For the first installment in this series, click here.
After the events of the first game, the player learns in Sly 2: Band of Thieves (2004) that Clockwerk’s mechanized body parts are being kept (for reasons unexplained) in a museum. In the tutorial level, Sly and his gang attempt to steal the parts under the belief that Clockwerk could potentially be revived and threaten the Cooper line once again. Unfortunately, a new set of villains, in the form of the Klaww Gang, have stolen the parts first for nebulous but certainly nefarious purposes. In order to protect the Cooper line from future threats from Clockwerk, Cooper and Co must steal them back.
The game wastes no time explaining how evil the new guys are. The first couple of criminals you pursue follow now-familiar templates. Dimitri (a… newt, I guess?) is a failed artist who turned to forgery and racketeering after being rejected by the art world, and Rajan (a tiger) escaped poverty in New Delhi by using drug trafficking to amass enormous wealth. In both cases, you see these formerly marginalized individuals showing off ostentatious wealth in the form of Dimitri’s nightclub and Rajan’s “ancestral palace.” In both cases, that wealth is accumulated through work, not inheritance. In both cases, the game constantly ridicules these men for being so egotistical as to flaunt their earned wealth, demonizing them for threatening Sly’s bloodline in the process. Sly makes routine underhanded jabs at them for their vanity and lack of taste in living accommodations, and also belittles them for engaging in counterfeiting and drug-dealing, respectively. This, all while breaking into their homes and businesses and bludgeoning hired staff to death in order to steal parts of a robotic corpse.
It is worth noting that in the process of taking down Dimitri and Rajan, the Cooper Gang are aided by a mysterious colleague of Inspector Fox named Constable Neyla (a panther). But at the moment they nail Rajan, Neyla turns on the Cooper Gang and (temporarily, of course) has them imprisoned. From this moment on, Neyla is a recurring enemy, whereas before she served largely to facilitate occasional missions by providing intel and material aid to the Cooper Gang. This role is taken over by Inspector Fox, who Sly refers to as the biggest reason that “this is all fun.” Law enforcement is good, as long as it serves as little more than a game mechanic, providing entertaining challenges and diversions and providing narrative closure in the background by rounding up Sly’s enemies after he leaves. The moment law enforcement become characters with personal motivations outside of Sly’s adventures, they become irredeemably evil.
To illustrate the point, Sly and Murray are thrown in a prison operated by the Contessa (a black widow spider), a warden affiliated with Interpol. Bentley seeks to rescue his friends, and learns in the process that the Contessa is an expert in hypnotherapy, which she uses to rehabilitate her inmates. But (gasp) there is a nefarious catch. Her hypnotherapy erases her inmates’ criminal tendencies, allowing them to reintegrate into society, but she also uses hypnosis to force inmates to tell her where they have stashed their criminal fortunes. Upon learning this, Bentley gasps, “That dishonors thieving and law enforcement at the same time!!”
To restate that differently, the Contessa steals the fortunes of other criminals…which is exactly what the Cooper Gang does. It’s the whole point of the series. It is extremely hard to discern what nuance makes the Contessa’s way of doing it so much worse than Cooper’s. If it’s the hypnosis, the Cooper Gang have drugged, beaten, blown up, and otherwise brutalized their opponents on a regular basis. If it’s that she utilizes the aid of law enforcement, the Cooper Gang used Neyla’s help to take down two prior marks. If it’s that she is evading detection, Bentley is actively trying to break his friends out of prison. And yet, the narrative supports Bentley’s gasping assertion, despite its utter hypocrisy and self-righteousness.
Perhaps it has to do with the Contessa’s background. The Contessa is a black widow, both literally and figuratively. She came into her own astounding fortune, including her ostentatious Gothic castle, by marrying a wealthy Czech nobleman and then poisoning him. The explicit reason for her evilness is her murder and deception, but the narrative precedent suggests it’s her inheritance by marriage that is more offensive, as opposed to Sly’s virtuous inheritance by birthright.
After steamrolling the Contessa, the Gang target Jean Bison, a Gold Rush-era prospector who was frozen in ice for roughly 150 years before thawing out and building a freight-and-timber empire in Canada (it’s a weird game). Jean Bison aspires to, “taming the Wild North, damming every river, and chopping down every tree, with progress delivered at the sharp end of an axe.” Jean Bison’s criminal enterprises exist to, “bankroll his one-man war against Nature.” The Cooper Gang steps in, not just to steal from Bison, but to, “save the environment from his twisted sense of progress.” In other words, it’s not corporate entities, or societal consumption habits that are to blame for environmental destruction. It’s the backwards, anachronistic, white working class, and that bloc is so powerful and intimidating that only a royal heir like Sly Cooper is capable of stopping them.
The equation of marginalization and moral depravity becomes most blatant with the appearance of the Klaww’s head honcho, Arpeggio (a parrot), whom the gang pursue after they take down Jean Bison. Arpeggio is a bird whose species should be able to fly, but his wings are stunted, and therefore, useless for flight; he’s effectively disabled, but rather than sympathy, the game positions Arpeggio as both morally and physically deviant. He pursues an education in engineering, taking inspiration from Leonardo Da Vinci in a quest to create prosthetic enhancements, which the game presents as a megalomaniacal pursuit that ultimately leads to his criminality. He also takes on Neyla as a protégé, who has been working with him under Interpol’s nose the whole time in an effort to reassemble Clockwerk’s body as an exoskeleton. Sly confronts them, Arpeggio rants, Neyla betrays them all and fuses with Clockwerk to become immortal, and the Gang have to stop her, or somesuch nonsense like that.
But if Neyla is a cop, an inherent authority figure and a powerful person in this world, isn’t the game saying that privilege and power are dangerous and corrupting? In answer, the game’s manual gives us Neyla’s backstory. She grew up poor in New Delhi and scammed her way into, and through, a prestigious British university. Interpol caught her, but was so impressed by her scam that they gave her a job (so she could, “get into the criminal mind”). So the answer is that privilege and power do corrupt… if you weren’t born into them in the first place.
The game’s conclusion comes when the gang find themselves squaring off against Clockwerk/Neyla (Clock-la), who has very quickly (and inexplicably) developed a personal loathing for the entire Cooper family. In the money-shot of the whole game, the Gang extract Clock-la’s “hate chip,” the source of Clockwerk’s immortality and power, and crush it underfoot, causing all the Clockwerk parts to rot. The triumphant finale of the whole game is Sly’s destruction of evil, which is almost exclusively a threat to his bloodline. Why should you want to save this bloodline? Because it’s the Good Guy’s bloodline and hating it is evil. Divine right reigns.