GAME NAME: Sleeping Dogs
DEVELOPER(S): United Front Games
PUBLISHER(S): Square Enix
PLATFORM(S): Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC
GENRE(S): Open-world action
RELEASE DATE(S): 17/08/2012 (EU), 14/08/2012 (NA), 27/09/2012 (JP)
Sleeping Dogs is not what it started out as. We all know, United Front Games was developing True Crime: Hong Kong, but Activision thought the game was not good enough to compete in the open-world action game scene, and thus, the game was cancelled in early 2011. However, United Front showed the game to Square Enix, and rushed to get publishing rights to it, but didn’t acquire the True Crime IP, so the name was changed to Sleeping Dogs, and the game was developed again from the start, but with the previous build as a template.
This is the mini-origin story behind Sleeping Dogs, a sleeper hit (no pun), or at least that’s what I consider it to be. To be honest, initially, I was not impressed by it, but as more and more gameplay mechanics were revealed, I thought it was a game where you had much to do. But, this is not what’s best about it.
Wei Shen is a cop. He’s been in the United States for quite some time, but he’s back to his homeland, Hong Kong, mostly to avenge his sister’s death. When he left, everything was to be going the good way, but nothing ever does. Things get easier, when he is assigned a high-risk mission: infiltrate the Sun On Yee, one of the biggest crime families in Hong Kong, from the inside. You control Shen all the way to success – from extorting money from flea market stand vendors in the lowest of ranks, to sealing deals, making or breaking alliances, and being the other families’ primary target. This all unfolds in about 18 hours, if you follow the main storyline missions mostly with just a handful of side-missions, and I would say, it fits the game. It’s a story that, I feel, should not be dragged on for too long. In those hours, I witnessed everything that matters from the story, and I must say, the story is what should attract you to play Sleeping Dogs the most. It’s like a high-quality Hong Kong movie, all the way to the end of Wei’s tale. It is a mature story, involving a cop and his loyalties, at the moment when personal feelings get in the way, and the lines separating his mission from his thug-mates blur dangerously.
During the first missions, you are not immediately given access to the pool of stuff the game has in store for you. You are slowly, but steadily, introduced to the mechanics, and even though it is essentially a long tutorial split into missions, I enjoyed it. That is due to the crazy amount of fun Sleeping Dogs provided me with, and I knew more was on the way. The best aspect of the game, maybe after the story, is definitely its hand-to-hand combat. Arkham Asylum and City players should have an easy way executing combos while performing counter attacks, as the combat model is similar to the very successful model established with Rocksteady’s Batman games. However, there’s a focus on environmental interaction during combat – and it’s undeniably fun. You can smash your enemies into electrical panels, or throw them into cars through the windows, or even throw them into a phone booth and beat them down – or you can casually run them into a wall, head-first. That’s not even beginning to describe how much there is to do with your enemies when you look around you, and even though guns are present, you will always want to drop what you’re holding to go enjoy yourself some fisticuffs with the rival thugs, even if they bring guns into a fistfight.
The story explains, at some point, that guns are not such common thing in Hong Kong. When I heard that, I was already immersed into the game, but I had a question mark over my head, asking: “I’m a gangster and a cop, and I don’t even have a water gun on me?” That said, I enjoyed the game more and more when guns were completely absent – it gave a more personal tone to it. You see, the families down there are something like real, real families. Settling your score with enemies only using your fists is much more rewarding and satisfying, not because Sleeping Dogs’ gunplay is solid but basic, but because it helps establish that “personal” tone between the families. The gangs are no business that everyone can get to (how Wei got in there is explained early on), but rather, closed societies built onto trust and honor, and guns often remove honor from play. Don’t fret though, gun-lover. There’s plenty of gunfights later in the game for you, in the correct amount, striking a balance between what I said earlier and delivering to the modern audience of guns-a-blazing people who want to shoot everything that moves.
The Experience system is also a very thorough one. It might not be very deep, but it requires care if you want to level up and unlock the “kewl” stuff. It’s split into three (yes, three) categories; Cop, Triad, and Face. The Cop bar increases as you perform under the law during missions. Avoid hitting street lights, or people, or generally stuff of the city for example, and you are a good guy that will be rewarded with Cop points at the end of the mission. For Triad points, simply be as ruthless as you can be against your enemies. Smack their faces into a wall, or break their legs (and feel a bit of the pain, too, with the help of the sound effects and the camera), and you are a good gangster. For Face, though, you need to help out the citizens of Hong Kong. That means, fetch quests, beating of thugs harassing them, or anything that can make you have a good face (yay, pun) in the Hong Kong society, despite being that ruthless gangster. Cop and Triad grant you access to skills like Slim Jim, which is a tool to steal vehicles without triggering their alarms and way faster than normal, or more devastating combat moves. Face, though, grants you access to greater vehicles you can buy, and nicer clothes to equip Shen with.
And that all takes place in a very believable Hong Kong, one that looks very beautiful and intimidating. Skyscrapers around the city, reaching for the sky, temples atop the hills, while never forgetting the small details that make the world lively, and easy to believe. People carrying their purses or suitcases to work, your run-of-the-mill street thugs in those dark alleys, the clothing store’s owner arranging the clothes – it’s all great to behold, as long as you don’t get your face close to the TV. The game was reviewed on the Playstation 3, and from what I’ve seen, both consoles suffer from low-res textures and generally muddy environments. That can be mended on the PC version, where an HD-texture pack is available as free DLC, but even with that, you’ll be stuck with some unimaginative parts of the world, which are, luckily, few and far in between, and don’t break your immersion.
Then, we have the general stuff that make Sleeping Dogs such a rich game. You have a lot of clothes and accessories to equip Wei Shen with, and be the undercover cop-gangster you always wanted to be. You can buy your own motorcycle or car, and use it either to navigate and mess around in the city, or race against others. The driving system is also very accessible and arcadey, and it also has a neat “attack” feature for cars, where you slam your vehicle on an enemy at your sides. When driving either a motorcycle or a car, you can perform a Rico Rodriquez-like stunt move, where Shen opens the door or climbs onto the fuel tank and is ready to jump on the car in front of you and claim it his. Later down the road, you can get out of your window and shoot the tires of other cars, and send your enemies flying to their deaths, which is strangely satisfying. You can parkour around the city, being the fit guy Shen is. You can plant bugs, hack security cameras, track phone signals, or sing in karaoke – all those in the form of enjoyable mini-games. Personally, I enjoyed watching my Shen having gun wounds all over his chest, and singing all sorts of songs, like, you know, a real gangster would. You can bet on cockfights, or sail out to a gambling barge for some poker mahjong. Generally, Sleeping Dogs doesn’t set industry standards with any of its mechanics – but it’s the sum of those mechanics that make the overall package such an enjoyable experience.
For all the stuff mentioned in the above paragraph, and many more, there are leaderboards and a Social Hub available. From there, you can compare how long you drove at max speed without hitting anything or anyone, or what your longest motorcycle jump was. This adds, virtually, infinite replay experience, considering the game is open-world, and you might want to compete with your friends for all that stuff for an eternity. That’s not enough? You also get collectibles, such as small shrines where Shen prays, and gets his health bar increased. There’s also 12 statues, 11 of which can be recovered, of deities. These should be turned in to your pre-US martial arts trainer, which also serves as your trainer if you give him statues you find. That can net you very powerful melee skills and combos, invaluable later on, when you have tons of guys to beat.
The soundtrack is what you would believe it would be; hip-hop tunes, Eastern love songs, and the like will be playing on your radio. The game’s general sounds are very well-made, but what steals the show from the audio department is the voice acting. It’s so solid and believable that it engrosses you even more into Sleeping Dogs’ close-to-reality portrayal of Hong Kong.
As usual, my second-to-last paragraph is the “bugs and technical hiccups” one. Though it might seem weird to some, as some searches of mine proved people have problems with Sleeping Dogs, I must admit I only encountered a handful of them, and that wasn’t even game-breaking. Watching textures pop up sometimes, yeah, broke immersion, and that’s a shame, thinking how immersive the game is. Sometimes, X mission would hang up after completion for quite some time, but thankfully, I didn’t reset the console or anything, and after that time, it was registered as completed and what was to follow immediately followed. Note that it was reviewed on the Playstation 3.
Closing, Sleeping Dogs is not a revolution for the industry. It is, though, a break from all the senseless open-world crime games that take place in modern times. You don’t control a broke psychopath who murders everyone without consent, but rather, a police officer in an undercover mission, and see how it affects his personal life, and the world around him. If you can get the game on the PC with a gamepad, it’s the way to go, but even on consoles, it’s not that bad. If you can put up with the lower quality graphics, you are in for a great adventure, accompanied by rich gameplay and a lot to do in the world it’s set. If there’s one game that was unexpectedly good this year, I think it is Sleeping Dogs, so far.
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