Sly Cooper, the thieving racoon, is now in his third adventure on the PlayStation 2. While other PlayStation 2 platforming franchises have dropped most of their platforming roots, Sly is more or less the same as he's ever been, once again offering some fairly laidback, simple, entertaining platforming. Fans and newcomers alike will find plenty to enjoy, but new additions to the gameplay aren't as successful as they could have been.
Sly 3 picks up where Sly 2 left off, but if you didn't play the second game (or any Sly game for that matter) you needn't worry. Over the opening hour or so you're introduced to the main characters from previous games and given an update on what they are doing. Sly and Bentley (the turtle) are still together as a team, but Bentley is in a wheelchair after the accident in Sly 2. Murray, the loveable hippo, blamed himself for Bentley's accident and left the gang to lead a life of meditation, but it doesn't take too long for him to return to his buddies. If you've never played a Sly game before, a series of simply training exercises help you learn all the basics.
The story this time around centres on the evil Dr. M. The evil genius has found the Cooper family's vault and is doing all he can to crack it and get at the treasure inside. Sly obviously won't just stand by and let his family's treasure be taken, but Dr. M has built a fortress around the vault, making a mission to retrieve the treasure extremely dangerous. Over the course of the game you recruit new gang members in order to stand a chance of successfully carrying out the heist.
This recruitment drive takes you to various locations around the world, with each area requiring you to play as number of different characters. Each objective in an area is highlighted by a coloured arrow, with the colour indicating who is needed in order to complete the objective. You'll eventually have a gang of seven members and each adds their own skills to the mix. Within each area is a hub that lets you buy new gadgets and upgrades or select a different character.
'Even though Bentley is in a wheelchair, he's pretty nifty, thanks to rocket propulsion and a handy fishing rod...'
What you buy is pretty much up to you (obviously dependent on the money Sly and Bentley steal from clueless guards), but on occasion you are required to purchase certain things to progress through the game. Even though Bentley is in a wheelchair, he's pretty nifty, thanks to rocket propulsion and a handy fishing rod that makes pick pocketing all the easier. As ever, the game's music changes depending on your position in relation to the enemy you're trying to steal from, adding to the tension - even though it's remarkably easy to steal from an isolated guard.
Aside from general stealth and reconnaissance missions (Sly has a very useful camera) the game throws an awful lot of mini-games at you. There are so many that the game often struggles to settle down, with the gameplay jumping from one style to the next almost constantly. It's not that these sections aren't fun; they just don't help bind the game together. There are too many to list, but you'll chase enemies through canals, race RC cars, take part in a bar fight and more. It's rare that ideas are repeated either, but a few sections don't quite meet the quality the rest of the game sets.
It's not really until late in the game that things really start to hot up, with the best levels definitely being saved till last. What comes before is standard Sly fair that fans will enjoy, but it's all rather simple. The Caribbean levels, where the gang are searching for buried treasure, are so entertaining that it's disappointing the whole game isn't that good. The bosses are also pretty brilliant, with each one being far more than a stereotypical evil doer. Throughout the twelve hours or so that it'll take you to complete the game there's an awful lot of great content, but an equal amount that's merely average.
The newly introduced 3D sections are, unfortunately, some of the not so good parts. Using 3D glasses that come with the game you get some minor 'coming out of the screen' effects on objects that move close to the camera. You get the odd pipe that looks pretty cool, but overall you're left with a strange headache and a lack of a point. Thankfully, because the 3D visuals are for show rather than actual gameplay mechanics, you can choose to play through sans the 3D viewing mode, and this is by far the best option.
Once you're done with the main campaign there are a few 'Master Thief Challenges' to complete, obviously designed to test even the most skilled thieves, but they fail to offer much more of a challenge than that of the main game. A number of mini-games can also be played with two players, but they're nothing special and don't have any long-term appeal.
An area that certainly doesn't disappoint is the game's presentation. The original game was one of the first to really get the cel-shaded look spot on, and Sly 3 looks as good as ever. Aside from the technical achievement, the environments and characters are all wonderfully designed, and this is echoed in the great voice work and atmospheric music featured throughout. It's a game full of character, with the only real negative coming from the disappointing lack of widescreen support.
Sly 3 isn't a challenging game, but with the likes of Jak and Daxter catering for that audience Sly doesn't need to be. If the quality throughout the game matched that of the later levels, Sly 3 could well have been up there with the best on the PlayStation 2, but even with some dubious quality control in various sections, it's a great sequel that almost everyone will enjoy. Just make sure you avoid the dodgy 3D sections.