Having played and thoroughly enjoyed the first two titles in the Sly Cooper series, I jumped at the opportunity to play the third installment. I had been missing the smooth stealth action of my favorite raccoon since the last minute of Sly 2, and the promise of a new title to sate my thirst for thievery was too much to bear. So, I rented the game (to give it a test run), popped it into my PS2, and braced for the time of my life.
Unfortunately, several hours in, I realized that I was up for disappointment. The game was good, but just not what I had been expecting from a series that I had come to love.
The main downfall of Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves is its gameplay. The designers of the Sly series took a new angle when creating this game – one that, in my opinion, led the series in the wrong direction. The game’s demise: when I played Sly 3, I felt like I was playing an arcade game and not a platformer. It simply lacked the smooth thieving action of the previous two titles, resorting instead to a slew of mini-games that, although fun at times, were just not what I was looking for. In fact, very little of the game was dedicated to the traditional Sly Cooper platforming style. I found that in roughly 90% of the missions, I wasn’t balancing on tightropes or landing on lofty spires high above a city – I was driving around with a racecar and using a gun to shoot down bogies, or using an RC chopper to grapple with baddies from the sky. While it is doubtless that this was fun (although slightly repetitive), I felt like I was playing “Kiddie Arcade 3000”, not the Sly Cooper games that I had come to know and love.
The shift from stealth to arcade is even apparent in the level design of the “town system”, which was carried over from Sly 2. For each episode of the game, Sly has a home base that is located in a city that he and his gang can explore. However, the cities in Sly 3 didn’t have nearly as many “stealth opportunities” as they did in Sly 2. I found that more often than not, I simply ran through the streets – which were often devoid of guards – to get to my destination. No stealthy moves required. It would have been much more fun to sneak my way to the target along rooftops and through dark alleyways, but the level design simply did not allow this.
Another change in Sly 3 is a slew of new characters who join the gang along the way to Sly’s final destination, Dr. M’s Fortress. In each episode, the gang acquires a new operative, who helps out in future missions. Essentially, it’s an easy way for Sucker Punch to create new mini-game opportunities – quite frequently I was playing as members of the gang other than Sly. As I mentioned above, this detracts from the supposed purpose of the game – stealth and thievery – and forces the player to use new playing styles that he or she doesn’t necessarily want to use.
Even the music went downhill in this game. I don’t know if there was a composer switch, but the smooth, jazzy tones of the previous titles have been scrapped in favor of music that make an attempt at cultural tonality but only achieves brazen disarticulation. I found that as I was playing, I really missed the low-key jazz of Sly 1 and Sly 2.
Of course, Sly 3 wasn’t all bad. There were some mini-games that I downright enjoyed, and Sucker Punch made some improvements on the main design of Sly 2 that were very well thought-out. In one of the later episodes of the game, I got to sail a pirate ship around an ocean, dueling with and boarding other ships to obtain massive amounts of gold. The ship sailing system is very well done, and it provides a unique opportunity for the player to earn gold fast without monotonously pickpocketing guards.
Combat has also been revamped in Sly 3 and I’m not sure if it’s for better or worse. Sly’s cane can now be charged by pressing the triangle button, and by purchasing upgrades on ThiefNet the player can let loose some truly devastating attacks. This new combat system has its ups and downs. Sly can now defeat powerful guards (even the formerly omnipotent flashlight guards can be taken down with relative ease) – but the unfortunate trade-off is the sacrifice of the much-beloved stealth focus of the previous Sly titles. There’s now much less incentive to be sneaky when you can just charge and rend if a guard sees you.
Additionally, a two-player mode has been added to the game. This allows two people to play at once (Whoa, bet you didn’t see that coming!). Players can choose to try out Bentley’s hacking mode cooperatively, or have Carmelita vs. Sly duels, pirate ship fights, or biplane shoot-outs. This two player mode is very fun; once a friend and I started dueling in the skies, I started getting nostalgic for the good ‘ol days of StarFox on the N64.
As usual, graphics and voiceovers are superbly done in Sly 3. Sucker Punch has even added in a little treat – players have the opportunity of using 3D glasses, found in the manual, to enhance missions so that they supposedly – yup, you guessed it – appear in 3D. Since my Sly 3 game is a rental, I unfortunately did not get to test the 3D mode, but that’s OK – the game has excellent anime-style graphics anyway.
As far as replayability goes, there’s a new, interesting twist in Sly 3. Completing all episodes from start to finish will only give you about a 57% completion rate on the game as a whole. In order to achieve a 100% completion rate for the whole game, you must complete several challenges. These challenges take levels from the normal game and put restrictions into place – such as time limits, health limits, etc. This allows hardcore Sly players to really test their skills.
The challenges are hard, which is good because I found that I breezed through the non-challenge game with ease. Challenges and the standard game are at opposite ends of the difficulty spectrum, with no content in the middle. This unfortunate placement left me frustrated at all times, whether it was because of the game was too easy or difficult.
All in all, Sly 3 is OK, but just OK. If you’re really into arcade mini-games with extremely varied playing styles, I’d say that this is a great game for you. However, for fans of the old spire-jumping, tightrope-walking, stealthy Sly, this may not be the best choice. I know that I will be returning my rental with no intention of purchasing the game for my collection.
I currently review for GamersInfo.net and run a home-based website design company called PCI Studios.