Monday, July 5, 2010

An overview of Sly Cooper...

...from someone who just got around to playing it.

Despite numerous attempts to stop me, I played through all of Sony developer Sucker Punch's three Sly Cooper games from Memorial Day to the 4th of July. I only played through the main game, I didn't complete any of the Master Thief challenges. I'm sure I could have completed them sooner, but I played some Street Fighter 3:Third Strike and a few other Capcom fighting games inbetween sessions, just to break it up a little.

I have played all of the PS2 Ratchet and Clank games (that's not true - I didn't play any of the PSP ones that got ported to PS2), and had played the first Jak & Daxter, so I felt like I had missed out by not having played the Sly Cooper games at all. Given the opportunity to pick them up cheap, I got all three of them - although in retrospect I should have picked up new copies of all three. Sly 3 I picked up from Gamestop as a used copy, and since the only thing I got was the disk for $10, I missed out a little. ( More on that later.)

The first Sly Cooper game comes off like Nintendo's early Mario games. Levels have a beginning and an end, and you're supposed to 1) go quick, 2) don't get hurt at all, and 3) get all the stuff. Similar to Mario, some boards allow you to go at your own pace, and some boards put time pressure on you. There's at least one board in every group of levels that has non-platformer gameplay, like one where you pilot an undersea sub and shoot crabs trying to take treasure chests. The controls for that are identical to the old school Robotron 2084 but these days that's referred to as a "twin stick shooter" since it seems like most of the people that Microsoft and Sony market to these days weren't alive in 1982 when that game came out. Some of the other non-platforming boards include racing levels and turret gun levels. Unlike the Ratchet and Clank's turret levels, where the object is to shoot down a lot of enemies, the Sly Cooper turret levels involve providing cover fire for a teammate so that they can proceed through a level. The only thing that I found odd about the game was that there was one powerup that was inaccesible until you had completed the main game, and it made the powerup completely pointless because it can't effectively be used in completing the Master Theif missions.

The second Sly Cooper game, Band of Theives, takes place in a series of cities around the world. While many of the missions take you into building interiors that are otherwise inaccessible, a fair portion of each city's missions are in the city itself. I liked that the cities had some purpose instead of being a glorified level select screen. The game added a currency system, stealing treasures and returning them to the safe house in a limited amount of time, added pickpocketing as both a side way to make money and a feature of getting through some of the levels, and purchaseable powerups. Sly's teammates Bentley and Murray get more of their own missions now, where you're controlling them directly. The conceit of the driving missions in Sly 1 was that Murray was driving - when Murray actually gets out of the car, it's already a cutscene by then. Now you get to use the might of "The Murray" directly to pound foes too tough for Sly, and Bentley goes through small spaces that Sly can't get into so we can hack the enemies' computers. Bentley also has very effective sleep darts and bombs. The game is a lot more fun than the first one for me because the locations seem a little more "real" - I enjoy a game that has a sense of place. It's nice to get to know where you're going after a while. In the name of variety, this game also has some turret missions but they're more like the Ratchet and Clank ones this time, and Bentley's hacking games play a little like old-school Omega Race. Other non-traditional levels include attacking foes using an RC chopper or an RC car. The best thing was having a regular health bar instead of the 'one hit and you're out' system from the first game.

By the time the third game (Honor Among Theives) rolls around, Sucker Punch has figured a few things out. None of the loot that you find has any impact on the game other than how much money you have, so making you go through the extra step of cashing it in was unneccesary. Now, loot instantly adds to your currency total. All of the powerups become purchaseable. The missions are a little more streamlined, but not as much as Sly 1. The endless looking around for clue bottles has gone, though. (I kinda missed them.) On the other hand, some new things got thrown in for reasons I can't fathom. Four more playable characters, inclusion of 3D in some levels, and a rather involved pirate boat combat simulator. I did like the storyline of 3, but I didn't like switching to characters with rather different control schemes. At the risk of it being a little spoilerish, Carmelita's controls were the ones that really bugged me. The plane levels were fun - the demo disk for Sly 3 included a version of one of the aerial battles - although I had to pass on the 3D version of the last dogfight since it's harder to tell a red plane from a black plane with anaglyph glasses on. In general, I used the 3D glasses that I had laying around the house for the platforming levels, and passed on it for the boss battles. Had I purchased a new copy of Sly 3, perhaps I would have the exact 3D glasses that I needed, but the ones I had were close enough. I would have liked some sort of calibration screen for the 3D, or a displayable test pattern so I could check that the 3D was set up correctly without having to do it in the middle of a level while perched on a spire someplace. One new thing that they added that was somewhat fun was some cutscenes had a dialogue tree to do - I wouldn't want them to make a whole game of it, it was just fun when they threw it in a few times.

Those of you that have still missed out on these games and have a PS3 can take advantage of the The Sly Collection coming out. I'm sure that it will be easy to render at higher resolution, but I wonder if they're going to keep the 3D the same.

And, for the record, I liked the voice actress for Carmelita Fox in the second game (Alesia Glidewell) the best. And that was without realizing that she plays the protagonist Chell in Valve's Portal!

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