"Stealthy games are quite popular these days with titles like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell. Really, with those giants setting the bar there arenít many other comparable games in the stealth genre. However, gamers should not forget the little guy that is Sly, a raccoon thief that uses stealth as a means to obtaining vast fortunes. While the original Sly Cooper was anything but grand, the latest entry in the series has become one of my favorite games in just a short amount of time. Though it ..."
Stealthy games are quite popular these days with titles like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell. Really, with those giants setting the bar there arenít many other comparable games in the stealth genre. However, gamers should not forget the little guy that is Sly, a raccoon thief that uses stealth as a means to obtaining vast fortunes. While the original Sly Cooper was anything but grand, the latest entry in the series has become one of my favorite games in just a short amount of time. Though it doesnít do everything right, it does enough to be entertaining and a vast improvement upon its predecessor.
For those of you who havenít played the original, Sly Cooper is the last remaining member of the Cooper lineage. All the other members of his family have been killed by the nefarious Clockwerk, an owl who has made it his lifework to destroy the Cooper clan. This evildoer so wanted to destroy the entire gang that he lived far longer than normal, turning his body into a machine in the process. At the end of the original, Sly was forced to confront Clockwerk. When the battle came to a conclusion, Clockwerk was defeated and his robotic body was dismantled. One would think that our thief turned hero would be rewarded with a break for all his hard effort. But, a thiefís work is never done and Clockwerk is still plaguing our protagonist. The sequel begins with Sly trying to steal Clockwerkís body parts from Interpol, in order to keep it out of the wrong hands. Unfortunately, he is too late and the parts have already been stolen by the Klaww gang. Sly then decides to go on a quest to get all the body parts, which have been scattered among the members of the Klaww gang, back into his righteous, thieving hands.
The story itself is pretty interesting, but the thing that separates it from other games is the way it is told. Every mission is played out in the form of an ďepisodeĒ, making the whole game seem even more like a cartoon show. At the beginning of the mission you get a little cartoon-ish clip which shows what the gang has been up to and what their plan is. You are also given details on who the enemy is, what lead them to their life of crime, and what they are doing with their Clockwerk piece. Making the whole game play out like, basically, the second season of Sly Cooper was a very nice touch.
Now, stealing the remains of Clockwerk piece by piece from an entire gang by oneself is near impossible. Thankfully Sly has the aid of his friends. In Band of Thieves, no longer will Murray and Bentley, his two best friends since childhood, be forced to sit back and let Sly steal the show. In the original, the two buds would just help Sly by telling him what to do. In other words, they were never playable characters. This time around, you will have to use all three characters to complete the mission. Having three characters to play as is what really separates Band of Thieves from its forerunner, as each character brings something different to the table. Bentley, the brains behind the outfit, can shoot sleep darts at foes, use grenades, and whack enemies with his crossbow. Murray, the brawn of the crew, is a bit slower than the other characters, but he is unmatched in strength. As for Sly, he remains much the same. The raccoon can still jump, sneak around, pick pocket enemies, run on or slide down ropes, and crawl through small spaces, among other thins. Sly was always my favorite character to play as, just because he could travel through the levels in many different ways. Bentley and Murray are pretty much stuck on the ground floor. They canít jump from rock to rock, crawl on ropes, or any of the cool things Sly can do. Even so, they are a welcome addition to the game and add a good deal of variety.
As you progress through the episodes you will collect some money, either by pick pocketing it from guards or smashing objects (which drop coins once they are destroyed). The coins are used to buy new moves for one of the trio members. Each episode comes with three new moves (one for each character), so as you progress through the game your arsenal of tricks will grow increasingly larger. As for the abilities themselves, there are wacky ones (like Bentleyís ability to shrink enemies), there are stealthy ones (such as Slyís ability to make smoke shoot out from his cane in order to escape), and there are ultra-powerful ones (which is basically anything in Murrayís line-up of moves). In this area Bentley shines. He can fly with his hover pack, shrink enemies, put enemies to sleep with bombs, and do many more cool things like that.
A good deal of these moves, especially Murrayís, are meant for combat. Obviously, this means youíll have to eventually have to give up sneaking and start hitting. Fighting is the low-point of the game, to be honest, but it really isnít even that bad. You have two attack buttons (or, in Bentleyís case, an attack button and a bomb button) of which you can use on your enemies. The problem I had was that you couldnít really string together attacks to form cool combos. Sly and Murray are two characters that could, potentially, have some wicked combos. Instead, they are reduced to hacking and slashing. Fights basically consist of you hitting a guard, backing up a bit before they counter, and then repeating the process until said guard is dead. As you might have guessed, the A.I. isnít the best. Though, it isnít the worst either, as guards will relentlessly hunt you until you are really, really out of site for a certain period of time. The boss fights do play out differently, though, especially once your character has three or four different moves to use. Their A.I. still isnít that great, however.
You canít just start up the episode and immediately take on the boss, as that would be far too easy for our hero. In true spy fashion, at the start of the mission Sly is usually tasked with doing reconnaissance in the form of taking pictures of certain objects. Once that is complete, each character gets their separate task. After enough work before the job is done (this is usually around seven missions) itís time for the actual heist, which is basically a couple of little missions in one. The nice thing is that there are dozens of different missions youíll play in the game, rather than having to do the same thing repeatedly. There are tank driving levels, pick pocketing levels, follow the target levels, and even a dancing level. No joke, you will have to match the buttons and make Sly dance. The variety in missions is seriously amazing, and is one of the best things about the game.
As Iíve already mentioned, the game is pretty cartoon-ish. From the Saturday morning cartoon feel to the fact there are actually episodes, the whole thing makes it seem like the game belongs on the Fox Box (donít ask me how I know about the Fox Box). What makes it feel even more like a cartoon are the cel-shaded graphics, which are simply beautiful. The original game, despite being average, had pretty darn good graphics. Band of Thieves looks much the same, but with a little improvement hear and there. Animation is slick, characters look great, and environments are beautiful. Whenever there is a new episode with a different villain (Sometimes the Klaww big shots last for two episodes) there are new minions to kill. This is nice, because you wonít be forced to fight the same enemies over and over again, like you would have to in other games. But Sly 2: Band of Thieves is not like all the other games, and it truly shows how good cel-shaded games can look.
The audio is yet another area where the game shines, as the game has good music and even better voice acting. The music score is nice, especially since it interacts with what your character is doing. As you sneak up on enemies, youíll get little string plucks that coincide with every step you take. While you sneak about the music is calm and quiet, but when you get into fisticuffs with an opponent the music will become intense and much louder. The voice actors who voiced the trio in the original reprise their roles in Band of Thieves, and do such a great job at it. Bentley, for one, makes me laugh just by talking (his voice is wacky). It does help that there is great dialogue in the game, like the line ďThe Murray approvesĒ, but the real credit goes to the actors who captured their characters skillfully.
So, the story is good, the gameplay is good, the audio is good, and the graphics are good. So, is there any place where the game doesnít shine? Well, if there is one weak-point in the game, I would have to say that there isnít much reason to come back to it once you beat it. You can play in the levels after beating the missions but there isnít much to do but collect the hidden bottles that lay across the levels (after collecting 30 of which you can unlock a hidden safe that holds a special move for Sly). This isnít so much of a problem, though, because the single player mission will last you quite a bit.
If this review didnít hint at it, there isnít much wrong with the game. Combat is a bit lackluster, Murray isnít as useful as his two compatriots, and Slyís addiction for naughty magazines has just gotten out of hand in this game. Ok, I might be making the last part up, but only because there isnít enough wrong with the game to cause a real problem. If youíre looking for an entertaining game, look no farther. If youíre looking for a funny game, look no farther. If youíre looking for an all around phenomenal game, look no farther. Sly 2: Band of Thieves went way beyond my expectations. It was so fun, so well-made, and so good to look at that it needs to be in your library if youíre a platforming lover. Even if you arenít, you should at least give it a try. Sly has truly stolen my heart.
Community review by zork (July 08, 2005)
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