Sly 2: Band of Thieves Retrospective

Sly 2: Band of Thieves is commonly regarded as one of the greatest sequels and greatest PlayStation 2 games of all time. Take a look back at the sequel that stole players' hearts as Sly's second stealth selection nears its 20th anniversary.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves Retrospective

Before Sucker Punch was rocking the world with superheroes and samurai, they were shocking the world with one of the greatest PS2 games to ever grace the console. Sly 2: Band of Thieves may not be Game of the Year 2004 (that mostly went to Half-Life 2 and Halo 2, big year for the number two), it is still an all-time iconic entry into the rich library of PlayStation 2 games. 

A modern comparison would be to call this game the Puss in Boots: The Last Wish to the original’s Puss in Boots (2011). Sly 1 was received fairly well, and absolutely no-one expected them to go as hard as they did in the sequel. The game is still regarded to this day as one of the greatest platformers of all time, and defined the Sly Cooper style. Building off of what worked in the original to create a new experience that veered away from “Get to the end of the stage” style gameplay in favor of something much more unique.

However, 2004 was a very different time. Does Sly 2: Band of Thieves still steal hearts nearly 20 years later, or has it completely passed its prime? 

Sly 2: Band of Thieves PlayStation 2 Trailer -

Story – A Broken Clock

Sly 2: Band of Thieves‘ story is set two years after the first game’s conclusion. The Cooper Gang learns that the remains of the villainous metal owl Clockwerk are kept in a museum in Cairo. They break in to steal them, only to see they have already been stolen. The returning INTERPOL Inspector Carmelita Fox and her partner Constable Neyla accidentally let slip that the Klaww Gang may be the culprits. So, like before, the gang has another gang to go after.

Constable Neyla (top left), Carmelita Fox (top right), & Sly Cooper (bottom)

Constable Neyla (top left), Carmelita Fox (top right), & Sly Cooper (bottom)

The story has a very similar setup to the first game. Sly, Bentley, and Murray going on a road trip to retrieve stolen parts of a greater whole. However, instead of The Fiendish Five, they’re going up against The Klaww Gang. The Klaww Gang consists of Dimitri, Rajan, Jean Bison (John Bee-Sahn), and Arpeggio, with a secret fifth member. However, it’s not all the same as before.

Each villain and area is still divided by Episodes; however, certain villains get two back-to-back episodes. With the change in episode also marking a change in hub world. Furthermore, there are a few twists that complicate the story and keep things interesting. The gang gets betrayed by Constable Neyla and captured by The Contessa, a corrupt INTERPOL agent. This leads to an unplanned adventure to Prague to take down the psychotic warden and steal her Clockwerk Eyes. That’s right, she’s also the secret Klaww Gang member. Well, it’s not a secret in the trailer. But it’s treated like one in the game. 

The story of Sly 2 is brilliant. It repeats the same basic setup as Sly 1 for the sole purpose of subverting players’ expectations, taking the story in unpredictable directions. The story all makes sense, too. Swerves don’t happen for the sake of having a swerve, everything fits together. Sequels often struggle to live up to their predecessor, but Sly 2 soars past it with ease. 

Arpeggio, Leader of the Klaww Gang

Arpeggio, Leader of the Klaww Gang

Gameplay – Redesign, Rebuild, Reclaim

Forging ahead without keys.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves expands on the basic gameplay elements established in the original. The basics of Sly’s traversal and combat remain the same, though they both see many updates. You can purchase upgrades that give Sly new combat moves and/or traversal abilities. Like a charged up cane attack or a paraglider. The biggest change is that both Bentley and Murray are playable and have their own missions to complete. They also play differently, complete with their own upgrades.

Murray is all about brawn, so sneaking isn’t his style. He has a wide range of powerful attacks and a lot of health to cover the lack of stealth. Bentley is mind over matter, so stealth is his forte. He has a crossbow for ranged attacks, and many ways to distract enemies. They’re all balanced really well and bring unique play styles to the table, which isn’t always the case in games with multiple protagonists like this.

Sly's Gadget Grid

Sly’s Gadget Grid

Mission Possible 

The missions in each hub world have also seen many changes. It’s no longer all about collecting keys to unlock the path ahead. Instead, all the missions are about setting up for the heist of the Clockwerk Parts. It creates this feeling that you’re actually working toward something, making it all the more satisfying when it’s time to pull off the heist. It makes the missions actually feel important.

Sly still does the lion’s share of the work, though Bentley and Murray still have parts to play. Bentley is the brains behind the operations, only going into the field if something requires his knowledge of hacking and/or explosives. Murray, quite literally, does the heavy lifting. There is also a wide variety of missions. There are some mission templates that get re-used in almost every Episode, like taking recon photos, but not enough to get annoying. To counter that, some missions feature gameplay you will never do again after it. It’s a great variety pack that never gets boring. 

Bentley's hacking minigame

Bentley’s Hacking Minigame

Around the World

You can also explore the hub worlds with all three heroes. Which is where you’ll find the Clue Bottles. There are now 30 Clue Bottles in each hub world instead of in each individual mission. They provide helpful upgrades you can’t get elsewhere, so they’re worth your time. You may also find Treasures scattered throughout the map. Treasures are very valuable, but you can only cash them in if you bring them back to the Safe House. However, if an enemy hits you even once, the treasure breaks. On top of that, some have bombs on them, meaning you have to get it to the Safe House in a certain amount of time. 

The hub worlds themselves are great as well. Sucker Punch took the diverse landscapes of the original and expanded on them. You get to explore the city streets of Paris, the jungles of India, the gothic architecture of Prague, and the vast snowscapes of Canada. Each one plays different, as you have to adapt to the new layouts and find your way around. Of course, almost world also has a boss waiting for you at the end. The boss fights are less gimmick-based than Sly 1, with some still being genuinely challenging today. Furthermore, both Murray and Bentley get a boss fight of their own that plays to their strengths. Murray gets into a fistfight with Rajan, and Bentley has to use strategy to conquer Jean Bison. Finally, they added health bars and removed Lucky Charms. It makes combat so much more engaging. 

Rajan's Office in India

Rajan’s Office in India

Graphics & Sound – Sharp Improvement

Sucker Punch created the definitive art deco experience. No drastic changes were made, only upgrades. The capabilities of the PlayStation 2 were limiting, especially by today’s standards. However, Sly 2 is when the series really found its identity.

Graphics – Looking Cool, Sly

The biggest improvement is the characters’ silhouettes. Their outlines are sharper and their features are more defined. Sly Cooper had a pudgy almost-baby face in the original, but in Sly 2, he looks more like the rogue gentleman thief type. Bentley and Murray’s designs received more of an update. Both of their outfits changed to reflect their readiness for field duty, which helps give them more definable physical characteristics. One of the most well-known strategies in character creation is the Silhouette Test. If you completely black out the character, leaving only their outline, can you still easily tell who the character is? The three members of the Cooper Gang pass that test easily. So do all of the supporting characters.

Bentley & Jean Bison

Bentley & Jean Bison

Each villain is created as a reflection of the area they’re in, and what they do. For example, Dimitri is a nightclub owner. So he’s a sleazy iguana in a bright green suit wearing an obnoxious amount of jewelry. The designs do a much better job fitting with the setting than in the original. For comparison, Sly 1‘s first boss was a genius machinist who created a storm machine to sink passing ships and allow him to plunder them. And he was just a frog in a top hat.

Sound – Let’s Dance

The game doesn’t just look great, it sounds great too. Every area has its own theme that fits the aesthetic of the location, and every boss has their own theme. My personal favorite is Dimitri’s Theme. It perfectly fits the nightclub location while being a fitting theme for a boss fight that isn’t too intense, as it’s only the first one. However, the voice acting does have some issues. Even then, most of it is good. 

The main issue is Sly’s voice. Which is unfortunate, since it’s the one you hear the most. The voice acting isn’t bad, he perfectly captures the dry humor and wit that Sly Cooper is known for. But, the flaws start to show in more serious moments. His voice rarely captures the urgency or emotion of someone shocked, confused, or endangered. It wasn’t a problem in Sly 1‘s more straightforward story, but Sly 2‘s twists and turns really expose it. However, the game is nearly 20 years old.

The Cooper Gang

The Cooper Gang

Sly 2: Band of Thieves is everything a sequel should be and more. It is The Dark Knight to Sly 1‘s Batman Begins. Though, looking at the series as a whole, a more apt comparison might be calling it the Toy Story 2 to Sly 1‘s Toy Story. It takes a format that worked and characters people loved and expanded upon it in all the best ways. Creating a more dynamic and intriguing sequel that feels properly bigger without diving into excess. It is the definitive Sly Cooper game, and one of the greatest PlayStation 2 games ever made. 

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