Sly Raccoon
Developer: Sucker Punch
Publisher: SCEE
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1
Words By:

Following hard on the heels of Ratchet & Clank, and hoping to join it and Jak & Daxter in the category of "PS2 platform game royalty" comes Sly Raccoon. Oh dear, another cute furry animal platform type thing…

But wait! - Sly is different - it's cel shaded!……….. OK, so we're probably all a bit fed up with cel shading by now, and it's a totally subjective thing, but our opinion is that it's strange that for years developers have been trying to make their in-game characters look realistic, smooth and 3D, and yet ever since JSR (Jet Set Radio on the Dreamcast) everyone seems to think the cartoon or comic book look is the holy grail of gaming. We also reckon that there are more than a couple of games out there that would appear to have simply been given black outlines just to keep them trendy (and possibly even to avoid some of them being canned), but Sly Raccoon is different. Sly's graphics are superb, right from the start; a cartoony world unfolds in front of you and one thing is clear, cel shading has seldom been done better, or been better suited to a game. The attention to detail is a thing to behold; the amount of work that went into the movement of Sly's tail must rival that of Lara's ponytail, or the DOA3 girl's boobs.

   

Sly Raccoon is born into a family of master thieves, and all the generation's secrets and techniques are kept for posterity in a family heirloom; a manual called the "Thievius Raccoonus". The "Fiendish Five", Raliegh, Muggshot, Mz Ruby, The Panda King and Clockwerk steal this book and divide it five ways. Each take a section and scatter the pages across the many levels set in their own particular neighbourhood. Obviously Sly has to recover this priceless reference book, and so off he sets, ably aided by his mates Bentley - a nerdy computer hacker tortoise-turtle thing - and Murray - a big, slow, slightly dim pink hippo that drives the van…

Linked with cartoon sequences, the story progresses across locations such as stormy Welsh islands (no, really), western style towns (complete with gunslingers), Haitian jungles and even a volcano. You find clues in bottles, all of which add up to give you the combination of a safe; you open the safe with the combination to get the stolen pages of the "Thievius Raccoonus" back. The levels tend to be quite linear, but there's still plenty of exploration to do, and some tricky platforms/bottles to get to. As you progress, you learn new techniques from the discovered pages (like the ability to speed up time and turn invisible) and the game grows in stature as a result. As with a lot of recent games, stealth plays a big part and the smart binoc-u-cam (zoomable binoculars that help you find items, spot distant enemies and generally scope out a level) is terribly reminiscent a certain Solid Snake's, even the way the titles roll as you play the initial training level would seem to be Sucker Punch's homage to MGS2.

   

The most enjoyable thing about Sly is how well he controls. The control system (triangle and circle are for special moves) keeps things simple and logical but the sheer accuracy of Sly's movement means that obstacles that at first look impassable (and simply wouldn't be possible in some other games with their vague control and iffy cameras) soon become second nature, as you make Sly leap, slide and swing past nightmarish tangles and over traps as easy as pie. This isn't to say that Sly is an easy game though, it's extremely easy to come a cropper as Sly can be killed by one hit from an enemy, the only way to avoid this is by charging up Sly's "Lucky Charm" health gauge by collecting 100 coins, how original.

With several well-integrated mini games including a Tron-style hacking game with Bentley, van racing with Murray and a couple of hovercraft levels the variety of gameplay is better than some other games of Sly's ilk, and the persistent love interest Carmelita Fox keeps turning up to have a go at Sly too.

We think Sly Raccoon is extremely good, maybe not as wide-open feeling as J&D or R&C, but technically impressive an addictive as heck. One thing to note is the gloominess of the levels - they're mostly on the dark and dingy side (but hey, raccoons are nocturnal), so if you're looking for pretty Mario style sunshine you may be disappointed by the overall look of the game. However, the gameplay more than makes up for any faults, and if you fancy a bit of tactical espionage action in your platformer then Sly is definitely worth a look.


Good Points

- Sly is a superbly realized character.
- Perfect control.
- Some neat ideas.
- It's cel-shaded!


Bad Points

- Linear and dingy levels.
- Not a great deal of originality.
- Oh no! It's another cel-shaded game!




by: Hario

Sly Raccoon
Developer: Sucker Punch
Publisher: SCEE
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1
Words By:

As the games industry in general focuses ever more heavily on ‘realistic’ games and simulations, whether that be of sport, racing, soldiering or whatever, it’s good to know that some people are still making titles with a totally fantastical backdrop in which a key element of gameplay involves jumping around collecting things. Indeed, in recent years, the PS2 has been blessed with a string of excellent such games, mostly published by Sony (God bless em!), like Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, and this offering from the team at Sucker Punch.

In Sly Raccoon, you play (surprise, surprise!) a raccoon called Sly Cooper, a scion of a long-established family of master thieves who – to avoid moral disapproval and ensure that concerned parents will allow their children to play the game – only steal from other, even naughtier criminals. For sidekicks, you have a tortoise called Bentley, who is a whizz at mathematics and codebreaking, and a pink (yes, pink) hippo called Murray, who is mostly good for nothing but drives a mean van. Now, at this point, let me just assure you that I haven’t been taking anything illegal and am not making this up. Honest.

The story involves you travelling to various locations around the world (including Haitian swamps and Chinese mountains) in an attempt to recover the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus (gotta love that name!), a book of master thief moves compiled by Sly’s ancestors, which was stolen by and shared out among a group called… wait for it… the Fiendish Five! On the way, you’ll occasionally find your path blocked by your arch-nemesis, Inspector Carmelita Fox, who is, predictably enough, a fox (and also, in a bizarre way that I probably shouldn’t admit to, rather foxy).

   

This is all slighty nutty, but that’s part of its charm, of course. The game owes its inspiration to old Saturday morning cartoon series (one of which, I seem to remember was actually called ‘The Raccoons’) and there are even cut-scenes that play just like those animated features.

The game itself is a 3D platformer (although action-adventure seems to be the preferred term these days) divided into five ‘worlds’ at the end of which you face a boss fight against that realm’s overlord (or lady on one occasion). The gameplay is mostly the usual platformer fare – running, jumping, dodging, collecting things (usually coins or clues in the form of green bottles with messages in them), hitting enemies with a weapon (in this case your trusty, multipurpose cane with which you can also catch onto hooks and smash alarms) and a little bit of problem-solving. Seeing as you’re a thief, there is also a nicely done stealth element to the game, which largely involves avoiding triggering alarms or being caught in spotlights. As a nice change of pace, some levels take the form of mini-games varying from chasing round trying to catch chickens while avoiding roosters with bombs (no, really…), through racing your van against monkeys in tractors around a snowy track, to shooting enemies who try to ambush Murray as he makes his way through a junkyard in search of a treasure key.

Now, yes, broadly-speaking, this is mainly nothing new, but when it’s done as well as it is in Sly Raccoon, who cares? The controls are easy and intuitive to use, even at pace, and the environments and characters that Sucker Punch have created are an absolute joy. The ‘worlds’ vary from wet and windy to hot and fiery, and from naturalistic to urban. Some levels are bright, others gloomy, but the lighting is always excellently done. Reading the environment is one of the key aspects of the game (how do I get from here to there without him seeing me? etc.) and it is a veritable pleasure to do. The characters, meanwhile, are great fun, including voodoo rats, sword-wielding apes, fire-breathing walruses, and, wonderfully, that staple of cartoons, the bulldog on a leash tethered to a post. The various bosses (the members of the Fiendish Five – cue maniacal laughter) are all imaginatively designed as well and your encounters with them are each memorable in different ways (for the record the Five are a frog, a dog, an alligator, a panda and a giant mechanical bird).

   

The level of difficulty in the game is, I felt, nicely judged, being challenging enough to keep keen adult gamers interested while not being beyond the capabilities of younger players (at least with a little help in one or two places anyway). It is actually possible to finish the game without recovering all (or even most) of the Thievius Raccoonus, but most players will want to ensure that they do that too. This basically involves collecting all the clue bottles in each level so that Bentley can break the code to that level’s vault. Besides, with each section of the book recovered, Sly learns a new move or gains a valuable skill, some of which will make your life considerably easier in some of the later, harder levels.

Even once you’ve got all the Thievius Raccoonus back, though, there are still the Master Thief Sprints to be completed. I must confess, these were amongst the toughest gaming experiences I’ve ever had, but I did complete them without tearing any hair out, smashing any controllers or ending up sobbing in the corner, a broken man. Just. No, actually, they were rather fun in a masochistic kind of way, and I’d built up enough love for the game by that point to forgive the designers their cruelty in making the sprints so hard. Essentially, what you have to do is make it through the levels in a set time, the benchmark being set at Sucker Punch by, one assumes, some gaming ninja from the lowest denizens of Hell. Most of the time you have to be perfect (or as near as damn it) to make it in time, although occasionally there are shortcuts to be found that make it (ever so slightly) easier to succeed. When you finally beat a sprint with 0.3 of a second left at the forty-fifth attempt, the sense of achievement is suitably heroic. Beat them all and you will truly believe yourself to be ‘da man’. Oh, and you unlock a rather neat feature in which the designers talk about the game.

Overall, then, Sly Raccoon is a veritable humdinger of a game. It’s fun, it’s wacky, it’s challenging. In short, it’s a really well-designed, well-executed piece of work that I would defy anyone with even a hint of a penchant for platformers not to enjoy. And did I mention the bulldogs on a leash?


Good Points

- Excellent and varied gameplay
- Wonderful environments and characters
- One of the funnest games you’re ever likely to play


Bad Points

- Less experienced gamers might find some bits a little tricky, especially the Master Thief Sprints (but then you don’t have to put yourself through them…)
- It’s not exactly revolutionary (but how many games are?)




by: The Marshal