Sleeping Dogs Review (Xbox 360, PC, PS3)
Sleeping Dogs has had a turbulent life hasn’t it? It started out as True Crime: Hong Kong – the newest entry in the franchise before Activision famously and unceremoniously cancelled the project last year, even though it was close to completion. In stepped Square Enix to save the day who resurrected the game, renamed it as Sleeping Dogs and made it into a brand new IP. Was it worth bringing the game back from the dead or was it cancelled justly? Heads will probably be rolling at Activision HQ because Sleeping Dogs is an excellent game that never deserved the treatment it got.
The main story of Sleeping Dogs surrounds Wei Shen, a Chinese undercover police officer tasked with infiltrating the Sun On Yee – a notoriously vicious and deadly triad group operating out of Hong Kong. Shen must work his way through the ranks in order to destroy the organisation from within, as well as maintain his real persona as an officer of the law by completing tasks set by his superiors.
In between kicking several layers of butt both as Wei Shen the gangster and Wei Shen the cop, he can find the time to bust drug dens across the city, do favours for civilians to raise his public profile and compete in races both of the four-wheeled variety and the two-wheeled. Oh, and he can worship at mysterious shrines that can raise your health meter, as you do.
The story of Sleeping Dogs is of a higher quality than what could have been expected from it. Shen’s rise from being a lap-dog to becoming associated with the big boys of the Sun On Yee is charted greatly. The characters you encounter are memorable for their characteristics and personalities and although the ending was predictable and somewhat expected, the strong build-up of the events before they happened made it better than what it would’ve otherwise been.
While Sleeping Dogs doesn’t have a story as strong as some Grand Theft Auto titles (or as long), it succeeds in providing something that is played out by believable characters that will live on long after they’ve played their part in the narrative, even if they exit under brutal circumstances.
As an open-world game, one of the first things the player will notice is obviously the Hong Kong setting. Games of this type usually keep within the American confines and rarely stretch outside of the continent, but the focus on Hong Kong makes Sleeping Dogs feel different to its competitors.
While the city may not be as ‘alive’ as Liberty City was in Grand Theft Auto 4, it maintains a distinctly unique feel of its own, from the neon signs that illuminate the cityscape to the market vendors dotted around the city and of course the presence of the Chinese language on shop signs and vice versa. Had Sleeping Dogs been set in an American city, it simply wouldn’t have worked as well as it does with Hong Kong as a back-drop as the game makes good use of the authentic location it has to work with.
If you head into Sleeping Dogs expecting an arsenal of weaponry the size of a warehouse, or to be able to blow vehicles and citizens into smithereens with enormous bazookas, you’ll be somewhat disappointed. Unlike other titles such as GTA and Saints Row, Sleeping Dogs focuses on the use of melee combat as it’s main source of weaponry for the player to utilise to dispatch with enemies.
You won’t wield or experience a gun at all for the first few hours of playing the game, even though the shooting mechanics are good once you do. Instead, Wei Shen uses his fists and legs as his weapon of choice in a melee combat system that is satisfactory and varied enough to be a good replacement for traditional gun-play, something which open-world titles usually don’t include very well; the developers clearly used a game featuring a certain caped crusader as heavy inspiration.
Sleeping Dogs’ melee system uses the Arkham combat style to influence its own brand of ass-kicking. Normally such a blatant style of ‘copying’ would be distasteful and harmful to the game, but it’s not hard to see why they chose to use almost the exact same system for their game. Both Arkham games have some of the strongest melee combat in the genre and considering Sleeping Dogs needed something equally as strong for itself, there was no better source to take inspiration from.
Creating a decent combat system in an open-world game is something that other titles like GTA have struggled with but it works fantastically in this game and is a powerful enough replacement for lead and gunpowder, as well as being true to the personality of the character. After all, an undercover officer is unlikely to traverse the city firing rocket launchers at passing cars is he?
Although Sleeping Dogs’ combat feels familiar to fans of the Arkham titles, don’t expect it to be as simple. Once you start to encounter foes that cannot be grappled, are carrying sharp weapons or love to block everything you do, dispensing with a thirteen-strong encirclement of people who want to snap off your limbs can be troublesome.
Countering, also, feels a little more difficult than in the aforementioned Batman games, with the player seemingly having very little time to respond before he gets injured. Practicing with the small placements of enemies across the city allows you to gain strength with tougher crowds but for somebody expecting a problem-free fight-a-thon, you’ll be in for a surprise.
Like the Arkham games, Shen can gain new abilities and moves either through collecting statues and returning them to their owner, thereby unlocking a new move to learn, or upon progressing through a series of systems that reward him for how he complete missions. If you dispense enemies with headshots etc., your ‘triad’ meter will increase. If you hit fences, rob cars or do anything remotely naughty while on missions, your ‘police’ meter will decrease and give you less of a reward once you’ve completed it.
While the system sounds good, and both have their own unique unlockable items to make them useful, the criteria for them is a little bizarre. It makes little sense to be penalised for hitting meaningless objects, such as small fences, when you’re doing something much more important, like chasing after a car that’s blasting bullets at you.
A universal system that records the player’s actions throughout the entire game, not just on missions, would’ve been a far better feature to have included. That way, mowing down an entire street’s worth of pedestrians would harm your overall reputation rather than be frowned upon during missions but deemed acceptable outside of them. This is the system that Sleeping Dogs should’ve had rather than the one it actually has.
When Wei Shen isn’t pounding his enemies into dust, he’s driving across the gleaming city of Hong Kong, whether that be in a vehicle of four wheels, two or none. Sleeping Dogs features a wide variety of drivable vehicles ranging from ordinary cars to super-speed motorbikes and boats. The driving mechanics on the cars are perfectly acceptable (although the camera angle when reversing is absolutely dreadful) but the handling of the bikes isn’t as strong as it should be.
When you’re commandeering a fast bike and need to flit between traffic without colliding with it, the sensitivity can throw you off a little and become a problem. Pair that with chasing after targets on busy roads at top speed and you may be in for some difficulty that may or may not end with you hitting the back of a car and being launched fifty feet into the air, an entirely plausible outcome.
Outside of the sometimes problematic driving mechanics, Sleeping Dogs generally makes good use of the range of vehicles it has available for the player to use. There are slow cars, average cars and flippin’ fast cars, just as there are for bikes and even boats. Shen can also perform ‘action hijacks’ while driving, allowing him to leap from his current vehicle onto a nearby one and forcibly remove its owner while both vehicles are still in motion.
While it looks silly and somewhat out of place in a game like this, it does give the game’s chases a good sense of style that’s reciprocated in other areas of the game, such as mid-combat and on-foot pursuits. For example, time will sometimes slow down when Shen whacks a final foe to the ground, or leaps over an obstacle with a gun in his hands or performs what would be a perilous drop to somebody less inhuman.There are times when you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re playing Max Payne but such a feature gives Sleeping Dogs a stylish aura that just feels right.
Sleeping Dogs plays well and all but does it look as good as it plays? In some aspects, yes. In others, no. Hong Kong is a visually impressive environment with its heavily illuminated structure but that only applies if the player is looking at it from close up. Once you step further back and take a look at the horizon, you begin to notice that the draw-distances are particularly rubbish, with the rest of the city looking like a blurry, bland mess the further you are away from it.
Sleeping Dogs generally doesn’t have much to be concerned about in the graphical department but for the city to look impressive up close and then look dreadful from afar is a drastic change that most players will be able to notice in-game even when they don’t want to, unfortunately.
Pushing the aforementioned issues aside, Hong Kong begins to look even more impressive when its weather changes to a rainy, sometimes stormy image. Having an open-world game without a strong and noticeable weather system has always been something particularly irritating when playing a game of this type and unfortunately many titles, such as Grand Theft Auto and even Skyrim, try to include one but fail miserably.
Sleeping Dogs’ rain effects are a welcome addition not only because they make the city look even better when its saturated with water but also because it causes a slight, albeit cosmetic, change to the surrounding area. For example, the roads will become visibly wet, as will the characters when they become drenched after exposure to the elements. It adds a certain degree of realism to an otherwise static environment and while it’s hardly a feature that will make or break the game for people, the effort to make the city feel more realistic by having the weather change frequently has to be appreciated, even if Sleeping Dogs’ version of Hong Kong only switches between grey and wet.
Moving on to the sound department and the issues begin to decrease somewhat. The general sound effects of the game are decent and the voice acting is particularly strong as well, with the mix of English and Chinese being understandably potent and well-integrated. The voice acting of the characters participating in the main story don’t warrant much concern although some of the voices on the secondary characters, such as street pedestrians or market vendors, can sometimes be grating with how forced they sound. The effort was clearly on making the main characters better and for the most part, it was a success.
As is generally the case with games of this type, Sleeping Dogs features an in-game radio system that plays a collection of English and Chinese music to please your ears when you’re speeding down the highway. While the music included in the game feels authentic and true to the city’s atmosphere, it is nowhere near as strong as the music featured in Grand Theft Auto, or even Saints Row, for example. This may be because of a lower budget to work with compared to those titles but anybody expecting a music catalog rivalling that of a GTA game will be sorely disappointed. That being said, chasing after a horde of vehicles with gunfire blasting in every direction while listening to Beethoven is a feeling that has to be experienced to be appreciated.
Once the player has beat down their thousandth enemy, cruised their way through the main story and reached the end of Sleeping Dogs, what else is there for them to do? Well, not much as it goes, unfortunately. Yes, there are elements of Sleeping Dogs that are designed to lengthen the game’s longevity beyond the conclusion of the story but despite them being plentiful, they aren’t without their issues.
The favours the player can do to improve their profile and grant them benefits usually take them longer to drive to their start point than they actually last; the drug busts scattered across the city (of which there are many) are repetitive, with each one consisting of the same sequence of events repeated ad nauseam; the races are way too easy with the competing AI seemingly attempting to race blindfolded; and the collectibles aren’t going to satisfy anybody who isn’t interested in obtaining the achievement for doing so.
Outside of the above mentioned elements, there is categorically nothing else to go back into Sleeping Dogs for after the story’s concluded, and that’s not too long at roughly 17-19 hours with little exploration outside of the story. There is no multiplayer component to the game so being able to frag your mates in a deathmatch is out of the picture. Having no multiplayer is not something Sleeping Dogs should be discredited for but the game tries to entice you back after the narrative is told and mostly fails in its efforts, leaving the question of “What now?” without an answer upon completion.
As well as struggling with any discernible reasons to keep its players coming back once they’re done, Sleeping Dogs also suffers from a collection of bugs and glitches that you may or may not experience. It’s unfortunate that many of them require the laborious task of restarting the game and losing any progress made up until that point.
At several points, the character can be rendered immobile, with the player being completely unable to move Shen, whilst other occasions can see the character fall into the stairs and struggle to regain his balance, leaving you stuck for several minutes, sometimes permanently. Also, let’s not forget the ever-popular bug of suddenly failing a mission even though no such actions have been committed to warrant such a response. Sleeping Dogs is a stable game for the most part but that stance threatens to be fractured at multiple points due to schoolboy errors.
When Activision cancelled what was True Crime: Hong Kong, naturally you would’ve been led to believe it was for a valid reason. As such, expecting much from Sleeping Dogs most likely wasn’t high on most people’s agendas. Luckily, the game delivers a well-written and interesting storyline, an open-world environment that’s different to the typical settings of the genre and a game that’s simply fun to play with how it offers something different from its competitors.
Although Sleeping Dogs struggles with the weight of its own premise sometimes, it is a game that should never have been cancelled the way it was. Square Enix revived a title that has itself revived the lifeless summer release schedule and Sleeping Dogs has earned the adoration it has received, whilst sticking two fingers up at its former owners at the same time.Sleeping Dogs Review (Xbox 360, PC, PS3),