Damsels in distress. Pirates. Classic airplane dogfights. Tense computer hackings. Curvaceous law enforcers. Did I mention pirates? These things all have a point of congruity: each is an element in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves. It's the latest "platformer" to arrive from Sucker Punch, featuring the rakish Sly Cooper and his burgeoning gang of good-hearted ne'er-do-wells. I was concerned that Sucker Punch would not keep up their winning streak with this third entry in the underappreciated triptych. My worries proved unfounded, as Sly 3 keeps what I liked about its predecessors while varying the formula enough to keep things fresh.
The story of Sly 3 begins at the end. The initial setup occurs on a remote island whose gloomy atmosphere is worthy of Scooby-Doo's spooky best, and it presents quite a cliffhanger before backtracking in time to begin the game proper. A brief tutorial mission gives a flavor of what's to come through the rest of the game. This mission is a good hook to introduce the new player to Sly's world, whereas it felt like revisiting a friend to me.
Sly has evolved from his platforming roots. There are still plenty of props to smash which bestow the destruction-minded gamer with coins to collect, but it hardly seems worthwhile when careful pickpocketing is more viable. The various thief moves make a return (including my favorite, Paraglider) and navigating the levels as Sly is as joyous as ever. ThiefNet, the online store where I could use my coins to purchase special moves, also makes a return. The formerly omnipresent clue bottles have not.
The gang also presents a departure from the expected. Bentley is back, but isn't the physically weak turtle I know and love. When he was injured at the end of Sly 2, Bentley's ingenuity allowed him to compensate by building a wheelchair-from-hell, and now he's more capable in the field. Murray, the master of destruction, was apparently so upset about Bentley's situation that he renounced violence and ran off to Australia, to study with a guru. He has one interesting "Dreamtime" move that sees some use, but otherwise Murray gets back to basics, i.e. fists and juggles.
All of these moves allow Sly (and gang) a variety of ways to handle a level. There are movement abilities earned later in the game to help get around faster, as well as more attack variations than the previous games. It was fun to earn new ways to beat up bad guys, but I didn't consistently use more than a couple of powered up attacks. Unlocking moves was still fun just to try them out though, and provided extra incentive to pickpocket enough money to buy them.
This game seems more forgiving than its predecessors. The more the player dies, the more the game adjusts to compensate, without being overly obvious. For example, bosses will take more damage from a single attack. This was a nice feature, particularly against General Tsao—a nasally-voiced chicken (nice joke!) who was both grating and extremely difficult for me to beat. A variety of activities keep the gamer entertained, including gondola shooting races, classic dogfighting in the skies, and incredibly fun ship-to-ship battles. The humorous pirate insult contest — one of many conversation trees in the game—stands out as particularly unusual for a console game. The segments I didn't enjoy were those involving the remote control car, which was too "floaty" for my liking.
Speaking of unusual techniques, Sly 3 utilizes 3D technology in various scenes. This is meant to enhance certain levels by allowing the player to don classic red-blue glasses (a la old sci-fi movies) and view the game in true three dimensions. Theoretically this feature is meant to allow better navigation due to the extra visual information presented. I found it a hassle in practice; the glasses were too small to fit well, the 3D effect was too subtle, and it strained my eyes a little bit. After a couple of tries I gave up on the 3D, and it didn't hinder my experience.
The experiment with 3D may not have been successful, but Sly 3 still manages to stand out by relying on the charm that the series has always displayed. A lot of this charm stems from the characterization. I really liked the ongoing tangents and backstories that give the game a third dimension. Sly and his love interest/opponent Carmelita? A girlfriend for Bentley? Murray's love for the long-lost van? It's all in there, and not just for the core Cooper Gang, because as the story progressed, I found myself recruiting new personalities to help with the ultimate heist—including some previous villains!
The developers obviously care greatly about the source material, and it shows in everything from the spot-on controls to the excellent voice acting. I'm glad to see that the core game has evolved without a complete overhaul, which could have alienated faithful fans like me. I do wonder where the franchise will take me next, because Sly 3 wrapped up a lot of loose ends and seemed like the conclusion of a trilogy, which would be unfortunate, because I really like what Sucker Punch has created with Sly Cooper, and this game is a worthy continuation of his legacy.