Few games successfully manage to pull off both platforming and stealth. Fewer still manage to take the old platforming stereotypes and make them seem fresh again. Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves does all of the above, and throws in a delightful story and some beautiful, artistic graphics too.
If you played the last Sly game, you pretty much know what to expect here. Much of the game involves jumping between rooftops, climbing up and across pipes and wires, and huddling up or under things in order to sneak past guards. Where Sly 3 shakes up the franchise is with regards to character selection and mission choice. Instead of just controlling Sly and Bentley, you'll be able to play as Murray, Carmelita Fox, and a few other notable regulars. Each character has his or her own unique abilities and missions. Sly's missions mainly involve sneaking around, Bentley's often involve controlling vehicles, Murray's involve beating the tar out of guards, and so on. The game is organized such that you can swap between characters and missions within each area by simply entering buildings and touching waypoint markers, similar to Grand Theft Auto… in the loosest sense.
I've often marveled at how the Sly series manages to make sneaky gameplay fun, and once again Sly 3 has made me a believer that stealth gameplay can work, if implemented correctly. There's a fair bit of sneaking in Sly 3, but it never takes priority over the core platformer style. While there are times when you have to hunker against a wall or slide under a desk to sneak past enemies, usually the best route to the goal involves maneuvering past guards by climbing up pipes, sliding across wires, and jumping across the ledges that sit above those pesky seekers. Every level is setup so that there are multiple "good" routes to take. Figuring one out and then figuring out another one on a later re-visit is actually very enjoyable. Throw in Sly's cool Ninja moves, the various disguises he can put on throughout the game, and all of the cool mini-games that cap off each mission, and what we've got is a diverse and imaginative platformer.
The overall story follows Sly's efforts to enlist a superstar line-up of thieves to help him break into his family's vault. Well, actually, the fortress that Dr. M has put up around the Cooper family vault. Each area goes through one chapter of the story and eventually re-unites Sly with a member of his gang. In order to accomplish those reunions, however, you have to satisfy some overall goal in the area, such as putting a criminal in jail or retrieving a set of items that are of value to a local guru. Basically, the story provides a good excuse to send Sly all over the world and to tell the assorted histories of many of his partners and foes. If you thought Sly 2: Band of Thieves told the whole story about Sly, Bentley, and Murray, you've got some learning to do. Sly 3 tells of how they met, of the enemies they made along the way, of how they parted ways, and all sorts of tangents in between.
It's the game's presentation that pulls it all together. The superb cel shaded graphics honestly make you feel like you're playing a part in an interactive cartoon. The constant, seamless cinematic scenes that feature Sly, Bentley, Murray, Carmelita, et al in all of their animated glory reinforce that notion. There's also plenty of voice acting, and it's generally high quality. Sly, Bentley, and Murray have always been charming characters, so it's nice to see the same voice actors return. The dialogue is funny and likeable. You almost have to wonder why Sony hasn't licensed the property as a Saturday morning cartoon. Sticklers will complain that the cel shading covers up for the weaker points of the graphics engine; the draw-in, the slow-down, the low-poly enemies; and that's all true. But the game's artistic style hides those flaws extremely well. A bit more questionable is the latest installment's 3-D gimmick. Select missions can be played with an included pair of 3-D glasses. The 3-D effect works, but it's mostly a gimmick and not that big a deal. Thankfully, you have the option of turning off the 3-D effect and playing the 3-D missions without the glasses.
For better or worse, this is Sly's biggest adventure yet. The single-player mode itself contains more than 50 individual missions and will take most players a good 20 hours to finish. Certainly the game seems lengthier when you factor in all of the cinematic scenes. Each mission also has a tougher, alternate version to complete, which will tack on some longevity for some people. There are a few two-player modes too. They're nothing special, but between co-op missions, cops vs. robbers competitions, and the bi-plane and pirate ship battles, you'll probably have a bit of fun with them if you invite a friend over.
Other games have attempted to do what the Sly series does so well. Good lord, just look at THQ's lame Scooby-Doo games. The reason Sly Cooper, Sly 2: Band of Thieves, and now Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves succeed is that they give players a full helping of platforming, stealth, and story all in one product. Between all of the different ways of getting through each mission, all of the various ways you can sneak past enemies, and all of the awesome cinematic elements that occur in-between, you feel like you're a part of an event every step of the way. It may not be the most unique or difficult franchise ever, but each installment is wonderfully crafted.
Whether you're just getting into the whole Sly thing or have both previous games under your belt, Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves won't disappoint you.