Sly 2: Band of Thieves HD

Sly 2.png

Sly 2: Band of Thieves HD
Playstation 3 (reviewed), Playstation Vita
The reviewer purchased this game himself.

Tell you what: the playstation 3 almost seems tailor-made for this site. The Sly Trilogy, Mass Effect Trilogy, Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection. This console makes running this site a lot cheaper. We already made a start with that first collection last time when we reviewed Sly Cooper and the Thievius Racoonus, so next up is its sequel Sly 2: Band of Thieves.

Collecting the final boss

Last we left, the Cooper Gang had just defeated its arch-nemesis, the immortal, mechanical owl Clockwerk. Following that, Clockwerk’s various parts were divided into pieces and displayed at a museum. Fearing they might fall into the wrong hands, Sly and his friends raid the museum to secure the pieces for themselves, only to discover a group known as the Klaww Gang got there first. Following a similar setup as last time the gang must travel across the world to seek out the members of this gang, disrupt their operation, and steal the Clockwerk parts back.

Sly 2 story

Storytelling in Sly 2 has been improved compared to the original on several fronts. There is a lot more interaction with the various villains and you often meet them in multiple chapters before eventually defeating them. This gives them more presence in the story and makes for more memorable encounters than those in its predecessor where the boss was only shown in a single cutscene before the fight. The overall plot is also more interesting, mainly because it now has some sad scenes to balance out the overall joyful tone of the adventure; there are scenes in which Sly’s team is hurt or discouraged, where they need to pick themselves up after a defeat and carry on. This all leads up to an excellent finale that left me excited for the third game in the series.

Perhaps my favorite improvement is the way this sequel handles Bentley and Murray, Sly’s two lifelong friends. In the first game their dialogue was often stiff and their usefulness questionable, but in this game the gang feels more like a team. It’s great to see them coordinate a plan and have each member out on the field contributing to the mission. Murray in particular has seen major changes and is no longer just the comedic relief of the party. Instead, he dons a mask and takes on a super hero persona that uses his superior strength to help his friends. I honestly found it hilarious when he first came storming in and it makes the character as a whole feel so much more involved.

Officer Carmelita has also seen improvements in her dialogue and now has romantic competition in the form of Constable Neyla, a new girl on the police force that also shares many scenes with Sly. Again, I feel this makes the dynamic between the characters a lot better, so on all fields I see nothing but improvements.

Story score: 10/10

Open world tomfoolery

The revamped gameplay op Sly 2 has its up and downs, or rather, it has a few decent elements that are marred by several big problems. Instead of a hub world from which you enter small, linear platforming stages each chapter now has one big hub area that the missions also take place in. These missions all involve planning and eventually enacting a big heist to retrieve one of the clockwerk parts.

Sly 2 India.png

I mentioned in my review of Thievius Racoonus that the gameplay in that game made it feel more like a 3D mascot platformer with stealth elements rather than a stealth game. Band of Thieves does a much better job at making you actually feel like a thief, first and foremost because of the way the missions work now. You’ll find yourself taking recon photos, disabling enemy defenses, and stealing maps and blueprints of the area, making it really feel like you are plotting a big theft. When you finally get to a chapter finale and put your plan into motion it’s really cool to see all the pieces come together.

Sneaking also works now as guards no longer automatically detect you when you come too close to them, meaning you can avoid them by observing the patrols or sneaking past them by using furniture and other obstacles. You’ll definitely want to make use of these since enemies no longer die in one hit and the AI puts up a good fight. You can also pickpocket guards for coins, which now work as actual currency that you use to buy new moves with. This is pretty useless, however, as the moves contribute very little and you never get an introduction to them, so most I would forget about almost immediately.

Sly 2 museum.png

Every so often you also have a boss-fight and these now all work in a similar way to the Panda King from Thievius Racoonus. They have a big health bar and you beat them up with your cane. That is, unless you play as Bentley and Murray, who now actively take part in the heists. They control much differently compared to Sly and have their own missions, which introduces some much-needed variety. Especially Bentley is cool to play since he has a few fun mini-games and his moves involve a combination of tranquilizer darts and bombs.

And here comes to the bad part: the level-design is terrible, especially when playing as Bentley or Murray. The layout is confusing to say the least and oftentimes forces you to make large detours to get to your destination. Sly can usually get around pretty well with all his acrobatics, but a big guy like Murray can’t, making it very confusing to navigate with him after you’re used to taking shortcuts with Sly all the time.  This issue also contradicts the improved stealth mechanics since players will want to rush through the hub area as quickly as possible, resulting in them getting caught by the guards and wasting even more time. And we’re not talking about a few seconds here either; on average I think an hour of each chapter was wasted with these navigational problems and getting into trouble with the patrols.

And that is all after I stopped collecting the clue bottles that are needed to open up the vault in each chapter. These vaults give you new moves that in my experience were at least a little more useful than those you buy with coins. In an open world with this much verticality and scenery you’re always going to end up spending at least an hour trying to find the last bottle, made worse by the game’s obnoxiously low draw distance.

Sly 2 Rajan.png

This I would maybe accept as a quirk if maybe the developers had resolved any of the issues from the first game, yet it seems like those actually got worse. The camera gets stuck constantly and this leads to some really unfair deaths. For example: it really hates tight spaces, so that was an issue in a mission where Bentley had to carry a big object and wasn’t allowed to take any damage. That mission was a series of long, tight corridors that lead to gauntlets of traps, so I’d walk out of a corridor and then had to walk straight into the traps blind while the camera was still lagging behind. The controls are also shoddy as Sly can never seem to decide what he wants to grab unto. Even when you’re slinging from hook to hook, he’ll find a way to ignore the hook right in front of him and make a weird turn to the side to grab unto something that was completely off-screen a few meters below him.

The novelty of playing as Bentley and Murray faded, same goes for the admittedly basic stealth mechanics and you’ll find that the missions repeat a lot after a while. Having control over the game and navigating its world are core functions that you’ll struggle with throughout the entire ride. So while I praise Sucker Punch for going so far to redesign the Sly series, overall my gameplay experience was bad.

Gameplay score: 3/10

Cutting corners

In the first Sly game I remarked that the character models look awfully last-gen, but Sly 2 ramps this up even further. The cutscenes in this game are lifted straight from the Playstation 2 and it’s really easy to notice because of the low resolution. I am not even sure if this was also the case in the first game because there everything was animated, whereas here you have a few parts that are done in-engine. The models also don’t look any better and especially new girl Neyla is stuck with a bad character model that animates stiffly.

These issues only show during cutscenes because in-game everything looks fine and pretty. The various guards are well-designed and have fun animal themes, especially those found in the Canada part of the game. The environments are also themed nicely, including a cool “horror” stage set in Prague that was a joy to hop around in. The music for these stages is also more enjoyable than those in the previous game.

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Voice-acting has improved too and this is most noticeable on Inspector Carmelita who has undergone a change of actress. Hawaiian actress Alésia Glidewell now voices the character and is all-around a much better fit for the dedicated law enforcer. Some dialogue can come off as a bit unnatural, yet the performance is always strong enough to compensate for that.

Presentation score: 6/10

Bottles make me depressed

Since Sly retains his abilities from the last game, those you get in this sequel are quite useless. Still, for a 100% completion you are going to have to collect all the clue bottles in each chapter. I mentioned before how these take forever to find and since they are so optional it’s beneficial to the enjoyment of the game to just leave them. More interesting are the treasures you can now hunt of which there are only three per chapter. These can be sold for a hefty amount and make getting all the abilities a lot quicker.

If you care about getting the platinum trophy then this is no issue either. As long as you get enough money to buy most of the upgrades you’ll get most trophies as the story proceeds. You only need a pitiful amount of bottles to complete the trophy for it, so as long as you persevere through the game the platinum will come. As for replayability, the gameplay might make this a tough game to pick up again, but thanks to its excellent story it’s something I wouldn’t mind doing again. I would just strictly play the story missions and ignore all the pickpocketing, moves, bottles, vaults, and treasures to make it less tedious. That you need to ignore so much of the game to make it replayable isn’t a good sign, however.

Extras score: 5/10

Verdict

Going from Thievius Racoonus to Band of Thieves is kind of strange due to how different the two games are. In terms of presentation and story I find that Sly 2 makes huge advances and it’s increased emphasis on stealth gives the game its own identity. However, it might have been too early to start drastically revamping the series’ design and as a result of that the same problems from the first game have only gotten worse for the second when they were left untreated. If you cared enough about the Sly series to finish the first game and still want more, then you’ll likely make it through this game, but as a standalone title I can’t recommend it. Still, the improvements it did make are a good sign of things to come.

60/100

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