Review: The Sly Collection (PS3)

Title: The Sly Collection
Format: BluRay Disc
Release Date: November 16, 2010
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA)
Developer: Sucker Punch
Price: $39.99
Extras: PlayStation Move Compatible, 3D Compatible

This year we have saved our son from drowning in rainwater, eviscerated greek gods, roamed a post-apocalyptic desert, and been brutally interrogated for information on numbers stations. But what if I just want to have some light hearted fun? What if I don’t want my survival to rely on a quick trigger finger or have every decision have the weight of the world rested upon it?

Well Sony and Sucker Punch have the answer for you, The Sly Collection. Upgrading and packaging three of the greatest platformers of the PS2-era into one box, the PlayStation faithful have a title that provides a cartoony palate cleanser after a year of dark and heavy games, akin to waking up to Saturday morning cartoons after a Friday night spent watching The Godfather.

Poor Sly Cooper, in the PS2-era Sly and his gang were often given third billing behind two other dynamic duos, Jak and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank. However, Sly, Bentley, and the Murray have stayed closer to their platformer roots than these other franchises, never slowly sliding into becoming an action game, a la Ratchet and Clank, or following Jak and Daxter by changing gears into becoming open world or mascot racing game headliners.

While these alternate directions have proved both critically and commercially successful for their respective franchises Sly and the boys took a distinct, and potentially more difficult, path by iterating and improving a successful formula based on a simple notion, stealing stuff is fun.

Picture Heat, Ocean’s Eleven, or the opening of The Dark Knight except instead of cool, calm and collected professional criminals your gang is a raccoon, turtle, and purple hippopotamus. That is the essence of the Sly Cooper games, work through a number of smaller tasks to set up and ultimately execute a single big heist.

Some of this groundwork starts off as seemingly mundane, but engaging, tasks like taking out security cameras or perimeter defenses. These different missions eventually build to some truly screwball scenarios. Ever used an aboriginal koala bear to Jedi-mind trick a giant wolf into eating security guards around an airport so you can win a dogfighting competition? Stick with Sly and you will.

This variation in mission design mirrors the overall evolution of the series in each subsequent sequel. While the original Sly places you in a hub world with various doors leading to individual levels both sequels have a persistent overworld that you would complete missions in, occasionally ducking into buildings or caverns to complete specific tasks.

Also, while Sly was front and center in his first outing, Bentley and Murray, his sidekicks/support staff, joined in on the action in Sly 2 as playable characters with distinct skills, like Bentley’s hacking ability or the brute strength of Murray, far different from the nimble Sly. Sly 3 expanded this roster even further by bringing in more characters into the thieving fold. Both new friends and old foes become playable and work alongside Sly and his crew providing new powers and objectives to the player.

With such variety amongst the playable characters you might expect an overly complex control scheme. Luckily Sucker Punch chose to keep a simple, universal control scheme throughout the series. Need to pull off some incredible move that is specific to your character, just hit circle. Whether

Sly is hopping from steeple to steeple above a town, sliding down a rail, or quickly climbing a rain gutter all of these can be executed with the same button input. Such contextual controls keep the action flowing and the player focused on the next objective, not the finger origami it takes to pull off the next amazing move.

A pantheon of likable characters and solid, simple controls would be nothing without an interesting story to interact with and the Sly series delivers. While you are not playing through War and Peace you are taking part in a narrative that is reminiscent of quality animation, fun for kids but can engage adults as well.

Also, each of the three games leads logically into the next. For example, the first chapter of Sly 3 has you deal with the departure of one of your gang members, a direct result of the climax of Sly 2. The easy to follow and often referenced story keeps players invested much more so than the PS2 Ratchet and Clank games, where each title felt like an individual adventure lacking a common story strand to unite them.

Sly and his gang look as good as ever. The art design for the titles on PS2 was simply incredible and while many of its contemporaries tried a cell-shaded art style Sly truly stood apart. The character designs used classic animation techniques, like making each major character be identifiable in silhouette, to craft interesting looking characters and settings that form a cohesive world.

Having all three titles at your fingertips in this collection also highlights that with each sequel the environments increase their complexity and overall beauty. Each new area you visit makes you feel as if the visual design is continually stretching to encompass brilliant new vistas. If you want sun soaked western towns, a damp, dank Venice, or snow capped Himalayan peaks they all can be found as backgrounds against which Sly and crew will go a thievin’.

Many forget that Sly was a rare PlayStation 2 game that utilized 3D. At the time it was via the iconic red and blue glasses, but now in the modern era all three Sly titles have been given a modern 3D update. Since I lack a 3D capable TV I asked PS Nation’s own Rey Barrera to weigh in on The Sly Collection in 3D. Here is what he had to say:

“The 3D is very good, but it’s not going to convince anyone to buy a 3D TV, the way that Motorstorm, Killzone 3, and Gran Turismo might. While you can definitely perceive depth, and the background does stretch into your television, it’s not as strong an effect as it was with Motorstorm. And since the game was made years ago, before the advent of 3D gaming, splitting up the images and then combining them for 3D (with a game that takes place 100% at night) means that the image is darker than it would be if you were playing it in 2D. I still find myself playing it in 3D, because it works, and it does envelop you in the game, it’s not going to be the showpiece for your fancy new 3D TV.”

I really want to go grab a beer with Sly, Bentley, and Murray. That should really tell you all you need to know about how well Sucker Punch brought these characters to life. Voice acting in the series has remained strong and every character comes across as having their own personality.

This is especially striking as each could have easily slid into stereotypes that would progress the story well enough, but not have you genuinely care for these characters. Between smooth Sly, brainy Bentley, and manly Murray it’s hard to pick a favorite, so don’t and make sure you enjoy them all.

Anyone who fondly remembers the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons can tell you how important sound effects are for comedy and establishing setting. Apparently Sucker Punch took these lessons to heart as they have effectively used a large bag of sound effect tricks to make sure you can tell exactly where you are. Even if you played with your eyes closed you could tell immediately based on the background music, guard commentary, and distinct sound effects which level you are in.

The oddest thing about The Sly Collection is that it doesn’t feel like a collection of retro games originally released on a platform that is now a decade old. Combining a compelling premise, engaging characters, varied gameplay, and a fun story Sucker Punch has created a series that feels as fresh today as it did when these discs were spinning in your old PS2.

Now slap a current gen coat of HD polish on such a wonderful series and  you have a must buy package, for fans of the series and newcomers alike. You’ve done enough heavy thinking and multiplayer sniping this year, now just sit back and have fun with your old buddy Sly.


Written by Justin Spielmann

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook