Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (PlayStation 2) review
"Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to tell you a little tale. It begins with a young boy named Sly Cooper, descendant of a long line of master thieves. The Cooper bloodline is infamous throughout the world, and each of Sly's ancestors have written down their greatest secrets and techniques in a diary called the Thievius Raccoonus, which has been passed down from generation to generation. More than just a book, the Thievius Raccoonus is the Cooper family's most prized heirloom, acting as both a le..."
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to tell you a little tale. It begins with a young boy named Sly Cooper, descendant of a long line of master thieves. The Cooper bloodline is infamous throughout the world, and each of Sly's ancestors have written down their greatest secrets and techniques in a diary called the Thievius Raccoonus, which has been passed down from generation to generation. More than just a book, the Thievius Raccoonus is the Cooper family's most prized heirloom, acting as both a learning tool and a way for each Cooper to pass his or her skills on to their children, their children's children, et cetera. But the Cooper family's notoriety would also eventually become its peril. On the night that Sly Cooper would receive the Thievius Raccoonus, his home is raided by a group of criminal masterminds called the Fiendish Five. His family is slaughtered, and the Thievius Raccoonus is stolen and torn into five different sections. Now orphaned, Sly would spend the next decade or so honing his skills and carrying on his family's heritage, until one fateful night in Paris, where he finally comes across the information he needs to avenge his family's murder and retrieve his birthright.
And thus begins Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, one of the most entertaining platformers I've had the pleasure of playing in some time. The game isn't totally without its flaws of course, but what game is? As is my usual custom, I'll get my gripes with this title out of the way first (which are actually few, but still bear mention).
To begin with, I'm not fond of the game's health system. You start off every area unable to be hit by an enemy without losing a life, and although you're given the opportunity to collect items that will safeguard you to a degree, the process of actually getting your hands on said items can be time-consuming. You may find yourself replaying several areas in this game a number of times until you get the hang of dodging a particular enemy's attacks long enough to dish out some of your own. Thankfully, most enemies are easilly dispatched once you figure out how they attack.
Secondly, if they're going to make it so agonizingly difficult for new players to stay alive, they shouldn't require you to pick up extra lives, which are a rare find.
And last, although the game runs smoothly most of the time, there are areas where it suffers graphical slow-down. It's nothing that will seriously detract from the experience of the game, but it can be just slightly irritating from time to time, even if it doesn't impede you.
Other than those three flaws, I have nothing but good things to say about this game.
The story in Sly Cooper, a good portion of which I've highlighted above, may have been done before. But none-the-less, it's icing on the cake here, as it's told in a truly entertaining way. Before and after each of the game's five expansive areas, you're treated to comic book-esque cutscenes, narrated by Sly himself, detailing the members of the Fiendish Five and sharing Sly's thoughts with the player. While I was playing, I couldn't help but think that this game would have made an excellent cartoon show, if not a brief one. The tale told here and the way it's presented to you really is reminiscient of an animated series, and I found that to be an endearing quality.
On your quest to retrieve the missing sections of the Thievius Raccoonus, you'll guide Sly through five different areas of the world, ranging from a casino town in the southwest United States all the way to the jungles of Haiti, the snow-covered mountains of western China, and even an active volcano in Russia. Each member of the Fiendish Five has a huge operation running in their respective parts of the world, and not only do you get to take back the sections of your family's diary, you can rob the Fiendish Five blind in the process. Sly's motto is, afterall, 'to steal from a master criminal is to prove you're a master thief.'
Sly himself is something like Robin Hood, only replace 'the rich' with 'other criminals' and eliminate the part about giving to the poor entirely. He's one slick character, and only one of the many well-developed characters in the game. You're first introduced to Sly and his crew, which consists of Bentley, Sly's computer whiz/hacker/what-have-you, and Murray, whom spends much of his time eating hot dogs and snowcones when he's not using his ace driving skills to navigate the crew's getaway van. Shortly thereafter you're brought face to face with the lovely detective Carmelita Fox, who seems to be something of a love interest for Sly, even though their mutual bouts of flirting almost always seem to end in Sly getting shot at. And of course there's the members of the Fiendish Five themselves, all of which have a somewhat sad story behind their lives of brutal crime. Adding to this is the game's wonderfully-executed voice acting. Sly is suitably cool and collected at all times, while Bentley and Murray sound nerdy and goofy, respectively. They're not the only ones; all the characters are distinct and beautifully defined, and you can tell that Sucker Punch Productions put a lot of work into making them just right.
The game's visuals, aside from the minor slow-down I mentioned before, are excellent as well. Environments are varied with great amounts of detail, and many things are interactive--you'll find a lot of stuff that can be broken, such as windows, trash cans, crates, empty bottles, et cetera. The characters themselves are cel-shaded, but not in the usual manner. They're actually 3-D models with the shading applied to each individual section seperately, rather than the whole model, and the black outlines common to cel-shaded characters are present, but very thin. This makes the characters stand out a lot more and adds even more to the feeling that you're playing a saturday morning cartoon or a comic book. It really is an aesthetic treat.
Sound is equally good. Each area has a distinct sound to it, and that sound varies depending on what's happening; if Sly is sneaking past someone, the music will fade out and you'll hear that classic 'tip-toeing' sound common to shows like Looney Tunes. Or if you get drawn into a fight, the tempo will pick up and the music often changes to something that better conveys a sense of danger. Sound effects blend very well with the action, and again you'll be reminded of a cartoon as you hear the 'boi-yoi-yoi-yoing' of Sly bouncing his cane off of something that can't be damaged through normal means (and you'll probably laugh at the way he stands there shaking for a moment afterwards). There's a few instances like this, and like the graphics, it's obvious that effort was put forth here.
And of course we have the meat of the game, the actual gameplay, and it couldn't be better. The analog controls are quite responsive, allowing Sly to move very fluidly between running and quietly tip-toeing. Attacking and jumping are equally fluid; Sly can double jump with a forward sommersault, swing his cane in mid-air, and even run while continuously attacking, which can come in handy for certain obstacles and enemies. He can also climb along ropes and pipes, scale ladders, and will automatically grab onto the nearest ledge if you're close enough. Slipping off of an edge usually isn't a problem, but that particular maneuver can be both useful and cool-looking depending on where you try it at. Collecting the five missing sections of the Thievius Raccoonus will add to Sly's acrobatic arsenal as well, granting him the ability to perch on spires, slide along rails, and more.
There's also a few other different things to collect. There are coins, of course, which can be found from breaking just about anything and killing enemies. Collecting a hundred of them will give you a lucky charm (a horse shoe), which prevents you from dying if you take a hit or fall off of a platform. Collecting a hundred more coins will give you a second lucky charm, and a third set of one hundred will grant you an extra life. Lucky charms can also be found scattered around, though they're somewhat rare, as are extra lives, as I've stated previously. Also to collect are bottled clues; there's anywhere between twenty and forty of these per level, and collecting them all will allow Bentley to crack the combination of a safe located in almost every area that holds either a stray page from the Thievius Raccoonus or something you can give to Bentley that will allow him to install an area-specific radar in your binoc-u-com (which I'll get to in a minute) that shows you the location of clues and breakable items in a given Fiendish Five member's stronghold. This can be very handy, as some of the clues are well-hidden. Of arguably more use however are the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus that you uncover from safes. They'll give you a whole slew of new abilities once you're done collecting them all; though some of said moves aren't all that useful, many of them are extremely helpful, such as the ability to fall in water without losing a lucky charm or to dive-bomb an enemy from above. You can even learn how to slow down time when jumping, which will assuredly help you navigate some of the more dastardly traps in the game.
Also of help is the Binoc-u-com, a little gadget invented by Bentley. Electric binoculars combined with a Codec-like communicator, which Bentley can call you on any time if he has something important to tell you. Oftentimes Sly will stop and automatically pull this out if there's some mission-specific information that he needs to talk to Bentley about--that's your cue to pay attention to what they're saying.
The level design is quite good, many areas giving you a few different options in the way of progressing, though you'll find you have to rely on Sly's arsenal of acrobatic stunts more and more as you get deeper into the game. Not only will you have to deal with the basic thug who just mindlessly attacks you, you'll have to get through guards with searchlights (who usually have to be snuck past, as they have some kind of homing weapon) and security systems, some of which are extremely devious in their implementation. A good example of this is a room I recall in China that is not only rigged with searchlights, but a grid of laser tripwires that sweeps the room every eight seconds or so. It takes just about every trick Sly knows to get to the leader of the Fiendish Five, but thankfully, most are fairly easy to master.
There's also a good dose of variation through mini-games that tie into the levels quite smoothly. For example, in Muggshot's Turf you'll cross a bridge and spot Murray being challenged to a race by a group of gangster dogs. Three times around the track and whomever places first gets one of the keys you need to unlock a specific area. There are a few different kinds of these games; racing, as stated; you'll also have to navigate a few different kinds of vehicles such as a hovercycle with a built-in pulse cannon, which I might add is a blast, and you'll even have to provide cover fire for someone on a number of occasions as they rush, unarmed, to complete a particular objective.
Battling the Fiendish Five is equally varied in what's required of you; I won't give anything away, but suffice to say that in a couple of cases you're in for something of a puzzle, whereas other times there's nothing like a good old-fashioned brawl.
At somewhere around fifteen hours of playtime, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus can seem somewhat short, despite all that's been layed out for you to take in. It's not as in-depth as say, Jak & Daxter might have been, but nevertheless it's an extremely entertaining platformer, and one I'd recommend to just about anybody.
Community review by kieran (March 26, 2003)
Kieran Greyloch is an automotive technology student who enjoys wasting every moment of his spare time playing videogames and tabletop RPGs.
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