Perhaps the most surprising facet of the Sly Cooper franchise is how it's managed to take on some of the traits of its main character. Sneaking onto the video game scene amidst the overwhelming success and fanfare of its PS2 brethren (Jak and Ratchet), Sly stole the hearts of critics and enough fans to ensure its success, then disappeared into the shadows as other titles grabbed the spotlight. Always going for a larger score, Sly moved from its platforming roots to open-ended gameplay and now is poised for his most ambitious leap yet. Grab a mask and a pair of gloves, because we're slinking along with the Cooper gang in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves.
The storyline of Honor of Thieves does build upon the events of the previous title, but you don't need any experience with the first two games to know what's going on. Shortly after the conclusion of the last adventure, Sly and Bentley, the brains of his operation, meet an old thug known as McSweeney. An old associate of the Cooper family, McSweeney tells Sly about his family heritage and, more importantly, his inheritance. Generation after generation, every Cooper stored their loot in a massive vault that could only be opened and navigated by members of their bloodline. Unfortunately, the location of this vault had been discovered by a malevolent scientist known as Doctor M, who had been trying to crack its secrets for years with a massive organization of henchmen. Obviously, a job this size would be daunting, even for master thieves. But it's made even worse with the departure of Murray, the brawn of the group, who left because he failed to protect Bentley from an injury that landed the intelligent turtle in a wheelchair. To reclaim his birthright, Sly must not only restore his gang, but recruit an additional number of specialists to defeat Doctor M.
Divided into six separate episodes that are scattered around the world, Sly 3 will be a familiar sight to gamers that played the previous title. Each location, ranging from the watery canals of Venice to Holland and even a pirate community on the seas, has a number of missions that need to be played through to accomplish different goals. For instance, these can be acquiring an object, obtaining information or performing a sneaky task. Each mission is color coded to a member of the team, and with the push of a button players can instantly receive a positional locator that lets them know how close or far away a target is. However, while the storyline and schemes designed by Bentley are decidedly linear, the gameplay is significantly less restrained. In fact, you can roam and explore the environment that you’re in, triggering traps, breaking objects and picking pockets. The latter two will often earn you money or objects which can then be used on Bentley’s Thiefnet computer to purchase new abilities or items to augment your characters. As you accomplish more and more jobs, Bentley quickly draws up even more elaborate plans until you pull off the master heist and finally recruit that episode’s team member.
In fact, while the subtitle of Sly 3 is Honor Among Thieves, much of the gameplay speaks more to the moniker of Sly 2, which was Band of Thieves. Each person that you recruit brings a new class of skills and abilities that actually come into play slowly over successive sections until you’re finally using all of them in concert to assault the Cooper Vault. Murray, or “The Murray” as he likes to call himself, is the muscle of the group. Apart from grabbing and punching opponents, Murray loves to perform a rolling bounce attack on his foes. He learned this move from his master known as The Guru, an aboriginal mystic who’s skilled with disguises (he can turn into a pile of rocks, twigs or other environmental objects to throw enemies off the trail. But he can also take over the minds of opponents, turning them against their friends. While I won’t detail all of the teammates, I’ll just say that you’ll also gain an RC specialist, a demolitionist, and a diver. You’ll also have the chance to control Carmelita as she chases down Sly and his friends.
The cel shaded appearance of the Cooper franchise remains consistent throughout Sly 3, and even looks a bit sharper than the previous games. This stands out in the numerous cutscenes and cinematics that are scattered throughout the game, which is both engaging and disappointing. For players that have played through the previous two games, you’ll probably be truly engrossed with the development of the story, particularly the flashbacks and how they provide backstory on a number of characters. For other players, particularly those that are just coming to the series or who are action junkies, you’ll probably be turned off by either the length of the scenes themselves or the number of them, which can feel as though it breaks up the flow of the action significantly.
Apart from this, the largest and most touted feature of Sly 3 has to be the inclusion of 3D for certain stages. Once an episode, you move into "dark areas" that can be enhanced by special goggles designed by Bentley. In fact, the game will prompt you when this happens, asking if you're interested in playing the upcoming level in 3D or skipping this option. It's a creative concept that does come across well, providing an extra sense of depth to a number of onscreen objects, such as laser beams, bamboo stalks and even standard crates. If you really like the enhancement, you'll probably love the fact that you'll be able to play much of the game over in 3D once you've completed the game once. However, be forewarned that playing Sly in 3D can give you a potential headache or even a little bit of eyestrain as you put on and take off the included 3D glasses, something that kids may be okay with, but will probably agitate adults.
The sound for Sly 3 is very well done, with particular emphasis on the voice acting. The Cooper franchise has always had great voice acting, particularly with the main characters. Sly's confidence and bravado always comes across, along with Bentley's nasally delivery of details and The Murray's zeal for destruction. Some of the other sound effects are recycled from last year's game, but the sound quality hasn't degraded at all. This means that you still get the little thumping sounds as you sneak behind a guard right before you pick their pockets, as well as the celebratory jingle when you snag an item or complete a mission.
Sly 3 is extremely accessible for gamers, allowing you to quickly get into the story and enjoy the wacky adventures that the Cooper Gang gets involved in. Part of this is due to the numerous tutorials that the game comes with, which also features a large amount of banter between teammates. You get a sense that the three main characters actually interact more like siblings than illegal associates, complete with the teasing and joking that you'd expect from such a relationship. On the other hand, part of it has to do with the nature of many of the missions, which come across more like mini-games that are cleverly strung together in sequences. The Sucker Punch team did come up with some extremely creative ways of exploring the game world, including a sing along mini-game with Dance Dance Revolution like timed button presses, first person diving sections and even driving (or should I say rowing on rails?) sections. The game also introduces the four multiplayer games throughout the course of the campaign, so you'll get a sense of the biplane and ship vehicle combat, as well as the hacking game that Bentley engages in and a Cops and Robbers game featuring Carmelita and Sly.
However, this format comes with some significant drawbacks. Due to the nature of the mini-games, you can sometimes get the sense that they're over before they've just started getting good. The RC car and the hacking missions truly stand out as culprits of this problem, as well as a number of the tasks given to the supporting cast. It's almost as if there wasn't a way to completely flesh out every aspect of play for these guys compared to the main trio, so even their contributions became secondary. In a way, you almost wish that there were more missions that could be taken on as the additional squadmates, similar to the ones that Bentley, Sly and Murray engage in. If you take this shortened action and contrast it to the bar fight in the Outback, which seamlessly switches from Bentley to Murray to Sly over the course of the battle, you'll notice how much of a discrepancy this is.
The other problem is that it tends to make gameplay extremely easy. As you get the hang of each mission type, you find that it quickly becomes easier to fly through longer objectives on the first try, which can make the twelve hours or so of gameplay feel much shorter. Granted, there are a number of Master Thief Challenges and multiplayer options to extend play, but you'll be able to even find that you can fly through these without difficulty. What's more, while you can extend play somewhat by sneaking around and collecting money for abilities, you won't necessarily need to use them. In fact, while I acquired all of the items from Thiefnet, I rarely used them. Only certain abilities were necessary to proceed through some plot points, further pointing out some redundancies in the overall design.
With the increase in playable characters and expanded multiplayer for gamers, Sly 3 succeeds as the latest title in the Cooper franchise quite admirably. While the 3D gimmick comes across as somewhat cool at first, it's ultimately taxing on the eyes of the player, and the reduced difficulty level might put off some people. However, the storyline and voice acting are just as solid as the other Sly titles, and provides another worthy chapter in the life of these engaging characters. Platforming fans or players interested in a good story should check this one out.