E3 2011: Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time preview

It’s been nearly six years since the world last saw a new Sly Cooper game, and when we found out one of our semi-secret closed-door E3 sessions with Sony would give us our first real look at the game, we were thrilled. When the demo finally began, however, there was an elephant in the room – and it was one that Glen Egan, president of developer Sanzaru Games, was quick to address.

“I know what you’re all thinking,” said Egan as he stepped out in front of the audience. “Who the hell are you, and where’s Sucker Punch?”

As it turns out, Sanzaru – an outfit whose previous work includes Wii minigame collection Ninja Reflex, 2009’s Secret Agent Clank and the Sly Collection – is made up of some pretty big Sly Cooper fans. And as Egan tells it, they were getting just as impatient as the rest of us to play a new Sly game, and decided to make one themselves. After pitching Sony on a prototype, Sanzaru’s efforts were rewarded with a chance to work on porting the Sly Collection – and, after proving itself capable of handling the ring-tailed thief and his associates, the company was given the chance to take over for original developer Sucker Punch and create a new adventure.

Picking up some time after the conclusion of Sly 3, Thieves in Time begins with Sly in semi-retirement, still faking amnesia to be with his Interpol love interest, Inspector Carmelita Fox. Beefy hippo Murray has gone off to pursue a career in driving monster trucks, while techies Bentley and Penelope have settled down and started work on a time machine. Then one day, Bentley – who’s been entrusted with the Thievius Raccoonus, Sly’s family tome of thieving secrets – notices that pages are disappearing from the book before his eyes. Clearly, it’s the perfect excuse to pull the gang back together.

The actual demo didn’t shed much more light on the story (although we did learn that the original voice cast will return, which is great), but it did show us a decent cross-section of gameplay, opening with Sly (now with a giant chin, for some reason) and Murray creeping through a decrepit-looking hideout. Clumsy as ever, Murray inadvertently slipped on a bottle, opened a secret door and immediately fell through it, which plunged both him and Sly into an underground cavern.

Once there, the player’s perspective switched to Murray, who had to plunge ahead and raise a bridge across a body of water. One thing Sanzaru wanted to bring across, Egan said, was Murray’s massive strength – and so the “bridge” turned out to be a massive shipwreck, which Murray heaved out ofthe waterusing onlya crank winch and his own raw manliness.

Trotting across it, he quickly found his progress blocked by several columns of whirling blades. The perspective then switched back to Sly – and the gameplay switched to a style of stealth-platforming that will be instantly familiar to Sly fans. As he crept along a narrow pathway, Sly was confronted by an apelike guard sitting up ahead, watching the path in front of him with a flashlight. To get around him, Sly clambered up a rope to some rickety scaffolding, sidled across it, and dropped down on the other side of the guard’s flashlight beam, causing a door to slide open as he did so.

As it turned out, however, not even Sly was fast enough to reach the door before it shut – and here’s where one of Thieves in Time’s new gameplay elements comes in. Sly can now disguise himself in assorted costumes, and while that in itself isn’t anything new, those costumes now impart special abilities while he’s wearing them. In this case, Sly donned a gypsy outfit that slowed time, giving him the window he needed to hit the door’s switch, drop down and head through it before it slammed shut.

That brought us to the second part of the demo: a boss battle against a Nolan North-voiced tiger named El Jefe. A pompous, ninja-like dictator with a thick, indeterminate accent and fiery superpowers, El Jefe is egomaniacal enough to have built a massive, thousand-foot-tall statue of himself, which Sly chased him up to the top of during the demo.

Equal parts pursuit and battle, the boss fight was a lengthy affair that saw the seemingly invulnerable Jefe pound Sly with rings of fire and a pair ofelectrically charged, hard-to-dodge swords – but, of course, he had a weakness. This came in the form of a new costume for Sly, a fireproof suit of samurai-looking armor with a shield capable of deflecting fireballs. After waiting for Jefe to hurl said fireballs – an attack telegraphed by the villain scraping his swords against the ground–Sly bounced them back at the tiger, which stunned him long enough for Sly to run up and get a few good licks in with his cane. After a few rounds of this, Jefe eventually gave up andfled the scene.

It’s hard to make any judgments after such a brief look at the game, but it seems pretty likely at this point that Sanzaru knows what it’s doing, and has the chops to do the Sly franchise justice. It’s also heartening to learn that the studio’s been working closely with Sucker Punch on the story and creative aspects, meaning its creators still have a say on what goes into the new game. In any case, Thieves in Time isn’t due until sometime in 2012, so it’ll be a while before we find out for sure.

Jun 10, 2011

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