Sony had no idea that when they launched Sly Cooper and the Thievius Racoonus two years ago that it would create a cult hit amongst gamers. Not only were players enthralled by one of the best platforming experiences in recent history, they were charmed by the titular hero and his adventure. In fact, the largest concern that most fans had was how short the game was, something they hoped would be addressed in a sequel. Well Cooper admirers, your time has come, as the Sly one, along with Murray and Bentley are back for more large scale capers. So grab your cane and get sneaky, because it 's time to join up with Sly 2: Band of Thieves.
Band of Thieves picks up some time after the first game, which focused on Sly's retrieval of his family heirloom, the Thievius Racoonus, from the hands (or rather robotic claws) of Clockwerk. The first game ended with Clockwerk's apparent defeat at Sly's hands. However, concerned that the villain would rise again to hunt him down, Sly decides to break into a museum holding his remains and put an end to him once and for all. Unfortunately, Sly discovers that the Klaww Gang has actually beaten him to his prize, whisking Clockwerk's body away and dismantling it to help operate separate criminal enterprises. It's up to Sly, Murray and Bentley to collect the pieces of Clockwerk from the Klaww Gang, destroy their operations and make a clean getaway under the ever watchful eyes of Carmelita Fox, the police inspector who's constantly on their tail.
The worldwide search for Clockwerk’s parts isn’t a simple breaking and entering job though. Our heroic trio will wind up infiltrating a city and performing a number of jobs leading up to the grand caper where they “liberate” the sought after item from the Klaww Gang. These cities are backdrops to the open ended gameplay found within Band of Thieves, acting more like “hubs” that generate plot dependent missions and side quests of thievery. Most of the time, this requires Sly to initially go out and gather a certain amount of information on a location, stealing keys to get into certain buildings and taking pictures of certain areas.
Once enough intel has been gathered, Bentley starts working on blueprints for the main robbery, giving his teammates specific objectives like taking out security systems or infiltrating an enemy area. Still others will require operating within close quarters of a Klaww mastermind, such as trailing a boss to a hideout or stealing something from under their noses (literally). You’ll also have levels where you’ll need to use two teammates together, such as Murray launching Bentley to higher areas with his powerful tosses. After enough tasks have been completed, the three friends come together in a largescale assault on the main base, switching the focus between each hero to successfully sneak the Clockwerk part away.
Unlike the first title, Sly isn’t the only one doing the work, because Bentley and Murray have a much greater role to play in Band of Thieves this time. They’re going out to perform missions that take advantage of their considerable skills. As the brains of the group, Bentley isn’t well known for his martial skill, and depends on gadgets and other items to negotiate his way through the field. As self defense, Bentley starts out with sleeping darts and bombs to clear any opponents in his way. Murray (or should I say, “The Murray,”) on the other hand, is all muscle, beating his foes into the ground and bending obstacles “like the truth.” As he mentions in his entrance, foes should beware of The Murray’s powerful Thunder Flop, which causes quite a bit of damage to property and enemies alike.
Our heroes won’t remain with the skill set they start out with either. Thanks to Thiefnet, gamers can make each when they take on a job. This website, available at the crew’s safe house, lets players fence the stolen goods nicked from unaware pockets or missions and receive cold hard cash. This money can be used to buy new talents, effectively evolving the scope of your characters. Many of these abilities come exactly when you need them (such as Bentley’s jet pack to reach areas he can’t usually get to. Sly can be further upgraded if you collect hint bottles, which give him further pages for his familial Thievius Racoonus and instill him with additional skills.
Fans of the first game will also notice two evolutions of the gameplay that makes Sly 2 much more accessible than the original. The first point is that specific life counters have been eliminated from gameplay entirely. Now, players who die are either respawned at a checkpoint or returned to the safe house to thieve another day. This actually works in concert with the other significant change: the addition of a health bar. While Sly was easily killed off if he was hit only once by an opponent or fell into a trap like water, in Sly 2 such contact is merely incidental. This winds up stripping a small amount of health away from your health bar, allowing you to continue your sneaky endeavors. However, players shouldn’t let this lull them into a false sense of security, because the enemy has the same health bars, making elimination of these foes a much trickier proposition in a confrontation. Aside from “The Murray,” players should remember that stealth is definitely a tactic to continually use – Remember, Sly is a thief, not a boxer and Bentley is a fragile mastermind, not a brawler.
Much more noticeable to everyone is the obvious influence by cartoon and serialized television for its graphical presentation. Everything from the cutscenes to the splash screen that pops up when you pause the game suggests a TV show. Seeing, “we’ll be right back!” makes you feel that the game you’ve been playing is part of a grander animated series, which is a great touch. Character models retain a high degree of detail, especially the attention paid to the three heroes, and everyone, from Sly down to the lowliest character, has slick animation for every move they make. Even better, levels themselves seem much more detailed and realized than ever before, particularly since cities and their requisite missions are much larger and play a grander part in the overall plot development of the game. With the inclusion of a controllable camera which is incredibly intuitive without being confining, players have a hard time not finding some piece of eye candy to focus on. Simply put, this is a gorgeous game.
The impressive nature of the graphics is only bolstered by the excellent sound found within the title. There’s plenty of flashy, energetic music that propels some of the generic elements of the game, making the action of Band of Thieves seem much more like a TV show. This is supported by a dynamically changing soundtrack which raises during action elements with plenty of bombastic notes during the height of battle and a background score that implies furtive movement during stealth maneuvers. This also extends to some of the voice acting, because it’s possible to detect fading voiceover levels based on the relative distance to the character speaking. The vocal acting, in particular, is extremely brilliant in this title, and everyone seems to have been tailor made for their parts. I don’t think that I’ve really found a better performed title in a long time, but this is excellent, and gamers are treating themselves to an aural feast when they play this game.
It might seem like this is the perfect game, and indeed it would be, were it not for a few detractions that limit the almost flawless execution of this title. Unfortunately, both are spawned out of the same concern, something that was actually addressed in the previous title: replayability. Band of Thieves, while much longer than the previous title, will provide the average player with at least 20 hours of gameplay (probably more if you go hunting for every single clue bottle and secret). However, there is little incentive to play through the game again once you’ve beaten the game. The skill challenges and time trials found within the first title have been removed, making this title a much more “linear” game as far as replayable plots are concerned. Throw in the fact that there are unlimited lives and continues, and this becomes much easier to blow your way through this title without significant difficulty.
Along with this, it’s practically impossible to revisit previous levels or missions once they’ve been completed without loading an older save, which is unfortunate. While some of the missions you’ll undertake may seem unrelated, some of them are so cleverly designed that you’ll really never get bored with any of them, and many of the “mini-game” interfaces are superbly designed. Whoever came up with the graphical hacking mission that Bentley plays is a freaking genius, and it’d be great to return to that stage time and again. Hell, this could be the PS2’s Geometry Wars (for you PGR fans out there), but unfortunately, you’ll need to savor it, and other stages when you can.
The limited replayability aside, every gamer with a PS2 should own this title. Sly 2: Band of Thieves takes the solid premise of the first title, captures the good elements and radically expands upon them to create one of the best platformers ever seen on the PS2, and indeed all of platforming history. If you like a solid story, buy this game. If you like impressive graphics and voice acting, buy this game. If you like solid mechanics that build upon each other without getting dull, buy this game. Believe me, your PS2 will thank you for it.