to during each episode, even if there is a little dissonance at least once, and nicely fits into each locale without becoming a distraction.

On the subject of sound, this game starts a sort of trend where Carmelita inexplicably changes voice actresses between games. If I was to comment on this, I would say that I think Roxanna Ortega did a good job in the first game, though I have mixed feelings about Al├ęsia Glidewell's performance here. For the most part she does a fine job voicing Inspector Fox, but sometimes it sounds a little off, as if not enough was put into it. Then again she also voices Neyla in this game, so that might have come from trying to have a distinct voice for each character.

Another change between games is character playability. In the first game you primarily controlled Sly, with the chance to be Murray during driving sections and Bentley in a single hacking minigame. In the sequel, you get to explore the world as all three of them (not at the same time) and they each have their own missions and abilities. Sly has the most mobility in the stages, thanks to his agility, and has the ability to pickpocket guards; Bentley is the weakest of the three, though he can perform hacking minigames and his inability to pickpocket is made up for with an array of sleep darts that can knock out enemies so he can blow them up; and Murray, being the strongest, also cannot pickpocket but he can lift heavy objects and throw them with great power (plus he can beat up enemies faster). As such the abilities you can give them are based on these skill sets; Sly's powers focus on sneaking around and getting around more quickly, Bentley's are based on technology, and Murray's center around fire and brute force. This sort of variety helps keep things interesting, as there are some things that only one of them can pull off that the other cannot.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves is an excellent addition to Sly Cooper franchise and is a definite must-play for fans of the series. Those that enjoy a good stealth game will want to give this one a try, especially if you own a USB headset for the PS2. (Admittedly I have not played the game this way, but from what I have read, using it can create an extra layer of challenge regarding stealth.) When next I look over Sly Cooper, we shall see how well Sly 3 can get the job done.

Now go outside.

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