Sly 2: Band of Thieves
If I could sum up Sly 2: Band of Thieves in one word, I would be a much better writer than I actually am. I would also need some sort of vocabulary to speak of, which is pretty ... not ... gonna ... happen-y. But I wouldn't do that anyway, because that would be cheap. What would be the point of reviews if we could sum up an entire game in one word? Wouldn't that just be the title of the game? Then we could just look on the box, Ã‚"Oh look, here's Good Shooter, I think I'll pick that up instead of Corporate Masturbation 2005.Ã‚"
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Or beside. To the point, Sly 2: Band of Thieves is an excellent game. It's one of the few times I can touch my PS2 controller and not feel like someone is about to Ã‚"bust up in my crib and lay it out, dawgÃ‚". Yes, I'm aware of how horrible what I just said was and I promise never to say it again. The original, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, is one of my favorite PS2 games. The gameplay was fresh and the sense of style and general atmosphere of the game couldn't be beat. And in Sly 2, almost everything has improved.
Sly 2 is a stealth-platformer game, to put it a bit generically. In the game you control Sly Cooper, the resident master thief, crawling on rooftops and sneaking around in the shadows avoiding traps, guards and the occasional policewoman to pull of heist after heist. Sly 2 puts a new twist on things by letting you control Sly's buddies, Bentley and Ã‚"the MurrayÃ‚". Each character adds their own unique play style to the mix to create some refreshingly varied gameplay.
The game revolves around missions, you pick your character and find the nearest mission to begin. When you get there, you'll get a short cutscene that explains what you're to do and then you're off to do it. The mission briefings in this game are usually pretty short and very good at explaining the sometimes complex missions, and they can always be skipped if that's not your thing. Missions can involve only one character, or have you switch back and forth between several characters to complete the mission.
Each member of the gang is distinct in gameplay and personality, and the two usually complement each other well. Bentley for instance is a bit shy and isn't used to Ã‚"field workÃ‚". He is also known as Ã‚"the BrainsÃ‚", and while that may leave you thinking his missions involve 30 colored lasers, a prism and a jelly donut you're only half right. Bentley has two extremes to his play style, either puzzle solving, or remote controlled explosive mayhem. The puzzles are neither obscure or ridiculously difficult, in fact it's to the game's credit that I never got stuck or needed a cheat guide, since I needed a cheat guide to get through Painkiller. Most of the puzzles struck that perfect balance between "challenging" and "tie the rope to the cat then use the chewing gum to paste arms on Michelangelo's David to get the key from Mr. Winters". And the remote controlled action is great, anything from bombing runs in an RC chopper, to top down scrolling shooters, to Defender style hacking games. Really some of Bentley's missions are mini-games in and of themselves.
Ã‚"The MurrayÃ‚", who usually refers to himself in the 3rd person, is the muscle of the group. His missions aren't exactly the highlight of the game, but they're usually pretty fun and a nice change of pace. His main type of mission involves beating the crap out of enemies, and it's a great break from all the sneaking and subterfuge of the main game. The combat system is varied enough to keep it interesting in the rare instance you'll use it, and plowing into 10 guards and setting them on fire can be a blast. Another type of mission for Murray is breaking, throwing or generally demolishing inanimate objects. These are rather fun too, when they don't involve my only gripe about the gameplay, the button mashing Ã‚"lifting heavy objectsÃ‚" parts. There's only two or three in the whole game, which is good because I'd end up being known as the Ã‚"DualShock ProctologistÃ‚" by the police if I had to do that too many more times.
You still spend a large part of the game as Sly, sneaking behind guards and avoiding traps to steal various objects from your enemy's stronghold. This is pretty similar to the first game, but I don't want to gloss over them if you're not familiar with it, it's the meat and potatoes of the game. You'll have missions where you impersonate a statue to sneak past guards, hide in an explosive barrel to fool the spotlights, or steal keys from guards back pockets. Sly's quests are as varied as they are numerous, and for those keeping score at home that's pretty damn varied. The only real common thread is that they all involve sneaking, and they're all pretty fun.
Sly's second type of quest is one of the great subtle additions to the stealth game, taking pictures. When you first start a chapter (I'll get to that too), your first mission is usually taking Sly around the base photographing the eventual target of your missions. It's a great way to learn the level and introduce the story at the same time, and it's still challenging enough to be fun.
Speaking of chapters, the story is divided into 9 chapters. Each chapter is a series of missions building up to one grand heist. You'll weaken the bolts holding the nightclub's giant sign, empty the water from the fountain, and then pull of a major heist using these and other results from previous missions. Not only does it keep the missions interesting, it allows them to tell a story that actually includes the gameplay instead of treating it like a distraction. The game you play is as much a part of the story as the cutscenes, and that alone makes it worth the price of admission.
Well, most of the time the missions make sense, there are the occasional filler missions or non-sensical setups. Such as a mission where you have to find a native beetle that needs to be in water every few seconds and place it in the main bad guy's office. Why? Because Bentley can read the sound waves reflecting off the beetle's wing flaps, since it flaps at just the right frequency. Even though in the previous chapter, you placed a real electronic bug, in this chapter you use a temperamental water beetle. Thanks Bentley. Though these are much fewer and farther between than the average key-hunt-driven game.
The story revolves around the Clockwerk parts from the first game. If you've never played the first game, Clockwerk was a mechanical monster that hated the Cooper family and sought to kill all of them. Sly is the last of the line, and I hate to spoil it for you folks but at the end of the first game, Sly wins. However the Clockwerk parts aren't safe, and now someone has set out to steal them all and rebuild Clockwerk. Sly and the gang set out to steal them back and the game is afoot.
The story in this game is told through the missions, either short cutscenes scattered throughout each mission or animated cutscenes in between chapters. It's a pretty decent story, for a story about a talking raccoon being chased by a fox with a gun, and the voice actors pull it off very well. It's a story that it's easy to see sitting down with your kids and enjoying, but good enough that you can enjoy it without them as well. And the ending does not cop out, it truly doesn't disappoint. I don't want to spoil anything, but I'll say the ending leaves you feeling you've just played a game with emotionally interesting characters, not just a bunch of cardboard targets and chew toys. It's not one of the world's great novels, but it is very satisfying.
One of the great things about this game is it's sense of style, the art and sound direction is fantastic. It feels like you're playing in a cartoon. When you sneak around inside a barrel, you get the tiptoe music so familiar to Looney Toons fans. When you fall off the edge, Sly will look at the camera and wave bye and hold his hat to his chest as he sinks below the water. Bentley runs like a turtle should, hobbling and unstable, just plain dorky. The cutscenes feel like they're out of a heist movie, and the main voice actors do a great job of giving the characters life. The voice actors for the secondary players do a fairly good job as well, with the notable exception of Constable Neyla. Nelya wasn't bad, just compared to the rest of the cast she felt a little flat. The game doesn't break the illusion of the game world for a minute, it keeps the unique atmosphere going all the way to the end.
Technically it's a solid title, the slowdowns that plagued the first title have been eliminated. It looks a little better than the first game, within the constraints of the PS2. It's really one of the better looking PS2 games I've played, and I never noticed a single technical hiccup the entire time, though I have heard of one possible bug that could mess you up if you save at an inopportune moment, though it's not a showstopper.
The save system is surprisingly sensible for a console, you can save at any time. You also get autosaves whenever completing an objective, so when you lose during a mission you start at the last thing you accomplished. It's handy and it works, I wish more console developers would try this. There are some extra goodies for people who beat the game, the E3 character intro movie, a TV commercial and a great 10 minute Ã‚"Behind the ScenesÃ‚" video which is pretty interesting stuff. Plus, you can't help but laugh when you see the voice actor for Bentley, the guy looks just like the character he plays. To access the extra stuff, go to the chapter menu and wait until you see a police badge with the X button beside it, then press the X button. It only works on certain chapters, and only after you've completed them.
All in all Sly 2: Band of Thieves is a great game. It's a rarity, it's consistently good from beginning to end. That's not to say it's perfect, there was the occasional mission where I had a raised eyebrow moment during the briefing, but it's a pretty damn solid game otherwise. The missions aren't repetitive and they're not too difficult to get frustrating. In fact, some of the missions could've lasted longer and been full blown mini games, they're just that fun. The story and art are top notch, and really bring the game from good to great, tying it all together. And really in the end that's what impresses me about Sly 2 so much, it all fits together so well. It's a complete package, a good solid game that's varied and interesting, with a good story and some nice looking visuals. It's not mindblowing, but it's definitely pushing classic territory. One of the best platformers I've played in a very long time. And for $40, it's definitely worth the money. If you want something to play with your kids, or just enjoy a good platformer, pick up Sly 2. You won't be disappointed. Unless you are, then please don't sue. That wasn't a real guarantee.