Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sly 2: Band of Thieves (PS3) Review

Reviewed back in the beginning of this year, we've been meticulously going through The Sly Collection, playing each game in the trilogy, and reviewing them one by one. This time we're checking out Sly 2: Band of Thieves. Is it better or worse than its predecessor?

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends.

Sucker Punch was a relatively unknown entity when they came out with the original Sly Cooper for the PlayStation 2. They quickly gained fame for the game's ingenious level design, fluid controls, and fun gameplay. Now it's a handful of years later, and the Sly Cooper gang is back with Bentley the brains and Murray the brawn as playable characters. Is this heist worth pulling off?

At the conclusion of Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, Sly Cooper took on Clockwerk, the thorn in the Cooper family's side that took out both of Sly's parents, making Sly an orphan. Defeating the iron beast, Clockwerk fell apart, left to burn in the oozing lava of the volcano. Fast-forward to present day where a new group of criminals, the Klaww Gang each has collected a piece of Clockwerk. If the gang were to reassemble the mighty monstrosity, who knows if it'd be game over for Sly and his friends-- moreover-- the world. It's up to Sly and the gang to formulate heists across eight chapters to steal back the Clockwerk parts and destroy them before they can wreak havoc on the world. Each chapter begins with a comic-book-esque CG sequence detailing the background of the current member of the Klaww Gang and Clockwerk part Sly and the gang are going after. The animation is superb throughout each of these aforementioned sequences. The voice work, too, is top notch, and works well to blend in and never sound forced.

Paris' nightlife is about to get a tad more wild with Sly in town.

Each chapter begins with Sly, Bentley, and Murray setting up a safehouse in the hub world. Each chapter has a large hub to explore, but instead of entering levels like the previous Sly Cooper game, you're entering missions. This time around both Bentley the turtle and "The Murray" the hippopotamus are playable characters with their own set of missions. Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself as I naturally tend to do. The beginning of every chapter starts out with Sly needing to take reconnaissance photos for Bentley to formulate a plan of attack to pull off a daring heist. The missions that follow slowly build up in difficulty and excitement as you steadily progress closer and closer to pulling off the heist. For example, the first chapter has you stealing Clockwerk parts from a nightclub owner who is using them as plates to forge a virtually endless supply of money. By having Sly pickpocket keys from surrounding guards to access a truck, having Bentley and Murray shoot a grappling hook from the truck to the marquis of the nightclub which causes the sign to tumble into the fountain below, opening up a secret passage, you'll have access to the Clockwerk parts. But not before a boss battle, of course.

Boss battles are much simpler than in the Thievius Raccoonus. In this game you essentially strike your opponent three times, move away from the boss' attacks, and then go back in. Rinse and repeat. Some battles are much more intuitive. A later battle has you controlling Bentley who shouts commands at a computer-operating Sly. Each of the face buttons save for X is used to spring a trap to hit the boss with. There's logs that smash into place, flames that rise up, and sawblades that whir at a moment's notice.

The gang's all here.

Like its predecessor, in Band of Thieves stealth is key. Guards show where they can see you by pointing their flashlights around. They usually follow set paths, so it's easy enough to tiptoe around them, pickpocket them for coins or keys, or take them out stealthily from behind. Spotlights work the same way, except if you get caught, you're liable to get shot in the third degree. Indoors there's floor and ceiling lasers that will burn Sly, Bentley, or Murray to a crisp if they cross paths with them. Being a thief virtuoso isn't as easy as it sounds, and these traps will put even the most masterful thief in their place if they don't watch out.

Get caught by a spotlight, and the whole area will be after you.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves is a much more sandbox-styled game than the Thievius Raccoonus. Each hub is hiding thirty clue bottles (in the previous game it was levels that hid the clue bottles). By collecting all thirty and finding the chapter's vault, Bentley will decrypt the three digit passcode to open the vault and earn Sly a new move. Speaking of moves, there's a myriad of them to learn. You can find them in vaults, but most of the time you'll be spending coins on Thiefnet, the in-game store accessed via the safehouse on Bentley's laptop. There's moves for all three characters to learn such as Sly's paraglide move that allows him to glide down from tall heights that would make otherwise unreachable jumps all the more unreachable. There's also the Alarm Clock that detours the awareness of local guards for Sly to slip on by unrecognized. If you're lacking the correct amount of coinage, you can always steal priceless artifacts and treasures hidden throughout the hubs. Some are booby-trapped, meaning Sly, Bentley, or Murray must get them to the safehouse before they explode.

There's a wide variety of missions in Sly 2, and you'll seldom be playing the same mission twice. One you'll be trailing someone as they lead you to a hidden hideout. Just don't get seen by them, or you'll fail the mission. Another will have you gliding in the air, using balloons in the sky to get extra air as you attempt to land on the caboose of one of three locomotives. You then fight your way to the engine room, slipping past guards, spotlights, and laser grids both on the floor and sprawling on the ceiling. When you're not stealthily speeding through a mission as Sly, you're smashing up stuff like the Hulk as Murray. Each of our three heroes plays differently. For example, Bentley is weak, so he relies on shooting sleeping darts to put foes at bay. Then he can run up to them, drop a bomb, and blow them up to smithereens. Murray is a close-encounter brawler. His fists do the talking... and the thinking now that I ponder this. Case in point, "The Murray" isn't the brightest of characters, but he gets the job done when called upon.

What he misses out in brawn, he makes up for in sheer brains.

Controlling Sly and the gang is a snap. One analog stick moves the gang along while the other controls the camera. The circle button is a godsend for Sly as he uses it to climb up poles, sneak along electrical wires, use them for spire jumps, and swing along hooks with his cane with the magically all-in-one button. You can map acquired moves and items to the L1, L2, and R2 triggers while the R1 trigger is used for running and escaping from particularly heated situations. There's but one attack button to speak of for Sly and Murray, and that's the square button. Meanwhile, by pressing in the L3 stick, you can get a grasp of your surroundings, and discover where missions and objectives are located. Alternately, clicking in the right stick brings up first-person mode where you can zoom in and out on the stage.

Sly 2 looks glorious in its new high-definition glory. The game also supports 3D as do all the games of the Sly Collection trilogy. The cel-shaded visuals have been upgraded to look as great as ever. Even in standard-definition, they're not too bad. There are some problems with pop-up and draw distance issues, but those are forgivable considering how old this game is. The music is a step up from the original Sly Cooper with some memorable tunes that will have you humming along if you're into doing that sort of thing. Overall, the presentation package of Sly 2 is quite amazing for a game originally released in 2004.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves focuses heavily on missions. While I prefer the level-based structure of the Thievius Raccoonus, that still doesn't make Sly 2 a bad game. With an updated and more forgiving health system, more creative level design, a fifteen-plus hour story, and a variety of various gameplay styles, Sly 2: Band of Thieves is one game that's a steal.

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.0/10]


coffeewithgames said...

I haven't played any of the Sly games, but I may have to add this collection to my list.

I enjoy sandbox-style games, especially the exploration aspect of just roaming around, but accomplishing missions/tasks.

Sony really seems to be releasing some great "ported" games, especially when compared to Nintendo's NPC line of games.

Michael Janssen-Gibson said...

I never got around to playing this series on the ps2, despite owning all three games, but have rectified this with the ps3 ports.
I too preferred the first game over the second, even though it is easy to highlight the number of improvements in number two, particularly in tying the storyline to the gameplay.
Excellent game nonetheless, love the fluid running, jumping and climbing controls