Review by Menji

"Despite the remastering, the problems with the Sly trilogy are more than skin deep"

The recent plethora of Playstation 2 collections releasing has been quite exciting. Experiencing clear, high-definition graphics has become the norm. Going back to a previous generation has its difficulties: ugly visuals, lack of trophies, and the longer load times. But the collections have combined all the games onto one disc, added a trophy set and dolled up the visuals to appease the expectations of today's gamers. Having missed out on the Sly trilogy during its original run, I decided to pick up the collection and see what I've been missing.

The first thing I noticed was how absurd the trophy list is. Usually games will award half of the trophies automatically upon completion of the game. Nearly 95% of the trophies in the Sly collection are awarded by beating the game. And many don't even make sense. In a standard game with achievements thought out, one would be awarded for every chapter beat. Throughout the trilogy there are certain parts where trophies are awarded minutes after just receiving one. They feel cheap, late and don't even take full advantage of the challenges available in the game. Things were not looking to good when I first started the disc up. Take the first game for example. Each level has a speed run challenge but no trophy is awarded for completing every run. Thus, there was not a single reason to continue playing the game after completion – and not just because it was horrible. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is such a mess that I'm baffled at how it obtained: critical acclaim, a fan base, and two sequels.

Thievius Raccoonus opens with a safe story. The Cooper family has a long history of thieves. The family secrets have been recorded by various family members in the family book, the Thievius Raccoonus. As a lad, Sly witnessed his parent's deaths and theft of the family heirloom. Forced into an orphanage he met his two best friends and future partners in crime. Sly does the field work, Bentley is the brains and Murry is the muscle. Now that they have finally matured, they set out to recover the missing pages of the Thievius Raccoonus. The notorious Claw Gang is the same group who stole the Thieivius Raccoonus and have divided the book between its members. Recovering a page usually grants Sly a new ability to use in the field. One problem in this game is that the level design is just too boring. Each member's area has around seven levels. Inside each level has a key. Obtaining all the keys allows Sly to reach the boss and win back a major page of the Thievius Raccoonus. Unfortunately the levels are devoid of any real challenge. They are linear, swinging hooks are readily available and no thought whatsoever is needed to finish a level. Instead, the creators thought it would be a good idea to put the challenge in Sly's health. He dies in one hit. This wouldn't be as bad but the game occasionally doesn't read a button input. This leads to Sly missing a hook and falling to his death, forcing me to repeat an annoying sequence. It is even worse during boss fights as there are three stages you must complete without dying.

Believe me when I say it gets worse.

The game assumes the player is completely incapable of winning after so many deaths and starts giving the player lucky horseshoes granting the player an extra life if Sly dies. If the game was going to automatically help the player out why would they not do so from the start? But alas, the only somewhat fun and challenging area is the final boss because the game combines everything you have learned into one final outing. Oh and the absolute worst level in the game, easily capable of being a game-ender is a boss fight that requires the player to participate in a Guitar Hero-like setting. Except it lasts forever and one mistake will have you starting from the very beginning. It doesn't help that the music is slightly off with the button display.

The first game is a bit different than the others. There are individual levels within a world rather than open worlds in the sequels. Each level does have a secret to achieve by collecting clue bottles that Bentley can use to decode the safe containing some power up. This collecting activity is shrunk to just once a world in the second game and eliminated entirely in the third. I'm not sure why as it feels like such a signature activity in the series. Perhaps it will return in the fourth installment. Another exclusive to the first game are your teammates, Bentley and Murry. Almost pointless in the game except to give info, they do become playable in the sequels. For now, Bentley acts like Otacon from the Metal Gear Solid games. He sits behind his desk, hacks, and gives Sly info from his “sources”. The problem with this is Bentley talks a lot, he talks slow, his voice is annoying and for some reason you are not allowed to skip the dialogue. If you are a fast reader like I am, dialogue is grueling. It gets worse whenever Bentley goes over the plan. After spending a couple minutes explaining the entire thing, Bentley will explain it again during each individual mission. Sly does not make things much better as he acts like a complete idiot during the briefing and then magically finishes Bentley's explanation as if the player doesn't already know what to do. The inability to skip dialogue does carry over to other things. Cutscenes can't be skipped either. Sometimes you have to rewatch scenes if you die or if you accidentally choose to rewatch it again. How hard can it be to fix these issues in the remastering process?

By the time I was done with Thievius Raccoonus. I was reluctant to continue. But the game was short and I was determined to get my money's worth. I booted up Band of Thieves and was pleasantly surprised by how much the game had improved. Instead of the boring worlds in the first game with individual levels, Sly 2 treats the player to an open world. Missions are administrated from a safe house and Sly moves from place to place with minimal loads. This open environment is quite efficient. Each world has just one set of clue bottles since individual levels have been eliminated. Guards are better in a sense. Each level has two types: ground patrols with flashlights and roof watchers. The guys with the lights are tougher but their vision is limited. The game loves to copycat its enemies and each level has the same type of enemies with new outfits and it gets boring. Sly 3 continues this trend so don't expect anything different. A neat feature however is the ability to pick-pocket coins and occasionally high valued trinkets from the flashlight guards. Coins are now used to purchase moves and upgrades now that Sly doesn't need coins to increase his supply of lives. These moves are mainly just the ones unlocked from the Thievius Raccoonus in the first game but some are quite handy like the hang glider. Also new in the second game is the ability to play as Bentley and Murry. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses and don't take away too much of Sly's playtime like the third game does. As a whole, Band of Thieves is the best game in the series. The cast is interesting, the improvements are tremendous, and it doesn't get as annoying as the other games. However, the last fight and corresponding level is one of the worst designed sequences in the series.

Now with the numerous improvements going from the first to the second game, I expected the same when the developers moved to the third game. Unfortunately, it actually got worse. But not before the game tricks into thinking it will be epic. Honor Among Thieves actually starts at the end of the game as Sly tries to enter the Cooper family vault. The selling point here is that the usual gang's skills weren't enough and they've recruited a group of unknown thieves to help them out. After getting captured the game flashes back to how it was all started and you set off to recruit your pack of thieves.

The problems from Band of Thieves remain and appear to have amplified as well. Since the gang more than doubles in members, Sly has even less playable time as before. This wouldn't be that big of a deal if the other characters weren't so boring to control. The dialogue remains uninteresting and repetitive. For some reason, Sly lost all of skills he acquired in Band of Thieves and must purchase them again. Buying moves and gadgets is a bit more difficult this time around. Coins appear to be less common than before so Sly will have to focus on pick-pocketing. Items are sold instantly now which gives the impression of efficiency but it really takes the same amount of time. I do have to give some credit to Band of Thieves for creating a new story. It was a big letdown to reuse the same villain from the first game in Among Thieves. Another letdown is the numerous voice actor changes. Sly's love interest, Inspector Fox got a complete overhaul. It's as if the developers didn't even look for similar replacement. I was surprised by how much it actually bugged me. Her voice was so commanding in the first two games and just downright bad in Honor Among Thieves.

The real motivation I had for completing all three games was to obtain all three platinums. The first two are quite easy but the third game requires you to complete the challenges for each level. Much to my dismay, the challenges basically require you to replay the game with handicaps such as a time limit or half health. Some of the challenges will drive you crazy but you will feel accomplished when it's all said and done.

In summary, the trilogy suffers from the same problems throughout. The dialogue is pitiful and can't be skipped if you're a fast reader. It doesn't have the wit or humor that games like Ratchet & Clank or Jak & Daxter bring. Facial expressions rarely show the emotion the dialogue is trying to convey. Cutscenes can't be skipped and the message is reiterated multiple times because characters can never figure out what the hell they're supposed to do. Even convenience is sacrificed. In the second and third game completing a mission only occasionally returns you to the safe house. Most of the time you have to manually walk back to the safe house just to trigger the next mission. At the very least, there should have been an option to teleport back. But hey, if you've played the games before then this is perfect for you. It combines all the games into one, throws in some minigames and improves the visuals. However, I strongly recommend staying clear of the collection if you have never tried it. Don't let the apparent deal seduce you like it did me.

- - -

Sly Cooper & the Thievius Raccoonus - 2.0
+ Final boss and level are well designed.
- Repetitive levels and areas.
- No life bar.
- Frustrating gameplay.
- Unskippable, slow dialogue.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves - 5.0

+ Life bar.
+ Open world.
- Terrible final boss.
- Gameplay not completely fixed.
- Unskippable, slow dialogue.

Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves - 4.0

+ Selling stolen items is instant.
+ Doesn't repeat the story.
- No bottles to collect.
- Too much non-Sly action.
- Many character's voice actor changed.
- Unskippable, slow dialogue.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.0 - Poor

Originally Posted: 05/11/11

Game Release: The Sly Collection (US, 11/09/10)

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