Sly 3: Honour Among Thieves
Now with 3D glasses.
Earlier today I wrote an introduction (which, thanks to the magic of Internet publishing, you'll very likely read after you've seen this one) in which I implied that women might be slightly put off getting to know me based on some of my slightly odd habits.
Scroll down and check out the photograph on the left, and you'll probably agree that I should have saved that introduction for this here preview.
Let's hope I don't wind up the new "Star Wars kid", eh?
Anyway. One of the key things that's different about Sly 3: Honour Among Thieves is the use of 3D glasses for some of the levels. Developer Sucker Punch has been quick to point out that you won't be wearing them the whole time, but rather for the odd specific mission and a few more unlockables. For example, the dogfighting mission I'll be talking about later is not a 3D mission, but by completing it you will reportedly open up a 3D version.
The 3D system works, as far as I'm concerned, by voodoo. [In reality it splits colours in a manner that, when viewed through red and cyan eyepieces and reassembled by your brain, creates the illusion of depth. -Ed] The colours aren't that strong, and Sly himself isn't projected out of the screen - in order, apparently, that passers-by can still get a clearish view of what's going on - but where the effect is employed it's often done very effectively.
Sneaking through a sewer section (clearly a platform game, then), laser beams that move side to side and up and down seem to stand out more and you can actually work out the distance by looking straight at them rather than judging by the position of Sly's feet, so dodging becomes more interesting, whilst the illusion of depth is particularly acute when Sly clambers through a vent over the heads of enemies and peers down at them.
There's also a bit where Sly has to crawl along the inside of a rotating drum-shaped object lined with bars, which he clings to using one of his one-button sneaky moves - a lot of Sly's charm is to be found in his simple-to-use moveset, as you may recall.
And Sucker Punch gives it both barrels toward the end of the level when sparkling lights dart out of a box and circle him, appearing to project out of the TV. A real "feel the air in front of the screen" moment - a bit like watching those spinny planet holographs they have in Star Trek and Star Wars, or going inside Cerebro in X-Men, to give you some grounding. (Ha! Watch me stereotype you!)
Naturally the 3D element makes very little difference to the gameplay, but it is genuinely novel and pretty enjoyable - and the glasses are cool, even if it's slightly ticklesome to discover that for 3D glasses they fold remarkably flat.
But of course there's more to the game than 3D. There's 3D without glasses.
Rather like Sly 2, this one's all free-roamy, with huge levels full of multiple missions, and the story is bigger and more complicated - with master thief Sly trying to reunite his gang in order to try and reclaim possession of his family gold. To do this, he also has to recruit a few new playable chums including lounge lizard Dmitri, who some of you may remember. And you'll also get to play as Camrelita Fox - with a "cops and robbers" styled multiplayer mode built around her tussles with Sly. Which should be good, as the chase sequences in past Sly titles were often quite engrossing.
Sly and co. have new abilities this time, too. Sly himself can adopt various disguises (perhaps he can even wear 3D glasses), while hefty hippo Murray has more fighting moves and the now-wheelchair-bound Bentley can lay mines.
This was borne out rather repetitively in one of the E3 demos, which saw Sly and his two pals taking on some nasties in a button-mashing (sorry, lemonade-drinking) contest immediately followed by a large-scale brawl. Here the player controls characters one by one, doffing up enemies using a couple of different moves each, before a boss sequence kicks in.
Here Sly has to take down a huge enemy, but he can only do this when the big brute is stunned. Cue Bentley and Murray doing their worst - with Bentley laying mines that you have to circle and tempt the unpleasant fellow over, and Murray opting to hurl beer barrels (lemonade, even) at him, before Sly lays on a few attacks and the process begins anew.
More entertaining were the dogfighting and "Shaman" bits. Aerial combat is often a difficult thing to get right in a platform game (who knows why), as Ratchet & Clank proved and Jak & Daxter almost proved, but Sucker Punch has done an excellent job by the look of it, with biplanes that don't move too fast but manoeuvre in squirrelly fashion, some nice flaming death effects and lots of swooping through barns in search of pick-ups.
The Shaman is another character, and in his E3 mission he's trying to smash up some generators or somesuch (apologies for the lack of specificity, but I was kind of excited about the glasses), but unfortunately he's rather weak. So, ingeniously, he's a master of blending into the scenery on a couple of second's heart-thumping notice, and happily leaps onto the back of lizard-like enemies that then hurtle around under his control and can be used to headbutt his objectives.
Indeed, Sucker Punch seems to be using its head too. While Jak III was perhaps guilty of fumbling around for inspiration (and finding only Smuggler's Run in the PS2 cabinet), Sly 3 seems to have some good ideas and genuine departures up its sleeve. Granted, it will fit the traditional mould of a Sly game overall, but the first two were much underrated anyway, so that's nothing to sniff at.
Indeed, it could be, er, "bespectacular".
Sly 3: Honour Among Thieves is due out exclusively on PS2 this November.