Review: Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs’ turbulent past is no secret. It began life at Activision, where it was initially known as Black Lotus. The game was to have a female protagonist, but that idea was soon thrown out of the window and the game was allocated to the True Crime franchise, where it became True Crime: Honk Kong. Activision, still not happy with the product, delayed it multiple times after which it was ultimately cancelled. However, Square Enix saw potential in the game and picked it up. Thus, Sleeping Dogs was born. Minor history lesson aside, I’m really glad Square Enix gave this game a second chance because Sleeping Dogs is quite simply put, an awesome f*****g game.

In Sleeping Dogs, you step into the boots of undercover agent, Wei Shen as he attempts to infiltrate Hong Kong’s deadliest Triad organisation, the Sun On Yee. The plot will seem like familiar territory to anyone who’s seen The Departed or Internal Affairs, the Asian movie it was “inspired” by. The plot, albeit predictable, immerses players thoroughly into the seedy underbelly of Honk Kong, where loyalty is the only thing that keeps a man alive. Wei’s turmoil through this harrowing journey is brought to life by actor Will Yun Lee, who plays his role rather well with subtlety and conviction. Joining him is a cast of famous actors like Tom Wilkinson, Kelly Hu, Emma Stone, James Hong etc, who all deliver commendable performances, although Emma Stone is really wasted here. Pity!

Wei begins his career in the Sun On Yee as a foot soldier, but soon works his way up the ranks. As you perform missions for the Sun On Yee, you start moving up and leave the seedier parts of town for swankier pastures. Working for the bad guys nets you Triad XP that allows Wei to unlock more violent abilities, while Police XP, earned for performing cop missions, grants you access to cooler equipment. Since you are part of the Sun On Yee, you’ll constantly be approached by various NPCs to perform (optional) favours for them. Doing so improves your Face, the game’s equivalent of respect. The more Face points you gain, the swankier threads and sweeter rides you can buy. Progression in Sleeping Dogs isn’t revolutionary, but it works.

Working for the Triads isn’t a walk in the park, and Wei will constantly have to get his hands dirty. Combat is primarily melee-based, so I suggest you level up your fighting skills ASAP. Shen can learn new moves (and life lessons) at the local dojo, but unlike other games where you can simply pay for upgrades through cash or XP, moves in Sleeping Dogs have to be earned by recovering a bunch of statues for your Sifu (master). There are 12 statues in all, and upon delivering each one, your Sifu will teach you a new move. Shen can bring the pain using light attacks, heavy attacks and combos that ultimately allow him to kick copious amounts of ass with a style and swagger you’ve only dreamed of. He can even grapple enemies and use the environment to deliver brutal and thoroughly entertaining finishers. The Punisher would be proud.

Hand-to-hand combat is reminiscent to games like The Warriors and the newer Batman games. While Shen cannot chain attacks as fluidly as Batman, he can move from attack to counter-attack with the press of a button. It takes some getting used to, but after a few scraps, you’ll be able to take on a group of ten or more thugs with no problem. Some of them may not play fair and attack Shen with knifes or crowbars, but with a few quick counter-attacks, Shen can disarm his enemies and use their weapons against them. I, for one, am really impressed with the way United Front has handled hand-to-hand combat. It’s something you don’t see a lot of in open-world games today and even stalwarts of the genre like Grand Theft Auto IV and Saint’s Row: The Third failed miserably in this department.

Apart from the up close and personal stuff, Shen is pretty handy with a weapon as well. It’s just that there aren’t too many gun fights in this game and there are no gun stores throughout the city where Shen can purchase weapons or ammunition (this isn’t America, after all). Most of the time, weapons are contextually provided to the player on a per-mission basis and if I had to put a number to it, I’d say there are not more than ten gun-based missions out of the game’s roster of 30. Still, when they do occur, they’re extremely enjoyable as gunplay is solid and stylish. Shen can take cover behind objects, and when behind lower objects (like crates or cars), he can vault over them in slow motion, shooting dudes in the face like Max Payne. Chain kills and you can prolong the slow mo mechanic till everyone’s dead or you run out of ammo.

From time to time, you’ll even partake in sections where you’re being chased by the bad guys in cars or on bikes and the only way to get rid of them is to stick your head out of the window and blow their rides up. Or you could blow out their tires and watch their car barrel roll while its passengers fly out from the sides – in slow motion. Once again, this is an aspect most open-world games fail at, but Sleeping Dogs aces with flying colours. Apart from the whole vehicular combat bit, you’ll also have to drive around the city of Hong Kong – a lot. Thankfully, the vehicles control rather well apart from minor camera issues. They aren’t very weighty, but you can zip around the city’s roads as well as the narrow nooks and crannies. It does take a bit of getting used to, but within a few hours, you’ll be zipping around with ease.

Driving around Hong Kong is never a chore, mainly because the city looks so god damn good. And if you don’t like your ride, you can just hijack another one by leaping onto it and throwing its unfortunate passengers out the side. United Front has really captured the city’s vibe as a melting pot of crime, tourism, technology as well as its rich Asian heritage. On the PC, I don’t think I’ve seen an open world game with a better lighting engine. Driving around the city at night during heavy rains amidst all the neon signs is just something you have to experience for yourself. Screenshots really cannot do this game justice.

Wei himself has been well designed and animates really well when he’s fighting or free-running all over the place. The other characters are serviceable and like most open-world games, NPCs are repeated dime a dozen. On the PC, you can even download an HD texture pack for free that makes the game look even better. And since we’re on the subject of the PC, I have to say, Sleeping Dogs has really transitioned well to the PC. It offers players a plethora of graphical options and if you have a powerful rig, it’s without a doubt one of the best looking games in the market today. The only downside is that you can’t configure the keys, so unless you like driving with the WSAD keys, you’re better of plugging in a controller.

Sleeping Dogs is an open-world game, but the campaign is rather short and can be completed in around ten hours. Besides that, the game offers players a myriad of activities such as illegal street races to earn more cash, Karaoke bars, Poker mahjong, fight clubs, etc. However, some of the side quests end up being repetitive (I’m looking at you, Drug Busts) and once you complete the game, there’s little motivation to go back. Like most open-world games, the economy is a bit messed up, which means you’ll always have far more money than you actually need.

Conclusion:

Sleeping Dogs isn’t a very original game. All its core gameplay mechanics have been done before in other games, but it ties them together very well. Mechanics like hand-to-hand combat, free-running, gunplay, vehicular combat and racing transition so well into one another that you’ll never get bored in any mission. The game may suffer from a few issues like repetitive side quests and minor camera issues, but these are negligible nitpickings that shouldn’t hold you back from experiencing one of the better open-world games this generation.

Test rig

  • Motherboard: Intel DP67BG Extreme Desktop series
  • Processor: Intel Core i7 2600K @3.40 Ghz
  • Graphic card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 590
  • RAM: Corsair Vengeance 4GB DD3 @ 1600 MHZ X2
  • Power supply: Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold 1200W
  • Satisfying hand-to-hand combat system
  • Diverse, well balanced missions
  • Very stylish and good looking game
  • Solid voice acting
  • Certain side-quests can get repetitive
  • Minor camera issues
9

The game may suffer from a few issues like repetitive side quests and occasional camera issues, but these are negligible nitpickings that shouldn’t hold you back from experiencing one of the better open-world games this generation.

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Game Info

Available On
Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Reviewed On
PC
Developer
United Front
Genre
Action
Age Rating
18+
Release Date
August 17, 2012