I've never pondered what life might be like if I were a dashing thief: stealing both rare art and hearts, scampering about the thieves' private highway (i.e., rooftops and sewers), and being master of both my trade and my domain. That is, I've never pondered those things until the debut of Sly 2: Band of Thieves. A sequel to Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, Sly and his intrepid gang are back in business. This time, it's personal: the Klaww Gang has acquired the robotic parts of the Cooper clan's former nemesis, Clockwerk. Having bagged Clockwerk in the first game, Sly is determined to see that the evil avian stays out of commission. With the help of brainy turtle Bentley and brawny hippo Murray, Sly is set to perform modern-day Robin Hood antics and reclaim Clockwerk's parts from the vile thugs.
Sly has been part of Sony's triumvirate of 3D platformers, the other two franchises being Jak and Ratchet & Clank. I personally never cared much for the two heavier hitters, but Sly Cooper's sly take on platforming instantly captivated me, and Sly 2: Band of Thieves continues to show Sucker Punch's finesse. I feel that Sly 2 is less a platformer than it is a modern 3D action-adventure game. The jumping and hopping is more about traversing the environments than testing the player's ability to run and leap. Part of Sly 2's addictive quality came from my enjoyment at mastering the ability to maneuver around the game's locales. The other staple of platformers has long been collecting things, and although Sly does some of this, it's to gather coins (mainly from enemies) used to purchase power-ups which aid the titular raccoon and his friends as they travel the world.
What a lush world it is! Sly and the gang must trot the globe to hunt down the anthropomorphic mafia. Each combination of location and villain is an "episode." The development team stated that their goal was to realize places they'd like to visit. They did an excellent job of capturing international flavor while making levels that were great fun to navigate. The game started in Paris, where the Eiffel Tower in the distance pointed at the moon and jazzy background music inspired my sneaky efforts. From India to Canada, the levels are large with lots to see and do, not to mention avoid. A lot of the gratification came from figuring out how to get around the levels unscathed, with judicious pick-pocketing thrown in for variety. The environments are large, featuring many avenues for an audacious thief to maneuver.
Each member of the nefarious Klaww Gang is deliciously vile, oozing with unique character (pun intended). Sucker Punch excels at breathing life into their characters. That skill is evident in such disparate individuals as Dimitri the lounge lizard. In a literal realization of this description, Dimitri is a hip, smarmy reptile who was rejected by an art world that disliked his "kinetic aesthetic." He turned to the dark side of the law, and opened a popular nightclub that promotes the distribution of illegal spice. From his voice and speech patterns to his slinky strutting, Dimitri exudes personality. The long arm and curvaceous hips of the law are not excluded from this kind of treatment. Sly's nemesis and love interest Carmelita Fox makes a return, as focused and tempestuous as ever.
Sly's adventures to retrieve the mechanical avian's parts are daunting, but this time the noble thief is not alone in the field. Some missions required me to play as Bentley or Murray. Bentley is armed with a gun that can put enemies to sleep; and a sleeping enemy is a dead enemy, since the diminutive turtle can place a bomb on his snoring foes. "The Murray" is quite strong, and this pink hippo is no sissy; a couple of punches can take out bad guys in no time. Of course, why just knock 'em out when you can knock 'em around? Murray is able to grab stunned enemies (as well as various environmental objects) and use them as projectiles—another fun ability. At the same time, I felt that playing as Sly's companions was the Achilles' heel of Sly 2. Neither has the speed and grace of Sly, nor the thieving abilities that make the raccoon so gratifying to play.
Sly 2 has many details that elevate the game above the rest of the crowd. I've already mentioned the environments that by nature dared me to find all the ways to skulk about. The delightful characterization doesn't stop with the "big guys." It shows in the minor henchmen, whether they are bulldogs with bullhorns, or ducks hiding in an outhouse. Sly might find coins by destroying a DJ booth, a random suitcase or a wardrobe. In one level, I had to be wary of statues coming to life! I must also compliment the background music, which features a variety of styles always appropriate to the level—there was Parisian-flavored jazz, Indian music and even a war-like march.
By the time I completed Sly 2: Band of Thieves, I felt as one with Sly Cooper. I had completed all the heists, discovered all of the optional clues and found the "Easter Egg" movies. One of these movies took me behind the scenes at Sucker Punch, showing various facets of the production. One of the stated goals of the developers was to immerse the player, allowing her to experience the sense of satisfaction of pulling off an intricate heist, tangoing with the law or paragliding across a Prague estate while remaining dapper and collected. In this I think Sucker Punch definitely delivered, and I hope to run with Sly and the gang in further technicolor adventures.