Sleeping Dogs – Review
Sleeping Dogs is a 3rd person open-world action-adventure game developed by United Front Games and published by Square Enix for Windows, PS3, and Xbox 360. I rented the PS3 version from Game Access after hearing some positive reviews for it. Sleeping Dogs was started as a True Crime: Hong Kong game, following the series which is essentially a Grand Theft Auto -like. The story follows an undercover cop with the Hong Kong Police Department who has childhood friends and rivals in the fictional Sun On Yee triad gang, which makes for a perfect opportunity to infiltrate the gang and destroy the triad from the inside. Along the way the character starts to get attached to the gang members and the war that is happening inside the triad, and will make certain choices that are not exactly legal.
I had never really gotten into the Grand Theft Auto 3D games (I played GTA and GTA2 to completion but never got into GTA3, Vice City, San Andreas, or GTA4 despite owning them all), but I thought I’d give this game a try with the promise that I didn’t have to finish if I wasn’t that into it. Luckily this game fixes what I feel are the things I don’t like about the GTA games (namely the over-reliance on gun combat).
Sleeping Dogs does still have gun combat but they are much less often as (theoretically) Hong Kong has less guns easily available to street gangs. Most of the combat in the game is done with hand to hand, which is expertly done reminding me of the Batman: Arkham Asylum combat system. This is a combat system that should become the standard, in my opinion. There are lots of different combos and counter attacks and a simple system for telling when to counter. The combat system works fluidly with many different melee weapons and provides for flourishes if, for instance, you defeat the last person in a group. In addition, when you do use guns you have the opportunity to slow down time like the Max Payne series in order to get better accuracy while diving over tables.
Another import part of an open-world game is the world itself, and thankfully Sleeping Dogs has created a vibrant, interesting Hong Kong with plenty of discoverable areas. The character can free-run a little which allows for climbing up walls of certain height and hopping fences which makes running around the city much more enjoyable. When you need to move a little faster there are plenty of vehicles to choose from, you can either buy vehicles from the local chop shop (which make them available at dozens of parking lots around the city), break in and steal a vehicle parked anywhere, or hijack a vehicle either when it is stopped or via an “action hijack” move from another vehicle while driving beside it. Choosing between great handling luxury cars, high acceleration street racer cars, slow inconspicuous trucks, fast and agile motorcycles, and high speed boats is very fun and each vehicle feels and sounds unique. The 1100cc motorcycle goes so fast and has tremendous handling, and if you hit something you don’t die so it’s much better than real world racing.
In addition to the fighting, racing, free-running types of in-world mini-games there are also built in “hacking” mini-games which come up when you need to hack a CCTV camera, open a locked safe, pick a lock, or place a listening device. For the most part these are great little distractions; they don’t last too long and don’t fault you if you fail them. Some get a little annoying after doing a bunch in a row, but that might be mitigated by someone who plays them only in between missions, unlike how I do. I tend to go looking for all the collectibles before moving too far into the game’s story because I know once I finish games like this I almost never go back to pick up the collectibles. Another interesting mini-game is a Karaoke Hero -like game where you have to make the character sing at the right pitch to impress some ladies. This gives the player so many options for things to do, not just following along the story, which is equally well made.
The story is not overly complicated, it employs a lot of tropes used in the “undercover cop in a gang” type movies. This isn’t a bad thing, in fact it helps to move the story along quicker without having to explain things you probably already understand about undercover work. By setting this up with a movie feel the game can get away with a lot of cinematic sequences and move the story along quicker than it would probably take in a real situation. Technically the character becomes a boss in a week or two, but they never say actual time, they will instead say “a short time” so you can infer that this actually takes place over several months or years. It would seem really strange for every single day to be this hectic for the main character anyway, so imagine there are tons of boring “gang member” days in between.
I really enjoyed the story, and the voice acting is great. All the subtle Cantonese expressions that are thrown in during story conversation or just conversations happening on the street really help to make you feel you are in Hong Kong. This is important as I had to keep reminding myself to drive on the left side of the road.
It probably took me over 30 hours to finish the game including collecting all the collectibles, and they have since added a lot of expansions. There are built in friend leader boards for each mission and random stats like longest vehicle jump and driving the longest without taking damage, so if a lot of your friends are playing you can get some replay-ability there. Even without the replay I am glad I at least played the story mode.
Pros: Great city design, excellent combat system, interesting story with great voice acting, fun distractions like racing and mini-games
Cons: Gambling mini-game was introduced very late in the story, cock fighting was a pointless “coin flip” as to whether you win or lose