Retro-spective: How Sly Raccoon Stole My Heart.

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With the upcoming (and sadly, for me, unaffordable) release of the fourth instalment in the Sly Cooper franchise, Thieves In Time, I found myself recently returning to play the title where the story started for Sly, his friends, and their wonderful anthropomorphic world. What I have found (in the HD Sly Trilogy that is), is an incredible game that has lost none of the charm, or enjoyability that it had the very first time I played it.

When I first played Sly Raccoon (known as Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus in the US) back in my Playstation 2 days, I wasn’t expecting very much from it. It looked like a cartoon-inspired kids game with no depth, or challenge, and I thought that I wouldn’t enjoy it in the slightest. But, being the sort of gamer who will at least try a game once, I gave it a go, and I was very far from disappointed.

The basic premise of the game is that you play as the young raccoon thief Sly Cooper, who is from a long line of master thieves that have all placed their knowledge and skills into a book called the ‘Thievius Raccoonus’. His parents are killed (not shown, but assumed from the events that follow) by a criminal organisation called the ‘Fiendish Five’, who then split the book between themselves and go their separate ways. This results in Sly being sent to an orphanage in which he meets his friends, and partners in crime, Bentley (a turtle) and Murray (a hippo). They obviously grow up, and after a stint as a gang of thieves, begin the planning for confronting the ‘Fiendish Five’ and retrieving the pages of the hallowed book, whilst avoiding an Interpol Agent called Carmelita Fox who is determined to incarcerate Sly Cooper for his many crimes.

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One of your many run-ins with Carmelita.

Sly Raccoon plays out as a very clever mix of both 3D platforming and stealth in a semi-sandbox environment. What I mean by semi-sandbox is that each member of the ‘Fiendish Five’ have their own individual area that you can explore at your own pace, each of which contain secrets, locked routes and multiple entrances to different levels in that area. Each level is a fairly linear affair and contains a key to find, and enough keys will unlock new levels, or finally the Boss fight of that area. The levels may be pretty much a straight forward journey, but almost every one of the main levels contains ‘clue jars’ and a safe. If you collect all the clues in a level, you are given the code to the safe by Bentley. The safe can contain pages of the Thievius Raccoonus, or even blueprints giving you details of where the ‘clue jars’ are in other levels, among other things.

The bigger bonus is obviously the pages of the book, especially as each new page teaches Sly one of the techniques of his ancestors giving him the ability to speed up time, or create a decoy, and many other clever manoeuvres besides. With every technique you receive, the stealth aspect of the title becomes easier. This is often a very important aspect of the game, as a lot of the time the levels will place enemies or traps in your path that you will need to trick or circumnavigate to progress, giving the player the opportunity to actually think about their routes through the levels.

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One of many, MANY ‘Clue Jars’ dotted around.

Controlling Sly is very easy, after all this game is aimed at children, and also the first level familiarises you with almost everything you need to know (obviously apart from the later techniques you learn). Sometimes, there might be the occasional jump in the 3D plain that you misjudge owing to a camera angle (literally rage-inducing), but apart from this the game is rarely made more difficult by it’s controls. What makes it more difficult is the steady increase in challenge that the game itself poses. Each area brings new challenges and traps to overcome, and each Boss fight is both frustrating at times, and incredibly gratifying when you succeed.

Obviously, the game wouldn’t be as incredible as it is if you only had one sort of level to progress through the game. That is why there are levels in which Bentley and Murray get involved with the¬†proceedings. Murray heads up a driving mini-game in which the aim is to finish the race in first place, thus earning the key from that level. Bentley has the (in my opinion, much more fun) mini-game in which you are hacking computers and security systems by driving a little tank through cyberspace shooting down firewalls and anti-virus programs. Both of these are immense fun, and also give the overall game an addition string to it’s already very impressive bow.

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One of the many pretty little set-pieces in Sly Raccoon.

There is one thing that is impossible to deny, especially in HD, and that is the sheer beauty of the game. The developers (Sucker Punch Productions, who also created the InFamous franchise) decided to give Sly Cooper an entirely comic-book aesthetic, right down to giving each of the areas it’s own name (for instance the first one is called “Sly Cooper in ‘Tide Of Terror'”). The visuals are wonderfully bright and cell-shaded, and the environments have not only clever design, but some beautiful little set-pieces thrown in. Yes, this title may be aimed at children, but it has had a lot of love put in to making it feel just right.

Which obviously means that the music and sounds need to be mentioned too, as they even cleverly tied the sounds and music into the overall feel of the title. When sneaking up on an enemy, the music will become quieter, and the sound of comical footsteps will get louder until you dispatch the enemy with the pleasingly comic-book style ‘BAM’ it makes. The music will also change dramatically if you are discovered by a guard, or an alarm panel, which doesn’t end until you either destroy the klaxon that is sounding or eliminate all enemies that are summoned by the sound.

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You would be wise not to touch any of these lasers …

Overall, the game itself still plays like a dream now, and there are still parts I find difficult despite my multiple times playing it. The entire package is very well-constructed and enjoyable from beginning to end. Also, seeing as The Sly Trilogy is very cheap on disc now, and is also available to download from the PlayStation Store, there is really no reason why anyone with a PS3 shouldn’t play this game.

Are you a fan of Sly Cooper? Do you already have the fourth instalment? Let me know what you think of Sly’s adventures at the bottom of this article, or tweet me @reubenmount.

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