Monday, April 1, 2019

Sly Cooper and the King of Thieves

Note: This review contains spoilers related to Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time.

While I enjoyed Sly Cooper: Thieves in time in spite of its faults, it wasn’t until years later that I found out developer Sanzaru games was not going to follow up on its cliffhanger ending, a statement made in 2014. Around the same time, I also discovered that this soured the reputation of the developer amongst Sly Cooper fans, a sentiment shared by Tron fans with the game Tron RUN/r, also by Sanzaru. Years later, however, Sanzaru seems to have come to their senses, releasing a long-awaited surprise sequel to Sly 4 that attempts to address issues players had with said game, chief among them the infamous plot twist and cliffhanger ending, with a simultaneous release on PS4 and Vita. After getting to play it upon launch, I can safely say that the Sly Cooper franchise has gotten back on track and is better than ever.

Continuing from the secret ending of the previous game, Sly finds himself stuck in Ancient Egypt, a fact he doesn’t put together until he runs into his ancestor, Slytunkhamen I. Upon proving he is of Cooper blood, Slytunkhamen takes a liking to his descendent, though Sly saves time by running with the idea that the Gods had something to do with this. As Sly gets more accustomed to his surroundings, he ends up discovering the origin of Clockwerk, the generations-long rival of the Cooper clan. Meanwhile in the present day, Bentley, Murray and Carmelita are trying to figure out a way to get Sly back, with any hope Bentley may have had being lost. Desperate, they have no choice but to seek help from Penelope, who had previously betrayed them.

Slytunkhamen Cooper I receives some interesting character development
in this game.

The story of the game is rather interesting, as it further delves into the history of the Coopers and the origin of the Thievius Raccoonus, as well as resolve the plot twist from the previous entry regarding Penelope’s sudden turn on the Cooper gang. While Penelope gets some additional character development and she attempts to earn the gang’s trust again, it is evident that things are still a bit shaky between them and the others would rather keep their distance following her previous actions. The game is also ambitious in that it tries to further develop Clockwerk’s character; though it is clear that he is still evil, his reasons for trying to destroy the Cooper clan are interesting to say the least. In a bold move, the story also explores the state of Sly and Carmelita’s relationship as hinted in the last game, though going further on this would lead to spoilers.

The new characters are pretty well-written, including the new villains, fitting for how they became popular upon their initial reveal prior to launch (especially the Bastet-inspired boss). Slytunkhamen is actually a pretty fun character, finding Sly’s talk of the future interesting while delivering wisecracks in his own way. The two Coopers have an interesting chemistry, though they each have their own personalities and methods to thievery even if they bear similar results.

The gameplay is similar to the previous game, with some improvements. Among said changes are the improved load times, as well as borrowing some gameplay elements from Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which also featured an Egyptian setting. Slytunkhamen, having no access to Cooper techniques beyond invisibility, has more a stealth-based focus than Sly and often edges on the level of a Metal Gear game. The present-day sections feature Bentley, Murray and Carmelita as playable characters, though these sections are more story-driven than the Egyptian segments. The graphics are a step up from Sly 4, taking advantage of the PS4’s capabilities and featuring an art style a little reminiscent of the previous game and cancelled movie. The cutscenes are also animated like in the previous game, ramped up to take advantage of having a higher budget and even featuring voice acting in some places where a narration would not work, such as when Slytunkhamen takes over in explaining each villain to Sly; while this seems like an odd decision, they way it’s pulled off works and leaves room for opportunity in any future sequels.

Much like Assassin's Creed Origins, Sly 5 features a highly-detailed and open
Egyptian setting.

In a nice bit of attention to detail, the developers also work in elements of Egyptian mythology, including using said mythos as influence on the boss and level designs as well as various bits of dialogue. The bosses, the original Fiendish Five including Clockwerk, bear some resemblance to, and take some design elements from, various Egyptian Gods (particularly more animal-based Gods); their personalities, minus Clockwerk, are also partially based on factoids related to the appropriate deities, though some obvious liberties were taken to make it all work within the Sly Cooper style. Each boss even has a special gimmick to their attacks based on the appropriate deity, lending some amount of difficulty to the fights; the penultimate boss prior to Clockwerk, based on the God Anubis, is especially difficult, though he becomes easier to handle once you figure out his patterns.

Much like Sly 4, this game has connectivity with PlayStation Vita, including Cross Buy and Cross Save capabilities in addition to Remote Play. Just as with the last entry, the Vita can be used to help track treasure on the screen with assistance from another player, though there are now points where the other person can use the Vita to solve hacking puzzles to advance certain objectives. For those who don’t own a Vita, the developers decided to take an extra step and make the hacking and treasure tracking elements PlayLink compatible. There is also some surprise compatibility with PlayStation VR (Bentley even teases this by referencing a headset) in the form of certain hacking minigames being playable on the system; like the 3D segments in Sly 3, it’s a bit gimmicky and these portions can also be played without the headset, though it’s worth a try anyway if you own the platform.

One thing to note is that the game also has its own special edition, the Cooper Edition, which, in addition to a soundtrack and art book, comes with a full-color recreation of the Thievius Raccoonus. A more expensive version, the Slytunkahmen Edition, also comes with a statue of Sly’s ancestor, though I decided to go for the Cooper Edition.

Sly Cooper and the King of Thieves is a much-needed improvement over Thieves in Time, providing some definite closure in the way it handled certain issues players had with the plot of the previous entry, even if not everything gets resolved in the end. That aside, the gameplay is amazing, and the Vita port, while obviously downgraded, provides a good alternative for those who can’t get good connection with Remote Play. The usage of Egyptian mythology provides a nice twist on the Sly Cooper setting and the villains are made much more memorable for it. Though there is a secret ending as a reward for getting 100% completion, it’s in a way that adds to the narrative and leaves it open to new adventures with Sly and co. This game is a definite must for Sly Cooper fans, though fortunately the game also provides a sufficient plot summary for those who end up starting with this game.

Happy April Fool’s Day!

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