While I figured some thoughts would change for 1 and 2, I knew going in I'd still love 3 the most. I've replayed this so much out of the trilogy, first starting out in its initial release back in 2005, to the point I know most of what happens like the back of my hand... almost, and each time I replay it I (re)discover something about it that I never knew about until then. While it was developed in one-year devcycle (whether by crunch or Sucker Punch actually being more laxed this time around, I'm unsure of, need to look into it), which in turn leads to some obvious spots- reused voice clips and animation, as well as some sound bugs for some examples, for the grand majority I'm pretty surprised at how complete the overall package is to this day, especially coming off of Jak 3 not that long ago, where I felt like that game could've used more time in the oven. Before starting the review proper, I'll mention it's actually my first time completing it 100% though, so as a summary, the experience was Neat. Master Thief Challenges were fun and provided a nice distraction, though I would've preferred if they weren't the only side content available, but more on that in a bit.
Something I have to say now though, now that it's the end of the PS2 trilogy, it's that I feel like each game does such a great job of being standalone enough that someone wouldn't get totally lost if they jumped in, but also grow and develop previous plot and character moments to tell an effective story. The intro does a good job of this I feel, new players are intrigued and confused as to what is happening as usual, but with returning players there's so much going on it's kind of overwhelming... at least, that's how I view it, maybe I'm just thinking too much on this.
In terms of gameplay mechanics and such, the core of it is more refined and tweaked from 2. Abilities have seen some sort of boost (Stealth Boots -> Rocket Boots which is much faster and can go up on slopes, Bentley and Murray can now pickpocket people), innated onto the kit now (Murray can now jump and run when holding something by default), or have some new stuff available (Sly's Jump and Push attacks,). There's probably a few more, but those are the ones I noticed. Overall, some good changes here and there and the controls themselves are also tweaked, but since they were already great in 2 it's more so just, again, refinement, I can say that the circle overlap thing is at its least obtrusive here as one example.
Of course, that's not the main thing people bring up when it comes to gameplay differences, and with good reason: there's two noticeably different stuff available within the sandbox, and in mission variety. Let's start with the former first, it's more compact to start off, meaning maps are either small-medium sized unlike 2 where they're medium-big, there's more of an emphasis on setpieces and distinctive locales, you now have little holographic icons telling you who has a mission available, and alongside Bentley & Murray getting better ways to traverse normally (Bentley's new Hover Pack upgrade and Murray's default Ball form), there's new interactable buttons that either does something to help make travelling from one spot to another easier, or (and this is usually the case) a new way to set off a trap among an unsuspecting foe. Gotta be honest, now that I'm older and have more awareness to games from the past, this eerily gives me immersive sim vibes... not that it's like, EXACTLY at the level of Thief or even the much later Dishonored, but it does feel more lived-in and hands-on compared to 2.
And yet, I wouldn't exactly say it's an improvement. I talked about this with Drax in their review
, but while 3 alleviates 2's major hub issue - that being you have little
reason to not
go around it as Sly as he's the most equipped for the place, as well as Bentley and Murray only just being able to do so near the end of the game with the necessary upgrades and little trampoline spots - it trades it off for 2's core strength in being able to explore it thanks to the clue bottles and treasure run activities. I mean, I can understand clue bottles being tossed aside, as fun as they were I don't think they'd exactly work with 3's aforementioned smaller worlds (unless they nix the fixed value of 30 and go back to 1's flexible and varied value, but even then that'd usually just be 10, 15, and one or two 20s, so...), but treasure runs being gone is for the worst. Maybe it's cause I'm a player and most of my game design knowledge has come from looking it up online from different people, but considering there's two different ways to open safes, I don't think it would've been too unreasonable for there, instead of treasure runs, straight up treasure challenges for the Main Trio this time around, probably one or two in each world, so that it'd utilize each of the character's core attributes and strengths. It also creates an issue that wasn't really there in 2, in that I had to grind out coins more often to buy stuff now cause of both the increased frequency of powerups being available, as well as the price increments and loot reward staying relatively the same as last game. Granted this funnily enough means I've scoured the alleys and roofs of the world to pickpocket guards, and even destroy objects anywhere, missions included, but this seems like a band-aid to mitigate an issue that, again, wasn't that prevalent before. As mentioned earlier, the game was developed in a year, so I'd only imagine if SP would've either implemented this in, or do a new idea altogether. Oh, the wonders of imagining.
Now, there's the other side of the obvious gameplay additions: minigame bonanza. Now, growing up with this, as well as Sonic Adventure 1&2, I developed a sort of affinity and in hand, bias, with this, since I believe these create unique, exciting scenarios for the player to go through even if it's just a one-off idea, and for the most part, I do believe that to be the case since most are pretty good, great even, and I feel there's a decent gimmick/Main Game ratio here. Still, I did say most were good, so here's some I felt lacked, one or two probably being the usual suspects
- The Claw in Australia is boring and way too simple of a task even if it is rather short, and I struggle to find it having a place in that world's mission and story structure outside of "you need the green radioactive material for the Heist"
- Sewer rafting in Holland is an odd one, it's done in the beginning of the mission, yet there's elements of platforming when you're done with the first section, and the second rowing isn't exactly exciting either, and it's justification is for the one (well, technically three but it's in one area of) the heist. It's made more perplexing when you have to row again in the Caribbean, except this time you're like, actually involved with doing fights and stuff.
- Speaking of, the entire second half of the Caribbean world is just Baby's Sid Meier's Pirates. Travelling and ship battles is fine and all, it works and controls well, but that's ALL you're doing, and the speed in which you travel isn't exactly fast enough to go from one area of the map to the other with ease. I understand you can't ask too much to do since this is just A World, but even doing more treasure mapping stuff or having a whole side area dedicated to diving - a style you only do TWICE in the main game - would've been fine enough.
- I don't mind the RC stuff this time around, they're as fun as ever, but there were a few cases - specifically one mission in China, and one during the Final Island - I felt they weren't exactly up to snuff with the other instances, even the ones from 2. Not as bad as the previous examples, but still worth mentioning regardless.
Nowadays, I can understand why people prefer S2 over 3, as it doesn't have that minigames by comparison and you're mainly on-foot. That being said, I still feel like 3's just a bit more consistent in quality by comparison. While I can think of a few instances where 2 was hitting a slump in quality and slowly pulled out of it, I felt 3 tended to bounce back almost immediately after a stumbled outing, both in gameplay and especially story (and keep in mind, I'm saying this as someone who gave both games the same score and see them as two sides of the same coin). If 2 was a story-driven story that kept raising its stakes and ambitions after each chapter, then 3 is an episodic character-driven spin where each chapter focuses on someone while tying into the grand theme of camaraderie, growing from what's fractured from the past, and finding a place of your own.
As evident from that last bit, the villain roster here is my favorite of the PS2 trilogy. While they're not all part of a grand gang this time around, this individualistic aspect, as mentioned before, gives more room to grow a character in the chapter's spotlight, such as Murray V. Don Octavio who're both struggling to fit into something after their one passion and strength for it crumbled before them, or Panda King V. General Tsao, where the former's humility over his defeat has left him to lose himself and his daughter from a hardened, stone-cold traditionalist (and I mean like, unironic misogynist kind), or even just how Bentley has to face off against two smart minds here in attempt to finally solidify himself as someone who's more than just a Cooper Member. I also love Dr. M, he only shows up at the beginning and end of the game yea but even during this short screentime he does a great job at exemplifying this broken, insane man fueled by hatred of mistreatment of Sly's Dad, and even managed to place this thought onto Bentley for a fair bit. Am I exaggerating on this? A fair bit, Dr. M probably could've had one or two cutscenes leading up to him (nothing major, but something to at least plant the seeds so to speak) regardless, Guru's cool but his dilemma against Mask Of Dark Earth isn't exactly important, and as sweet and necessary Penelope is to further provide Bentley's development, her whole thing with Black Baron could've been expanded upon a fair bit, especially since it's probably the only time the "villain" wasn't like actively evil or something like that and just Some Person (dear god I wish Backloggd had a spoiler formatting for a specific text block instead of just covering it entirely, or maybe it's there and I'm too stupid to figure it out). That being said, I prefer the storytelling and beats here by comparison when all's said and done, but again, 2's story is already masterful enough on its own that I can see why some would prefer that as well.
Even the gameplay ties into this, as I feel like everyone gets some amount of play to feel like a Cooper Member. As one example, Dimitri, who as I mentioned before only got two diving minigames, at least helped out before in the story to have some contribution made, and there's a lot more missions available that involves teamwork of some capacity. Carmelita also has her own gameplay style now, and fittingly enough it's like a third-person shooter (although why
this doesn't follow the same camera controls as normal gameplay confuses me), once again giving her more to do and more integral to the story instead of Just Being There like in the first game. On that note, as I mentioned in the past reviews
, this game also dabbles back into doing more platforming sections, and while I wouldn't say it gets as
intricate as 1, there's still more times where you need to do some acrobatics for something or someone, even if it's pretty simple it's very much appreciated. I even liked fighting a whole lot more here, as stated the refinement of the powerups as well as Sly's two new moves makes getting into fights a blast, to the point I used to willingly stage fights just to beat people up, something I still do today. Also, the boss fights? Again, easily my favorite. They combined the more gimmick-centric stuff while still keeping the core fight all about fisticuff nature, or at the very least just duels. Shoutouts to Tsao, Muggshot, MODE Lemonade Bar, Venice Canal Chase, and Black Baron Airplane.
I could say like, a LOT as to what makes me love this game as much as I do, what it means to me and how it influenced me, and why it's a Certified Classic, but it's fuckin 7AM EST at the time of writing this and I'm tired as hell. Just, play this trilogy at some point if you haven't yet, I already mentioned this a few times but they're considered by me and so many others as must play platformers for very good reasons.