Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: Dead Space 2 (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC)

I am a huge fan of the original Dead Space, it being the first game I bought for the Xbox 360 and the one I have gone back to constantly, and my hopes were suitably high for the sequel. The first game was a chilling at atmospheric game that was part Aliens and part Resident Evil, and Dead Space 2 retains the looks and feel while providing some marked improvements that fans of the original will love.

Set three years after the events of the first Dead Space, the main protagonist Isaac is confined to the mental ward of a hospital, suffering from dementia and haunting visions of his dead girlfriend, who comes to him in creepy flashbacks and cut scenes early in the game. The first acts of the game are rather hazy, as Isaac is suddenly freed from the hospital during an invasion of the Necromorphs from the first game, and from this point he escapes with his life and begins to make his way through the chaos that surrounds him. After being eased into the game through some expository dialogue, you don the space suit, obtain the weapons and then the real fun starts. The first thing that is noticeable from the start is that Isaac is more fleshed out as a character, having full dialogue and an intriguing back story. The secondary characters, some looking to help and others looking to harm him, are equally compelling and add a depth to the story that felt absent in the first game.

The frightening Necromorphs are more aggressive than ever in Dead Space 2, and you will spend a good part of the game fighting them off along with a host of other nightmarish creatures. The key to survival is aiming at their limbs, and this leads to some tense firefights where you are surrounded by enemies and aiming becomes a frantic and sometimes frustrating endeavour. The most frustrating enemies by far are the fast-moving Stalkers and the Crawlers that explode, spreading a toxic sludge that drains half of your health. To combat these creatures, the weapons we know and love form the first game have returned, including the Plasma Cutter, the Pulse Rifle, and my personal favourite, the Line Gun. Welcome additions include a flame thrower (always a pleaser), a javelin gun that impales your enemies and a detonator gun that shoots out proximity mines.

Dead Space 2 is every bit as creepy and atmospheric as the first game, but you will immediately notice that they have increased the gore and the frequency of the "jump" moments. Like any good horror movie, you will find yourself walking into a dark and eerily silent room, knowing that something is going to jump out at you, and this makes for an intense gaming experience. The graphics and sound of the first game set a gold standard for survival horror games and they are equally stellar here. Adding to the atmosphere are more varied locales, including hospital rooms, a concourse and, most creepy of all, children's bedrooms with bloody handprints on the wall. This adds up to an experience that feels fresher than the original Dead Space and you get less bored of travelling through space station areas that all look the same after a while. The gameplay is as tight as the original, with responsive controls and meaty weapons that are a pleasure to eviscerate enemies with. That I have noticed an improvement on are the controls in the Zero-Gravity areas, which were cumbersome in the first game but feel better here. Returning are your abilities with Stasis, which allows you to slow down enemies and grab far away objects, and the “benches” used for upgrading your weapons and abilities are also found scattered throughout the game. Using your variety of skills and weapons, and upgrading them constantly, is the key to survival. The enemies are fast, furious and you will need to be prepared.

The other notable improvement is the online multiplayer, which consists of two teams of four people, one side being the soldiers and the other being the creatures found in the single-player campaign. The levelling up works like most other competitive online games; you earn points by getting as many kills, as few deaths, and assisting your teammates when they are overpowered. The points from levelling up allow you to upgrade equipment, armour and abilities and it works well for the most part. The drawbacks are the high learning curve, especially when playing as a creature, and the lackluster performance of your weapons and stasis in the beginning. It should also be noted that there is only one game mode (4 vs. 4), so this will feel limited and under-developed to those who enjoy the more varied multiplayer options found in other games. Some of my friends have complained about the connection issues with the servers and horrible lag, but I have yet to experience this myself. It's fast, frantic, and yes, a little frustrating. However, I look at the multiplayer as a bonus since I bought this for the campaign.

Overall, Dead Space 2 is a sequel that keeps the strengths of the original game while making some improvements that will please fans who are looking for something new. The single-player campaign is very solid and will keep you busy for 10 hours, possibly more depending on the difficulty chosen, and the multiplayer should satisfy your competitive streak once you get past the learning curve. I purchased the Xbox 360 version of the game, but the Playstation 3 version comes with Dead Space: Extraction, an on-rails shooters previously exclusive to the Wii, but I own this already so it didn't make a difference to me. Whatever version you choose, Dead Space 2 is a winner and is one of the first great games of 2011.

Rating: 9/10

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Electronic Arts (EA) Online Pass = Ching! Ching!

A disturbing trend in gaming has arisen and unfortunately it's hitting gamers where it really hurts. Electronic Arts has been rolling out "Online Passes" with their retail titles, and in short, it requires you to use a one-time use access code to enable online gameplay. This was included in recent games like Dead Space 2 and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, as well as a host of popular sports titles. This will also be required for upcoming games like Bulletstorm and Crysis 2, both of which boast impressive online multiplayer as a main selling point. While the concept of redemption codes is nothing new, this is the first one that I'm aware of that is required to access a key component of the game. Before that, most of the codes were for downloadable content and bonuses, or goodies packed into collector's editions of a particular game. But an access code for something that's included with the cost of the game? Something smells fishy here.

It's no secret that many gamers do not pay full retail prices for their games, either due to the perceived lack of value (paying $60 for a game that lasts 8 hours, for example) or financial limitations that require them to wait for price drops or the games to turn up used. This has benefited game retailers whose stock in trade is used video games, like Gamestop, EB Games and a host of independent retailers. EA clearly views this a loss to their bottom line, so the online pass is meant to entice people to buy a game at full retail, or if they insist on buying used, they can download an online pass for upwards of $10. So let me get this straight, let's say I buy the game used at a meager $5 discount from Gamestop, I have to go online and pay an extra $10 just to play online? First I give you the cake and then you come back for the crumbs? Sorry, but I don't agree with this at all.

For their part, EA has attempted to soften the blow by saying that this allows them to offer "premium" service and "bonus content", but these are very broad terms and amount to little more than corporate window-dressing to justify overcharging for both their games and then finding a way to get even more money from the consumers. Now don't get me wrong, I don't mind paying $60 for a game I really want. It's a lot of money, yes, but I carefully consider these purchases and I have rarely been disappointed at the end of the day. If it's a game I eventually want to get used, I shouldn't be punished for this. Someone bought that game at some point, so EA isn't losing any money despite their claims. This is a kick in the pants for gamers and a reason why consumer confidence is on the decline. Sadly, I see other companies doing the same thing.

What EA says:

"We actually view the second sale market as an opportunity to develop a direct relationship with our consumers, and with Online Pass everyone has access to the same premium online services and content regardless of how and where you buy the game." - Andrew Wilson, Senior VP for World Wide Development.

What I say:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Facebook Spam Scams - the new scourge of social networking

With the advancement of social networking has come a sense that simple things like privacy and protection of your personal information has gone by the wayside, and you would be right for assuming that 99% of this is due to our own ignorance or gullibility. Facebook, with it's web dominance over social networking and an online user base that's growing by the minute, has been the target of spammer and scammers since day one, however it's more recently that the consequences have become more visible. My friends have had their profiles taken over by spambots, posting all manner of junk in my news feed and in my profile, and it usually stems from a simple mistake they have made.

Case in point, a recent rash of viral "Click Here To Find Out..." applications have lured unsuspecting Facebookers into allowing spambots to access their profiles and personal information. Variations include "OMG. This girl got expelled for posting this online. Click here to find out what it was", "OMG, this girl killed herself after her father posted THIS on her wall", and other sensationalistic headlines to lure people in. More recently, applications claiming to show you how often your profile has been viewed or what your first Facebook post was have cropped up and people have swallowed it hook, line and sinker. I am now getting people posting on my profile things like "My total profile views are 12,044, click here to find out yours" and other crap. Looking through various friends' profiles reveals the same things, posted over and over, and it happens so fast that simply blocking the application is too little, too late. In another instance, a friend of had a status update that claimed her first post was in April 2009, however she has been a prolific Facebooker since 2007. That's when my bullshit meter started twitching.

So what do these applications do exactly? Clicking on the link takes you to an outside page that requires you to complete a survey in order to get the data you're looking for, and it will entice you to allow it access to your Facebook profile and relevant personal details. Considering you were given the link by a trusted friend, it couldn't possibly be bad, right? Wrong. Once you have done everything, and it's given you the phony (and completely random) data, it will hijack your profile and start spamming your friends. It will auto-generate posts like the ones described above and rapidly send them out to friends, who may in turn do the same thing you did and the cycle continues. It's spreading rapidly and I'm amazed that, despite all the warnings and the fact that it's OBVIOUSLY spam, people still are falling for it. Sorry to burst your bubble, people, but there is no scandalous details about a girl who killed herself or got expelled, and there is no way to track your profile visits or your first ever post. In short, these applications exist only to infest Facebook profiles and you're naive to think of them as anything more.

For Facebook's part, they have done very little to stop the spread of these applications, citing their need to focus on bigger risks. With a site as popular as Facebook being an obvious target for spammer and hackers, I can understand the need to prioritize and as such you should have low expectations of Facebook coming to your aid if you should fall victim to one of these scams. Safety online really boils down to common sense, so the golden rule of keeping your private information as private as possible is more important than ever. Go into your privacy settings, set strict limits on what information is showing and who can see it, and never trust any third party applications on Facebook. Tread them as spam and never allow them to access your profile. While they might seem enticing, the few moments of amusement that you get are not worth the endless headaches trying to get them off your profile. Be smart, be safe, and above all else, use your heads!

The Consuminator, signing off.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Best Albums of 2010

As we reach the end of another year, it’s time to reflect on the music that made the whole 12 months worthwhile. 2010 was an exceptionally strong year for music, with old favorites mixing comfortably with the new bands that made their first big splash. Compiling a “Best Of” list was exceptionally hard this year, so I had to go with my gut; I ranked the albums I enjoyed the most as opposed to picking the most popular or critically acclaimed albums.

Top 5 Albums of the Year

Elvis Costello - National Ransom
Swans - My Father Will Guide Me
The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
The National - High Violet
The Black Keys - Brothers

Honorable Mention

Interpol - Interpol
Grinderman - Grinderman 2
The Dead Weather - Sea of Cowards
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
Band of Horses - Infinite Arms
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Eels - End Times
Spoon - Transference
Broken Bells - Broken Bells
Foals - Total Life Forever
Local Natives - Gorilla Manor
Beach House - Teen Dream
Hot Chip - One Life Stand
Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening


Bruce Springsteen - Darkness on the Edge of Town (Deluxe Re-Issue)

Deluxe 3 CD/ 3 DVD reissue of Springsteen's 1978 masterpiece, complete in a gorgeous box set with extensive linter notes and a wealth of unreleased songs and concert footage. This is as "fan service" as you can get if you're a Boss fan.

Elliott Smith - An Introduction To Elliott Smith

A fitting introduction to the late singer/singwriter's best moments, perfect for those who wish to dabble without getting into the entire back catalogue. Some ommissions are ineveitable and I still think it takes more than a one-disc retrospective to sum up the brilliance of Smith's work, but this collection does a respectable job nonetheless.

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain and Bitches Brew (Legacy Edition Re-Issues)

It's Miles Davis, need I say more? Two of his best albums (in my opinion) re-released in Legacy Edition packaging with extra tracks and expanded liner notes.

Bob Dylan - The Witmark Demos: 1962 - 1964

Even his demos and rough, patchy songs from the famed early 60's period are fantastic. If you own the other Bootleg Series recordings, especially circa
1964, this is an essential companion.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Movie Review: The Social Network (Blu-Ray)

2010. Directed by David Fincher. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Rooney Mara and Andrew Garfield.

For better or worse, the social networking mammoth Facebook has left an indelible mark on our popular culture, boasting 500 million users spanning the entire globe and a slogan in common use in our current vocabulary - "Facebooking". While other sites like Myspace and Friendster paved the trail for social networking, Facebook truly brought it to the masses and David Fincher's masterpiece "The Social Network" explores the story behind the web phenomenon and it's enigmatic creator, Mark Zukerberg. What could have been a shameless cash-grab is instead one of the best movies of 2010 and a worthy contender for a few Academy Awards.

"The Social Network" is not a sensationalistic story about Facebook so much as it is a story about the power struggle that characterizes it's creation. At the center of the story is Mark Zukerberg, played by the incredibly talented Jesse Eisenberg, who is portrayed as equal parts a computer programming genius and a sarcastic, self-important jerk. Given the popularity of Facebook now, it might be easy to forget it's simple origins as a pet project for a dejected Harvard student and a few of his friends. Zukerberg, after being dumped by his girlfriend, decides to take his frustrations out on her by creating an internet site dedicated to the objectification of girls at Harvard, and this ideal blossoms into a social networking site specifically for people to post their personal profile online. Admittedly, this has been done before by the likes of Myspace and Friendster, but the new site (simply called Harvard Connect in the beginning) offers more features and a better online profile. The idea catches on and soon spreads to other colleges and universities, and eventually into what we know as Facebook today.

"The Social Network" is told through flashbacks that are bound together be a series of lawsuits that Zukerberg faced when Facebook went global. The movie takes some creative liberties with how people reacted to certain events, but the movie follows the events fairly accurately. Zukerberg developed the ides for Facebook with the help of a few friends, some who provided their expertise and time and others their money. The most dubious contributor is Scott Parker, played by Justin Timberlake, who gained fame by founding Napster but is portrayed here as a fallen e-commerce giant who is riding the coattails of the next big thing. Zukerberg's former friends are innovators and bitterly dejected business partners in equal measure and we see them with a certain amount of sympathy here. What started as a project between friends exploded into something much bigger and, needless to say, a few people got hurt in the process.

In an era where corporate giants are vilified and lampooned in the press, "The Social Network" takes a surprisingly neutral stance on Zukerberg and the rise of his empire. He is shown here as a shy, nerdy and utterly dedicated person who ultimately wanted to so the right thing but was caught up in his meteoric rise to the top. He is cold, sarcastic and disrespectful to others, but he is not portrayed as a villain so much as a focused entrepreneur. His friends and enemies are portrayed in a similar light, but more as people who were left by the wayside. The acting from all parties, especially Eisenberg as Zukerberg and Timberlake as Parker, is top notch and likely to gain some notice at the annual awards ceremonies. As a director, I have always respected David Fincher for his style and the narrative structure of his movies, and he has outdone himself here. What really deserves notice is the screenwriting, which contains perhaps some of the best dialogue and stylish use of exposition I have seen in a film this year. Additionally, the score by Trent Reznor contributes greatly to the pace and the tone of the film. The story of Facebook is complex and this is a film that does it justice by giving a balanced and even-keeled narrative.

For those purchasing this movie on DVD or Blu-Ray, the additional features given here are well worth checking out. First and foremost, the 90 minute documentary on the making of the movie gives some entertaining behind-the-scenes footage as well as cast and crew interviews. Additional features include featurettes on the score and the visuals of the movie, all of which are interesting on the first viewing but unlikely to warrant a second viewing. The Blu-Ray transfer itself is fantastic and the sound mix really brings out Trent Reznor's score in a powerful way. Drama films usually offer a negligible improvement over regular DVDs, but the difference is noticeable here.

Whether you're a Facebook fan or not is irrelevant when it comes to your enjoyment of this movie since it's more a character-driven drama than a pop-culture cash-in. The top notch production and razor sharp dialogue make "The Social Network" one of the most engaging and compelling movies of 2010 and I wouldn't be surprised to see this snag a few Oscars in the process.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

3D Technology - Wave of the future or gimmicky fad?

The concept of 3D movies dates back to the 1950's where it was hailed as the next big innovation in filmmaking technology. Mainly designed for monster and science fiction movies, the audience was treated to a 3D effect with the aide of awkward and horribly unstylish glasses that, combined with film process, would create a three dimensional effect that would trick the eye into seeing people and objects come off the screen. It was, and remains, a novel idea that saw a resurgence of popularity in the 1980's and has become all the rage today. The technology has advanced and 3D has been hyped up to be the wave of the future, but is it really? Read on for my opinions on the topic.

Movies being released today wave the 3D banner high in the hopes of getting people back into the movie theatres, which have admittedly fallen on hard times. Due in equal part to the hard economy and the advancement in home theatre technology, fewer people are going to the movies and what was once a treasured past time is now a diversion at best. High ticket and concession prices, combined with speedier DVD releases, provide equally low incentive for people to go out to the cinemas. 3D seems to be one of the few aces up the sleeves of the movie executives and they are milking it for all it's worth, even incorporating "3D" into the title of the actual movie. Aside for some nice immersion and a good depth-of-feel effect, I find 3D technology to be largely unimpressive and overused, and it doesn't enhance the experience so much that a bad movie would seem better because I'm watching it in 3D. The movie that is considered the paragon of the format, James Cameron's blockbuster "Avatar", was visually stunning but this was due to the production value, not the 3D effects. It looks just as beautiful on Blu-Ray and, quite frankly, even the high production values didn't distract me from the fact that the story was very garden variety. The innovation was in the filmmaking, not the writing.

Unfortunately, it seems like they will slap the 3D tag on any movie and hope it sells, which leads to an onslaught of cinematic shovelware. All of a sudden, we have Pixar movies in 3D, horror movies in 3D, romantic comedies in 3D and so on. Most of the movies I have seen in this format benefit nothing from the technology and it fails to mask the weaknesses of the acting and writing. Case in point, I saw "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" and the 3D looked nice but didn't enhance the experience in any way for me. On the lower end, there was "Clash of the Titans" which was obviously a 2D movie with 3D slapped on top - the quality was beyond horrible.

"Avatar" aside, it seems that the onslaught of 3D movies has not filled the box office coffers as much as they had hoped, so the next "next wave" is 3D television sets that allow you to experience full 3D in your own home. Sounds like a good idea, right? Sure, until you look at the price of owning one of these sets. At launch, your average 3D television ran for around $3,000 on the low end, and that's not including the glasses that will set you back $150 a pair. If you want a pair for everyone in the house, you're looking at a substantial amount of money for something that's not even well established yet. Very few TV stations have programming that supports 3D at this time and the quantity of DVDs that support this technology is still limited. However, if you're a gamer, you'll be happy to know that Sony is leading the charge by releasing Playstation 3 titles that support 3D, "Batman: Arkham Asylum - Game of the Year Edition" and "The Sly Collection" being recent examples. Given the cost of the technology at a time when it's still relatively new has prevented it from meeting it's potential right out of the gate, which is important in a market of consumer skepticism.

This is not to say that I don't believe in 3D technology or see it's potential, but I think it's becoming a crutch for a failing industry that's battling for our dollars. Movies like "Avatar" that were built from the ground up for 3D have proven profitable, but it still feels gimmicky at this point. As a surprise to nobody, George Lucas plans to release the Star Wars movies in 3D starting in 2012 and he has promised a "different approach" to 3D, whatever that means. Sitting her now, in early 2011, I feel that 3D is gimmicky and it amounts to little more than a commercial fad. Having said that, people were also skeptical about iPods, Blu-Ray, HD TV and other technologies that we now cannot live without, so time will tell if I'm right.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Console Wars - Why Fanboys Never Win...

The word "fanboy" gets tossed around a lot these days and the application of this term is sometimes fair, sometimes not, but the fact remains that obsessive fanfare and gamer in-fighting is the most annoying aspect of gamer culture. To be fair, it didn't begin with this generation, as I remember fans of Sega and Nintendo butting heads back in the day, and the addition of Sony to the mix only fueled the fire in the mid 1990's and it's reached a boiling point today. In thousands of forums, message boards and chat rooms, people debate endlessly on which is the better console, which games are the best, and which system will ultimately win the console war. Random pockets of intelligent discussion can be found, but the majority of discussion is meaningless flaming done by functionally illiterate fanboys who run on the mistaken belief that their opinion is fact. This article covers my views on the topic, and to the easily offended and verbally incontinent fanboys, you have been warned.

So what is a console war exactly? It's a competition that's waged on two different frontiers; on the corporate level with companies competing for your money, and between consumers who passionately believe in the product and will defend it to the death. Today, the trifecta of gaming companies (Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft) have high-selling consoles on the market and the industry is more lucrative than ever. Each console on offer has a selection of high quality exclusive titles, plenty of cross-platform games and admittedly some shovelware. Which system(s) the consumer decides to invest in depends on a number of factors, including the games being offered, the cross-media features outside of gaming (eg. Blu-Ray Players, PC integration) and the console's reputation in the marketplace. That last factor makes it especially hard to decide because reputations are based on subjective and highly biased opinions of not only professional review sites like Gamespot and IGN, but gamers themselves who are not shy to express their feelings on which console should get your hard-earned dollars.

Out of this market comes the fanboys, the cockroaches of the gaming marketplace and a demographic that infests all corners of the internet. How I define a console fanboy is as follows: an insecure fan who has limited options when it comes to gaming and develops a Napoleon complex about it. They feel small and insignificant because they can't have all of the consoles on the market, so they talk big online and evangelize their console in order to convince others (mainly themselves) that they made the right choice. Part of this is understandable since it's human nature to embellish or dismiss facts in order to avoid buyer's remorse, and there is a certain risk associated with choosing between different options. I imagine people who invested in HD DVD players, the Nokia N-Gage or any other failed products felt the burn and I'm equally sure that some people still passionately defend these products now.

Fanboys don't want to admit or even entertain the thought that they made the wrong choice, so they exaggerate the positive qualities of their console and dismiss the negative aspects. If you go into any chat room, forum or even look in the comments on Youtube, you can see them in action and it's rather sad. Approaching them with logic and reason is pointless, since any opposition is met with a flurry of attacks and four-letter words because, frankly, you've hurt their feelings by disagreeing. Others are more subtle, simply saying things like "PS3 FTW!" or "Xbox 360 is the best, end of story!", the concept of respectful opinions and polite debate seemingly a foreign concept to them.

In my time spent online, I get asked from time to time what my console of choice is, and my response is always the same: I own all three, so I don't need to choose. I own the Xbox 360, the Nintendo Wii and the Playstation 3, whichs puts me in a good position to assess both fairly because I have nothing to gain or lose by favoring one over the other. Each system has it's strengths and weaknesses, and I freely admit that I live in fear of getting the "Red Ring of Death" on my Xbox 360, that the Playstation 3's online interface is buggy and unreliable and the Wii's motion control is often gimmicky and games made just for this feature are usually lackluster. Having said that, I will also say that all three systems have some excellent exclusive titles, that the Xbox 360 has a fantastic online service and the Wii and PS3 have had very strong offerings over the past two years. Disagree with me? That's perfectly fine, because my opinion is just that - my opinion. It's doesn't represent fact, it's not the final word and I don't expect others to abide by it.

In closing, to the fanboys, you need not be so defensive about which system is best. If you own one of the consoles, you have access to plenty of great games on offer and more to come. Limiting yourself means that you are missing out on plenty of great titles, and if you insist on being petulant about it and flaming others, don't be surprised if the "fanboy" tag gets placed on you. Let me pose a question to you: Let's say you're an Xbox 360 fan and you receive a PS3 as a gift from someone, will you a) throw it back in their face, tell them that it sucks and to return it, or b) be very thankful and dive right into playing it? Yeah, try telling me you'd choose option A. In short, a fanboy is only as faithful as his options. Be happy you have a console, enjoy your games and don't get hung up in the opinions of others. All three systems are great, so let's all get along and focus on what matters most - The Games!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Review: The Sly Collection (Playstation 3)

Long before Suckerpunch became famous for InFamous (no pun intended), their flagship product was a third person action-platforming series by the name of Sly Cooper, their attempt to capitalize on the success of the Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank series and, in my opinion, they succeeded admirably. Funny enough, the Sly Cooper series seems to be the forgotten gem on the Playstation 2, with most gamers I know having only played one of the games or none of them. Many don't even know about this series in detail, something this new HD collection on the Playstation 3 aims to fix.

The Sly Collection encompasses all three games in the series, with hints of a fourth one to come out sometime in the future. The first game in the series, "Sly Cooper and the Thievius Racoonus", follows Sly's efforts to obtain all the pages from his family's book of thieving secrets from the villainous Clockwerk, a semi-mechanical Owl-like creature that has stolen the book and scattered the pages and blueprints across a series of stages in varied locales. Helping Sly along are his sidekicks Murry and Bentley, and Sly Cooper being a criminal would logically have someone on the side of the law chasing him, and this antagonist comes in the form of Carmelita, a foxy (literally) Interpol agent who vows to capture Sly. Part of the fun of the game is the sexual tension between them, which is expressed in their hilarious back and forth banter.

The second game in the series is easily the best. "Sly 2: Band of Thieves" expands on the gameplay mechanics of the first game, with some added tweaks such as getting rid of the "one hit kills" that provided so much frustration in the first game, and allowing you to play as multiple characters. The settings are also more exotic and the stealth element is fleshed out a little more here, with several parts of the game requiring you to run recon missions and do multiple tasks before you can complete an objective. The third game, "Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves" is the weakest in the series but is still very good. It retains most of the elements that made the first two games great, but it introduces too many playable characters and some superfluous tasks, such as safe-cracking, that make the game feel bogged down. It's definitely the most challenging game in the series, but the story is less interesting and the objectives more tedious, so this is definitely the one to play last.

True to platforming tradition, the characters in Sly Cooper are colorful and cartoonish. Sly Cooper, the title character and main protagonist, is a raccoon super-thief who comes from a long line of superthieves. Balancing his criminality is his tendency to do the right thing and defeat villainous bosses, giving him an almost Robin Hood sheen to, presumably, send the right message to the younger audience. You will spend the entire duration of the first game, and the bulk of the sequels, playing as Sly Cooper and the platforming controls are the main strength of the series. Sly is as slick and agile as any platforming hero and using him to traverse the levels is fun if not a little too easy at times. Assisting Sly are his partners in crime; Murray, a dim-witted hippo who acts as the muscle of the gang and Bentley, a turtle who is relatively weak in combat and platforming but is the brains of the operation. Each character is playable at certain times and they each bring unique abilities to the party, but they feel limited when it comes to the platforming. Starting with Sly 2, you are required to play as other characters and this provides some nice variety, but you'll ultimately want to play as Sly through most of the game.

Given that the games are cartoony, the HD transfer doesn't enhance or deplete the quality of the visuals to any degree that you'll notice. The controls are as tight and responsive as ever, but the same frustrations that you remember in the PS2 versions have been carried over. The camera sometimes doesn't show you what you need to see and it can go haywire when you get to close to it, and the one hit kills in the first game will result in plenty of trial and error. What might turn off a lot of gamers is the relative ease of these games, especially the first two which can be beaten in a short period of time, and only those who hunt for all the secrets will get extended playtime. On the plus side, each game offers generous PSN trophies and a platinum prize that is fairly easy to obtain, so those who are looking to beef up their trophy count will get a kick out of this collection.

Overall, the Sly Cooper collection is a quality platforming series that didn't quite attain the success of it's contemporaries, but in my opinion the games have aged better than most. The budget price of this collection makes it an easy purchase decision regardless of whether or not you've played these games in the past.

Rating: 8.5/10