Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Sly 2: Band of Thieves

 Sly 2: Band of Thieves Box Front

The spice must flow…or not.

I’ve lately been attempting to broaden my horizons in the genres of videogames I play, going back some console generations to do so, with among the classics I’ve given a try being the Sucker Punch-developed Sly Cooper series, with which I had a passing interest due to being a furry and all. I honestly didn’t believe the first game was all that great, although it most certainly did have its share of redeeming aspects, and given my completionist spirit, I ultimately played through the first sequel of the franchise, Sly 2: Band of Thieves. While it does somewhat build upon the initial entry’s gameplay, not all changes are for the better.

The sequel opens with a new group of villains, the Klaww Gang, stealing the pieces of Clockwerk, the main antagonist of the original game, with the raccoon Sly Cooper and his cohorts, the hippopotamus Murray and turtle Bentley, seeking to recover them and stop the resurrection of the mechanical avian adversary. As in the first game, the villains contain decent development, although the sequel oftentimes feels like a dull retread of its predecessor, given occasional elements previously elaborated upon such as Sly and his friends’ backstory. There are also punctuation errors aplenty in the dialogue, and ultimately, the narrative falls short of endearment.

Sly 2 features many mechanical differences from its precursor, such as giving the eponymous purloiner and his companions life gauges that, when exhausted, force the player back to the last point of interest and repeat whatever progress in a mission they had tried to make. Sly has a particularly-useful skill where he can sneak up behind guards, lift them up with his cane, and instantly kill them, with the death of most standard enemies yielding coins and sometimes health recovery. His cohorts have their own set of useful moves, such as Bentley being able to tranquilize foes and plant bombs to kill them.

Unfortunately, the health system proves completely irrelevant when it comes to the game’s many mandatory minigames necessary to advance the central storyline, and while there are a few that are genuinely enjoyable, such as the top-down shooter sequence when Bentley tries to hack into a computer system, most leave very little room for error, and very rarely, if ever, have checkpoints when the player has advanced far enough in them., Moreover, the absence of a suspend save is totally inexcusable, and there’s no indicator of the game saving at all, although the sequel seems to preserve progress after Sly or one of his cohorts successfully complete a mission.

In general, the game mechanics don’t function nearly as well as they could have, and there are some points where the player has to purchase specific powerups with coins to advance, with the standard acquisition of coins by killing enemies being generally time-consuming. In between missions, the player can find artifacts to sell for a decent chunk of change, although taking one hit when bringing them back to headquarters breaks the artifact, makes it respawn, and necessitates that players repeat the return process. Loose platforming also mars the gameplay, which really proves unenjoyable.

The other areas of control aside from platforming don’t fare any better, with a serious need for in-game maps that would have made sidequests such as finding bottled scrolls in each episode’s area easier, and while the game tracks time spent on each episode, viewing playtime is generally troublesome. The voiced dialogue is also unskippable, sure to alienate hearing-impaired gamers, and the total absence of a suspend save, as mentioned, definitely proves a deterrent towards players with more limited playtime. Happily, there are some redeeming aspects such as pressing the PlayStation button serving as a universal pause feature, but there’s little excuse for the other parts of interaction.

The soundtrack is also nothing to write home about, being stylistically similar to that in the first game with a film noir feel, along with cartoony sound effects during things such as sneaking along edges, although there are far too many areas that rely on ambience, and a general dearth of memorable tracks. The voice acting is largely hit-or-miss, with Sly Cooper, as with before, having the strongest performance, although other characters such as Bentley are really irritating, and that the voiced text is unskippable doesn’t help matters. That the game sometimes takes shots at the player for losing certain minigames hurts, too, and there’s little reason in the end not to listen to other music while playing.

Sly 2 is further visually similar to its predecessor, with a cel-shaded style for character and enemy models, along with some well-executed animated cutscenes, although the models oftentimes contain a blocky, jagged feel that would make the game easily pass for a late PlayStation One game. Moreover, there’s noticeable popup of enemy models and other elements of areas as the player is progressing, and the environments themselves contain blurry and often-pixilated texturing. Ultimately, the developers could have certainly made a concerted effort to make the game look more at home on the PS3.

Finally, the game is a little longer than its precursor, taking somewhere from twelve to twenty-four hours to complete, with a little lasting appeal in the form of trophies and collecting bottled scrolls, though frankly, a playthrough isn’t nearly enjoyable enough to warrant additional playtime.

In summation, Sly 2 is a disappointing sequel, given its overabundance of frustrating, repetitive minigames, loose control with deterrents such as unskippable voiced dialogue, the narrative not breaking new ground, the forgettable aurals, the subpar graphics, and the general lack of enjoyment that make it torture to play for a longer period. There are some redeeming aspects, with maybe a couple of the minigames being genuinely enjoyable, the decent execution of the plotline, and some good artistic vision, though the first Sly Cooper sequel’s remaster ultimately has more bad points than good, and while masochistic players may appreciate the challenge, others may want to look elsewhere for fun.

The Good:
+Some fun parts of gameplay.
+Story decently-executed.
+A little good art direction.

The Bad:
-Many frustrating minigames.
-Weak control.
-Story doesn’t break new ground.
-Forgettable music.
-Subpar visuals.
-Not fun enough to play to completion.

The Bottom Line:
A poorly-executed sequel.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 3.5/10
Controls: 3.0/10
Story: 3.5/10
Music/Sound: 3.0/10
Graphics: 3.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 1.5/10
Difficulty: Artificial
Playing Time: 12-24 Hours

Overall: 3.0/10

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