Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus  
Hands-on preview of Sucker Punch's new beautiful game!

HarryIt's sufficient to play a few minutes of Sly Cooper and The Thievius Raccoonus to understand that this platform is going to be one of the most visually impressive projects on the Ps2 and one of Sony hottest titles for this year; together with Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper will be the answer of Sony to Microsoft's Blinx and Nintendo's Super Mario Sunshine.

It's surprising that the same label can be used for such different games like Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper. If Ratchet & Clank delivers breathtaking, enormous environments and says goodbye to many typical elements of the Platform genre, Sly Cooper takes a whole different road. Developed by Sucker Punch, the game blends in a unique formula elements from different genres, but it keeps all the ingredients of the most classic platforms.

The game narrates the story of Sly Cooper, a raccoon born into a family of the world's greatest thieves. On his eight birthday, Sly is given the Thievius Raccoonus, a book that contains all the secrets and thieving techniques passed from generation to generation by his family. But a gang of evil villains broke into Sly's house and stole the book, dividing it into five pieces. Ten Years have passed from that terrible day, and Sly is finally ready to reclaim the Thievius Raccoonus. It's time to find the five pieces of the book and defeat the ones who stole them.

Playing the game
In a complete different way from Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper is one of the very best looking games on Playstation 2. Sucker Punch created 3D environments that look like if they were entirely hand-drawn. Like in a cartoon, all the objects look crazily distorted, and thanks to a surprising use of colors, dramatic lighting effects and particle effects, the atmosphere of Sly Cooper is impressively absorbing.

All the characters look almost entirely cel-shaded, and it's evident that a lot of careful work was put into the development of the smooth animations. Sly is a raccoon, and he shows his agility in a funny series of moves that are a pleasure for the eye. And we all know that the most important thing for a raccoon is his tail. Sucker Punch seems to know that too, and they did a crazy, marvellous work to give the tail an expressiveness on its own. I guess they have passed hours looking at the way their cats moved their tails and the result is a real "tail simulator". Trust me, it's something so cute that's worth seeing.

The demo we played contained three levels surrounding the hideout of one of the plunderers who stole Sly's book. It's night, it's raining and our hero enters in action jumping out of the backdoors of what looks like an ultra-technological van. But he is not alone. Bentley, a nerdy turtle who knows everything about secret codes and advanced technologies, will be his support via codec. Just like Solid Snake and Otacon, Sly and Bentley are able to bypass any security system with their abilities and technologies. Actually, the dialogues via codec clearly wink at the ones in Metal Gear Solid, with a fresh humour that fans of Kojima's saga will adore. Lines like "Bentley calling Sly Cooper. Do you read me? Do you read me?" or "I have got a very bad felling about this" sounds absolutely funny when it's a turtle speaking to a raccoon.

And the resemblances with Metal Gear Solid don't stop here. Actually, Sly Cooper could be defined a platform with a good dose of stealth action. All the three levels that we have played required the use of stealth techniques to be successfully completed. At the very beginning of the demo, Sly has to deal with the searchlights outside the hideout. Just like Solid Snake, he has to avoid the cone of light if he doesn't want to be detected by the alarm system. In the Reading Room, another level contained in the demo, two cannons fires deadly darts at Sly. There is no way to avoid them, so the only solution is to enter into a barrel and use it as a protection against the blows. But a barrel can do much more than that. It can be used in the same fashion of the cardboard boxes in Metal Gear. As long as you stay still, the barrel prevents enemies and searchlights from detecting you: move while they are not looking, and stop immediately when they turn their heads in your direction. Sly can also perform many and many other moves according to the situation he has to face. Climbing is one of his greatest abilities, and adds a lot of depth to the exploration of the beautiful and complex scenarios. Sly can climb not only ladders but also pipes and ropes, and it's not always easy to notice one of these structures. That's why the game also features a useful first person view mode, where Sly uses his binoculars to zoom in and out of the environments. You look around in first person view and you notice some object in the top of a rock that was difficult to see in third person view. Now, you have to figure out a way to reach that place and collect the items: there must be a rope, a pipe somewhere that brings you there. And sometimes, there is more than a path to reach the goal. Of course, like in any good stealth game, peeking around the corner is another move that becomes available in the right situation. Other moves, like special attacks or a matrix-like slow motion can be obtained collecting special "hint bottles" scattered throughout the level: once you have all of them, you can open a safe containing a page of the Thievius Raccoonus which will teach you a new technique.

Surprisingly, all this originality doesn't prevent this game from being also a classic platform. Jumping remains the #1 move, and also the classic double jump is here. Coins are scattered everywhere in the levels and can be obtained also destroying objects with Sly's weapon; and of course, when you get 100 coins you gain an extra life. Compared to recent platforms like Jak & Daxter and also to the demo of Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper is a less forgiving game. Just like in any classic platform from the 8-bit era, one hit is sufficient to be killed or to kill an enemy, and falling into high water means immediate death.

Peeking around the corner...
...hiding into a barrel!

Sucker Punch is doing a great job with Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus. We'll have to wait a few months to play the complete game, but so far, we have seen a game developed with art, gifted with depth, beautiful graphics and classic action. Be sure - the Raccoon is going to be one of Sony's biggest bullets in the marvellous console war that's starting this fall. The game is slated for a September 2002 release in North American and a January 2003 release in Europe.

- Harry (July 15th, 2002)