Review: Sleeping Dogs
Sleeping Dogs is an open-world action game where you start at the base of a Triad gang and work your way up to the head of the organisation. Sounds all too familiar, right? Well, what happens when you throw in the fact that you're an undercover cop and that there's a lot more going on than your average thug-venture?
- Worth The Time?Most certainly
- Things LovedThe fast, fluid combat and exquisitely entertaining driving. You'll never get bored with great variety of missions and side activities. The city of Hong Kong feels alive and vibrant. Story keeps you interested while upgrades keep you motivated. Convincing voice acting sells the narrative. PC version.
- Things HatedMoney has very little use beyond gaining face. Visuals are a slight disappointment and texture/draw distance issues detract from overall presentation. Some mechanics, such as hacking security cameras, are tedious.
- RecommendationAnyone who's been looking for a good, entertaining opne-world experience complete with plenty of action and a solid story should definitely pick up Sleeping Dogs. I recommend it twice as highly if you're planning on pickng up a PC copy.
- Name: Sleeping Dogs
- Genre: Action
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: None
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
- Developer: United Front Games
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Price: R515 (PS3, Xbox 360), R345 (PC)
- Reviewed On: PS3
Sleeping Dogs might be a title that popped onto the scene out of nowhere but like its protagonist, Wei Shen, the game has a deeper history although unlike the character it’s not all that interesting and hasn’t really affected the final product all too much. So let’s jump right in, skip the history lesson and talk about the game itself.
Sleeping Dogs is not trying to do anything genre bending or revolutionary, instead it takes the tried and trusted GTA formula and simply makes good on it. That said I believe it does lot of things better than GTA IV or many of its contemporaries for that matter in that there are plenty of things for you to do and you actually want to do all of them. GTA IV had a lot of things going on but did you really want to do all that many of those activities? Watching TV, being your cousin’s bitch and so on; it was a bit dull for my tastes and that’s something United Front Games understood when creating Sleeping Dogs – an open-world game should strive to keep you entertained from one end of the map to the other and the most effective way to do this is make the game and its activities fun. I had fun with many main missions, enjoyed doing a number of side quests and favours for people and sat with dilated pupils as I drove from one place to the next.
Perhaps we should backtrack for a minute here. Sleeping Dogs takes place in Hong Kong and puts you in the shoes of locally born San Francisco PD officer Wei Shen. Wei has been recruited by the Hong Kong PD’s undercover squad to help take down a Triad gang known as Sun On Yee. It’s slightly different from your typical sandbox gangster game in that Wei’s motives for moving up through the ranks of the gang are more complex than your average protagonist. It doesn’t help that he has personal childhood ties with some of these sordid individuals. Spoiler warning: this double life becomes a point of conflict for Wei. Despite some of the twists in the plot being telegraphed and the overall narrative amounting to little more than a cop drama plot we’ve all seen before, the story is good and has a slightly classic Hollywood feel to it. However, the ending does feel somewhat rushed. But overall it was certainly good enough to keep me interested.
What stands out though is the voice acting which is rather well done and the way characters slip between Cantonese and English adds a believable edge to the already convincing voice work. With a cast including names such as Emma Stone and Lucy Liu I can’t say I’m surprised. What does surprise me is that even people in the streets have curious conversations that you can’t help but eavesdrop sometimes.
It’s a pity the same can’t be said of the visuals. The game doesn’t look bad but it’s nothing special either and I reserve a special disdain for some of the textures employed in Sleeping Dogs. The draw distance is rather erratic too, sometimes being acceptable and other times you might see streets and buildings ahead of you but a car will suddenly appear out of thin air. Unless there’s a bonus mission at the end where Wei fends off inter-dimensional traffic jams, that doesn’t cut it with a game as big as Sleeping Dogs. Speaking to Azhar, it became evident that the PC version is visually superior and doesn’t suffer from these limitations quite so much and that me a bit sad given that I was sitting with a PS3 copy but on the other hand it filled me with admiration for UFG because they actually gave a damn about the PC version.
Gameplay wise, you’re thrown into the city of Hong Kong to do whatever you want to almost from the get-go. This is possible because of the game’s strict adherence to genre and never really straying too far from it. As a result, everything is somewhat familiar albeit very well done. Sleeping Dogs’ recreation of HK may not be as massive as Liberty City or even Steelport but it’s got character and is in fact a fairly good model of the city by all accounts. The city is also buzzing with activity and there’s no shortage of things for you to do.
The game might start off very ho-hum but quickly grows into its own with unique side missions and characters and even a very different method of restoring health in the heath shrines dotted around Hong Kong. It obviously takes a bit of playing time before you can unlock all the activities the game has to offer but it’s surprising just how much you can pass your time doing from very early on. Maybe you’d like to try your hand at karaoke, a bit of light street racing, betting on cock fights, initiating a drug bust, romancing a few ladies, doing favours for random citizens, playing a few hands of Mahjong poker or possibly participating in an underground fight club.
There really is no shortage of things to do and while the romantic interests are more of a chore than a fun activity and the karaoke takes an acquired taste, the rest of the side activities are rather fun and give you plenty of variety to choose from. The fight clubs are akin to combat challenges in Batman: Arkham City while the racing is just challenging enough to be on par with the sort of races you’d expect to come across in any NFS title. Remember those two comparisons because we’ll get back to them a little later on. We’ll just leave them to simmer for now while I dissect the rest of the game.
Did I mention that there are also numerous collectibles for you find around the city from jade statues which allow you to improve Wei’s martial arts skills to many lock boxes littered all over which unlock items of clothing and give you some decent cash.
You’ll do the usual mix of courier missions, gang operations and so forth in order to move up in the ranks but then there are also other things such as helping your boss’s fiancé run some errands for their wedding and then chase down a stolen wedding cake or the number of police missions which include bugging a street racer’s car for example. There are some very different missions in this game and then there are some that are rather plain but with unique twists. Of course, some are just your regular drab missions but not everything can be great, right?
Most of the time, when it comes to fending off enemies, you’ll be relying on your fists and whenever Wei takes to fisticuffs, the game takes you to a special place I like to call adrenal euphoria. The combat is a grittier and grimier version of the free-flow combat system from the two Batman games. It arguably flows even smoother than the system it apes and Wei is one hell of a fighter with lots of grappling, knee-breaks, fly-kicks and a great use of environmental kills. This is partially due to Square Enix London Studios assisting UFG with the game since the same studio assisted Rocksteady with its Batman titles. The game’s light free-running system makes this combat even more rewarding as you can hop over a table and kick a thug’s teeth out in one fluid movement. Or you could run at a wall, jump at it and launch off planting your foot firmly in a deadbeat’s face.
As you progress through the game, you can improve the efficacy of Wei’s attacks as well as expand his arsenal of attacks. The game will occasionally transition to using guns and this is usually a bit out of place as you typically don’t carry a gun as these are hard to come by in HK. You usually have to pinch one from an enemy while others are also shooting at you. It takes a bit of getting used to but mercifully Wei doesn’t rely all that heavily on firearms. That said, the shooting is very bland and is at stark odds with the superb melee combat.
I’d like to talk about the game’s vehicles now because I certainly haven’t had this much fun behind the wheel of a car, outside of a racing game, in a long time. Sure, Saints Row: The Third had mods that you could make to your cars and those were cool but driving wasn’t more than a little bit of fun after a while. In Sleeping Dogs each car, each bike, each boat handles differently and it changes the way you have to drive them. The game has some driving pedigree though as UFG is well known for creating ModNation Racers and something you probably didn’t know is that the team on Sleeping Dogs comprised several ex-NFS developers. Thus, the driving feels like a key component of the game rather than a means of getting from one mission to the next.
You can hijack any car, just as you’d expect from a game where the protagonist walks around in a vest and baggy jeans, but what you probably wouldn’t expect is the awesome action hijack mechanic which allows you to hijack any moving car as you drive up behind it. It’s great fun and is often put to good use in missions to really sell those action sequences. You can even shoot out a car’s tyres and watch it flip over and explode. It’s just a pity that high speed collisions often end with Wei being ludicrously jettisoned out of the car and high into the air. Then again, buckle up children or the same will happen to you.
Everything you do is collated and quantified into three categories namely: police, triad and face. The first two are rather self-explanatory and you level up in those respects by doing good deeds such as driving carefully or by being especially brutal in combat respectively. Face is perhaps a bit more eclectic in that this relates to how people perceive you. You gain face by completing side activities or by doing favours for citizens. You also gain face by dressing more snappily and the higher your face level, the better you’ll look. Basically everything from running over pedestrians to obeying the rules of the road gains you pints towards one of the three categories. A nice touch is that you can kit Wei out in the clothing of Just Cause 2’s Rico Rodriguez and that’s a pretty nice touch from Square Enix London no doubt.
Levelling up along each of the three branches unlocks upgrades which can be purchased or bonuses which will be put into effect and adds a bit of depth and meaning to Wei’s activities. You’ll also earn money for just about everything you do but there’s not much this can towards besides buying new cars and clothes. Ultimately you won’t really know what to do with your cash and may get yourself arrested a couple of times on purpose just so you can blow a stack on bailing yourself out.
All in all, Sleeping Dogs offers somewhere in the region of 25 hours of entertainment if you play through all the cock fights, missions and side quests. There’s plenty to keep you busy and I spent more than a few hours just driving around and doing random shit that didn’t really accomplish anything, but then I have a knack for doing this in open-world titles. The game’s Social Hub adds an extra layer of replayability to the mix though as it keeps a record of all your stats in the game and allows you to replay any one of the game’s 30 missions to try and improve on your score. You can also compete with friends to see just who would make the best Chinese gangster.
It’s wholesomely unfair to label Sleeping Dogs as a suitable placeholder until GTA V gets here. It’s so much more than a placebo to placate your hunger for the expansive and engrossing gangland entertainment that GTA V will likely offer. It is in fact a very solid platform from which a successful series might just be able to launch.
I’d like to make use of an anecdote to drive home my point. At eGamer we have a points system where each writer earns points for their work during the course of a month. At the end, these points are tallied up and the winner gets first pick at the games releasing in the coming month. While the others were fighting for Darksiders II, I silently snuck up and took Sleeping Dogs and I do not regret my decision in the slightest.
This is a game that’s just full of entertainment value and will hit that sweet spot for any fan of sandbox games. In fact, this is a shining example of how to make an open-world title. It’s packed with plenty of activities that have meaning behind them and tie in very neatly to the main objectives of the game. All of this in a vibrant world with a very enjoyable means of getting from one end of the map to the other. There’s also a solid campaign to keep things somewhat focussed and driven towards an endpoint.