Also On: PS3
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: United Front Games
The fact that Sleeping Dogs even exists as a game hitting retail shelves this week is pretty remarkable, considering its history leading up to today’s date. Starting off development as a new IP under development by United Front Games for Activision, dubbed Black Lotus, and then transitioning into the third game for the True Crime series, it was placed on the shelf by publisher Activision, before being subsequently picked up by Square Enix in 2011. Dropping the True Crime moniker (which was probably for the best), it was retitled to this, Sleeping Dogs, and despite any issues the game had during its development cycle, the end result is a fun, open world action title for consoles and PC.
You take on the role of Wei Shen, an undercover cop fresh off an assignment in San Francisco, heading back home to take on the Sun On Yee, a Triad gang that Wei Shen has a little history with from his youth. Shen quickly infiltrates the gang via an old friend, and his path of duality kicks off from there. The inspiration for much of Sleeping Dogs lurid tale of criminal life in Hong Kong is lifted from a number of film sources, and fans will note plenty of similarities to stuff like Infernal Affairs, Hard Boiled, The Killer and more. This plays out not only in the plot, but in the action elements of the game too. While it might look like another GTA clone on the surface, Sleeping Dogs places a pretty hefty emphasis on hand to hand combat instead of gunplay, and saves the shoot-outs for very specific sequences that don’t tend to pop up in abundance until the second half of the game. Even then, access to guns is extremely limited, so you won’t be bouncing around Hong Kong with rocket launchers, grenades, and other explosive material.
Which sort of leads to Sleeping Dogs feeling like an odd open world experience. I’ve grown used to the way GTA and the more recent Saints Row works, in that I’m given a stupid amount of toys to mess around with, and can generally cause a massive amount of havoc, creating my own fun within the game world. Sleeping Dogs doesn’t quite offer that experience though, which does detract a bit from my desire to keeping messing around in this world once I had finished the story. Sure, you’ll have a number of side missions to take on, including optional mini-games that involve some very regional specific tasks, like Cock Fighting, Mahjong Poker, Karaoke, and more. But a lot of these optional tasks don’t lead to any considerable reward for the player, outside of cash, which you’ll be swimming in at some point with not much to spend it on other than cars and clothing.
Still, while running through the story Sleeping Dogs does a pretty good job of making a name for itself within this particular genre. The story is great, and seems to nail a lot of elements that make 80’s and 90’s HK action cinema so much fun to watch. You can tell that the developers had a certain amount of love for the project, and really did their best to evoke the feeling of these films into the tale woven by Sleeping Dogs. And the cast providing the voice acting is generally top notch, with an excellent lead character and a number of stand-out performances delivered by the supporting cast. Really, Sleeping Dogs excels at showing off its film roots, and makes it worth checking out for the storyline alone.
And the combat is a pretty fresh take on what you’ll typically find in an open world game. Generally melee is half-assed in these types of games, so it’s pretty fun to see a well thought out hand to hand mechanic used here. Wei Shen comes with a number of base combo’s that are performed by timing your attack button presses appropriately, and these combo’s can be built upon and improved by leveling up your Triad and Cop standings after completing missions, and by collecting 12 Jade statues around town that’ll unlock brand new moves to take down foes. The enemies themselves come in a variety of types, which force you to pay attention to the flow of a fight, and make proper use of the game’s countering and grappling techniques.
When not on foot, you’ll have the option to either buy up vehicles that can be accessed at any point via a variety of parking garage locations, or you’ll be able to call in a car through a valet service on Wei Shen’s cell phone. Or you can just opt to jack cars from pedestrians, which is just as fun here as it is in other, similar titles. And like those games, you’ll get chased by cops on occasion, and need to evade or outrun them in order to lose your wanted status. I will say that cops aren’t a massive hassle here; they’re actually handled well enough that you won’t get annoyed and need to play it safe on a constant basis, which is certainly a big plus.
Also helpful is the ability to essentially perform an attack with your vehicle. When enemies start to surround you, whether they’re cops or rival Triad gangs, you can tap a face button to slam your car into a nearby enemy. Doing this a few times will cause the other car to be disabled due to damage, and helps put some distance between you and any pesky assailants. It’s a great, useful function to have, and makes certain sequences far less frustrating than they would be otherwise.
You’ll also have the option, on occasion, to get into high-speed shoot-outs, which is also a lot of fun here. When you go into aiming mode while driving, the game instantly slows down, allowing you to line up shots without worrying much about where your car is headed. And cars aren’t unstoppable bullet sponges, instead if you aim for the tires you’ll usually get a pretty awesome flip or explosion out of the result, which is always fun to see.
On foot, the gunplay isn’t bad either, but I didn’t find it to be all that exceptional. It’s not quite an auto-aim or lock-on system, instead requiring you to actually aim your shots a bit, but there’s little challenge when shooting it out against enemies, as the enemy AI isn’t that aggressive or smart. There’s a fun mechanic that allows you to leap over cover and slow down time, while you attempt to line up head shots to increase the length of the slowdown effect. But it’s also pretty unnecessary for the most part, and will generally lead to you taking more damage than if you just sat behind cover. Outside of the fact that it looks cool, there’s not enough reward for the risk involved, and the cover system is a little clumsy to get back into once you’ve moved away from it.
Driving feels pretty solid in Sleeping Dogs, which is great considering you’ll spend a fair amount of time behind the wheel. The map of Hong Kong is divided up into about four major locations, which represent a variety of urban styles ranging from slums to upscale high-rises. Streets have a hefty amount of traffic to them and the world feels lived in, and also comes with some fairly funny conversations you’ll occasionally hear from various NPC’s around you. If you’d prefer to get more to the point of the game, and don’t care to drive from mission to mission, you’ll have little trouble finding a taxi that’ll port you to any destination on the map that has an icon.
Like I mentioned earlier, there’s a fair amount of optional content to check out, most of which consists of mini-games but there’s some side missions with story elements to experience too. These are basically like mini-missions, and consist of a foot chase, car chase, or beating up a bunch of thugs, but the variety is large enough that you’ll end up wanting to check them all out. They don’t add much to the overall plot, but give some of the side characters something to do that don’t tend to pop up elsewhere in the game.
Overall, I feel like Sleeping Dogs is the start to something that has the potential to get even better down the road. I really love the setting, characters, and hand to hand combat of the game, but the remainder feels a little recycled in comparison to other open-world games we’ve played so far this generation. It doesn’t do anything wrong with these elements, but it doesn’t do much to freshen them up either. Still, it’s a pretty fun game that’s worth investing your time into, and something that I’d urge you to check out if you have any interest in the setting or films that Sleeping Dogs is based off of. I really hope that this does well enough to see a sequel, because I imagine a project without the iffy development cycle attached could have the potential to be pretty incredible.