GAME NAME: Sleeping Dogs
DEVELOPER(S): United Front Games
PUBLISHER(S): Square Enix
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
RELEASE DATE(S): August 14, 2012
This review is based on the PC version of the game.
Sometimes there’s a time for games that challenge how we think about the medium; that question how we look at video games. Sometimes there’s a time for games that challenge us; that push us to our mental limits and give us a sense of extraordinary accomplishment. And sometimes there’s a time for games that are just plain fun; that don’t care about being ‘thought provoking’ or challenging, that simply want to entertain in every sense of the word. Sleeping Dogs fits into the latter category.
You play as Wei Shen, an undercover cop in Hong Kong who infiltrates the triad ranks and must trick his old friends and triad superiors into believing that he’s loyal to them to the end. The story takes most of its influence from Infernal Affairs, but has enough strong supporting roles and interesting plot twists to distance itself from the film it draws from, creating a story that you will want to see through to the end. Wei Shen is also a great character, and his personal struggle kept me glued to my seat. The story almost takes itself too seriously, but fortunately the gameplay keeps things level.
While games like Grand Theft Auto IV have been criticized by some for taking things a bit too seriously and games like Saints Row 3 have been criticized for being a bit too ridiculous, Sleeping Dogs finds a happy medium between the two, with a plot that has characters you’ll genuinely care about and high stakes, but with gameplay that allows you to dive off a balcony in slow motion, guns blazing, pulling off ten head shots in midair. Everything in Sleeping Dogs feels good, from the driving to the shooting to the fist fighting. After a nearly seven-year long development period, it is understandable to have expected Sleeping Dogs to have turned out a mess of mechanics that feel archaic and sloppy, but every aspect of the game feels polished.
Fist fighting probably takes up most of the skill based gameplay you’ll encounter. The system feels great, with a button to punch (hold for heavy) and a button to counter. You’ll immediately be reminded of the combat system from Batman: Arkham Asylum, but trying to play the combat sequences this way (jumping from enemy to enemy, hitting each with one or two strikes) will quickly get you killed. Instead, the system reminded me of the Yakuza series, in which focusing on one enemy at a time is the way to victory, while using combos of light and heavy punches can lead to sweeps and kicks that act as crowd control. It works brilliantly, and most importantly, its fun. Showing a surprising level of detail in the open world environments, Wei can also use environmental finishers in most places you’ll encounter enemies, which include throwing a man into a furnace and shredding someone’s face in an air conditioning unit. Yikes.
Driving also plays a huge role in gameplay, and it too feels great, opting for a smartly arcade-esque feel ripped right out of Need For Speed, which is unsurprising since many team members of Need For Speed also worked on this game. You can also perform an action hijack, jumping from car to car, which is always thrilling and fun. There are also shooting sequences, though they’re purposefully in short supply, since the fist fighting system is so fun and it would be a shame to ruin that by letting the player just shoot everyone. You can only carry one weapon at a time and they’re only found during specific shooting missions in the game. Shooting feels good, being accentuated by John Woo inspired slow motion sequences when sliding across tables and making head shots. The cover system is a little iffy, but it gets the job done for the very short amount of time in which gunplay occurs. The last gameplay element is an Assassins Creed style running system, which works well in the surprisingly vertical environment of Hong Kong. Some may be annoyed by having to press a button every time you want to climb or jump due to becoming used to Assassins Creed’s automatic free running, but I liked having at least some hands-on element to the action on screen. On-foot chase sequences are fun and tense.
During gameplay, three XP meters fill up: Face, Triad and Cop. The face meter rises depending on how much extra stuff you do around the city. The Triad meter rises during triad missions depending on how stylishly you kill people. The cop meter starts at maximum rank in the beginning of missions and lowers as you do non-police like things, such as run over people and bash fire hydrants. The face and triad meters work great. The cop meter feels silly. Ok, I get that Wei is a cop, but he’s undercover. Would the police really bash him for playing his role? And why do they care so much about those parking meters? Even that stuff I understand, but you’ll grow red with fury when you miss a button press during a chase sequence and Wei stumbles a little bit, and you lose points for being clumsy. Really? All three meters unlock new upgrades to Wei’s abilities, and all three are fortunately fairly generous. If you lose lots of cop points due to running fifty people over, they’re easily made back up by doing side missions.
Visually, Sleeping Dogs is either outstanding or pretty ugly. I played Sleeping Dogs on a PC, where I enjoyed an HD texture pack, fantastic lighting and Direct X 11 features that pushed my PC and looked consistently beautiful. Then I played a bit of it on the Playstation 3. Oh, wow. Huge difference there. On consoles, Sleeping Dogs looks pretty mediocre. I wouldn’t say it’s a complete mess, but draw distances are short, textures are blurry and lighting is pretty sub par. Overall it’s playable, but if possible this is a game to be played on the PC.
Voice acting and music are both phenomenal. Wei Shen, voiced by Will Yun Lee, is played wonderfully, and he is backed up by a supporting cast that includes names us Westerners will know like Tom Wilkinson, James Hong, Emma Stone and Lucy Liu. Characters speak primarily in English but occasionally will jump into Cantonese as well. It’s unrealistic (I seriously doubt that a bunch of Triads in Hong Kong would be speaking in English 80% of the time), but like most of the game it’s all done in the name of having fun, which these actors clearly are. The licensed score is one of the best I’ve ever heard in a video game, encompassing classical music, indie rock, hip hop and pretty much everything you can ask for into a healthy number of radio stations, all sporting a large selection of songs.
Sleeping Dogs is a blast. It sports fun gameplay, an intriguing story, great characters and fantastic presentation. Some small issues do little to hold it back, and if you’re yearning for a new open world crime game, Sleeping Dogs gives the very best a run for their money. I’ve been waiting this whole time to say it, so here it goes- (sunglasses)- don’t let this sleeping dog lie.
A copy of the game was purchased by PixelJumpers’ staff for reviewing purposes.
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