REVIEW: Sleeping Dogs
Most of us love great action films - sitting on the edge of our seats engrossed in wild fight scenes, explosions, girls, guns and thrill-a-minute rides. Some of the most unique and entertaining films and actors originate from Hong Kong, which serves as the inspiration for Sleeping Dogs. My entire experience was akin to a fast-paced Hong Kong action film and I loved it! Sleeping Dogs draws noticeable inspiration from Grand Theft Auto and, if you can believe it, Rocksteady’s Batman-styled combat system. While not perfect, this gripping sandbox game is definitely worth your time.
Sleeping Dogs is a single player only experience which was initially created to be part of the True Crime series but was dropped due to high project expenses and delays. The title was then picked up by Square Enix and renamed due to licensing issues. As a result of this, the game is not technically perfect and not nearly as polished as Grand Theft Auto IV. Provided you are not a purist for technical brilliance, you’ll quickly forgive the game's rough edges and lose yourself in Hong Kong.
What captivated me throughout the entire experience was the well constructed story and its likeable, deep characters. The opening scene felt like it was extracted directly from a John Woo film and immediately I was hooked. You play as Wei Shen, an undercover cop from San Francisco. Wei was born in Hong Kong, where he also spent his childhood. You have been brought in to reconnect with an old friend who is part of the Sun On Yee, an infamous triad gang operating throughout Hong Kong. Wei is, as you would expect in gaming these days, an anti-hero with a less than spotless past. Never the less you grow incredibly fond of Wei and his integrity.
As the story progresses you begin to develop feelings for some of the colourful triad members, each with distinct personalities. As with most undercover work, the lines become more and more blurred the longer you are involved. You can identify with Wei and the heavy burden that weighs down on him. The voice cast is outstanding. Their performances were flawless, which added to the authenticity of the experience. There are some big name actors from both Hollywood and Asia such as Lucy Liu, Emma Stone and Edison Chen. The dialogue constantly switches between English and Cantonese which never feels contrived; in fact, it was very natural and fluid.
This fluidity carries over into the game's audio. From the music on each radio station to the sounds on the street, it feels real and alive. Sadly, having never been to Hong Kong, my experience is limited but if films and pop culture are anything to go by, it hits the mark dead on. There is a generous variety of radio stations which is a good thing because they are not as deep as the stations in the GTA series and you will more than likely hear the same songs multiple times on your favoured stations. The streets of Sleeping Dogs will expose you to everything you would expect from an urban environment; cell phones, cars hooting, street peddlers attempting to sell you their wares and people just talking about rather bizarre things.
The entire game is created to best reflect Hong Kong’s culture and is filled with fantastic little details to emphasise this. For example: the menu’s visual style and sound exudes the tranquillity of a Chinese temple. The loading graphic is a dragon chasing its tail which could be a subtle reference to'yang’, or I could be over thinking it. Either way, those are the kinds of cultural elements that have been integrated into Sleeping Dogs. Even the game's varied cuisine is very much what you would expect to find in Hong Kong. There are even the more clichéd locations such as karaoke bars and massage parlours, the latter of which is very suspect.
Sleeping Dogs begins to stumble when the graphics and other technical aspects are scrutinised. Characters appear glossy at times, almost as if they were made of plastic. I often noticed screen tearing which is, to put it simply, when textures don’t all refresh at the same time. This causes lines to appear across the screen which in turn displays the image above and below the line. This results in an out of alignment visual. It is by no means a bad looking game, in fact at times it’s quite beautiful, but it feels rather rough when compared to some of the more successful titles within the genre.
As previously stated, the combat is immediately reminiscent of the Batman Arkham series. The main difference in fact is, the lack of polish and smooth transitions that Batman has. There are fewer moves in Sleeping Dogs than in the Arkham series, but the combat is still rewarding. Most importantly, true to the common presumption of all triads, Wei knows Kung Fu. This is a good asset to have as guns are limited in Hong Kong so being able to fight well is essential to your survival. When you do get your hands on a gun the game does not seem in favour of you keeping it. Any gun above a pistol cannot be holstered meaning you draw loads of unwanted attention from the police.
The cover-based gunplay is not amazing, except for one exception - leaping over cover slows time. This is both fun and functional allowing you to dispatch enemies with ease while simultaneously making you feel like an action star. Besides this, gun combat is mostly forgettable. As with most games in the genre, there are the ever present hidden packages. Sleeping Dogs has tried hard to make the hidden packages worth collecting and it mostly succeeds. There are different types of hidden items, each one rewarding you in its own way - some provide cash and clothes while others allow you to unlock new fighting moves.
The police are little more than an annoyance as it is very easy to evade them, even with a high wanted level. Escape their search radius for a few seconds and you’re free and clear. Driving can be quite frustrating, however, which may make the former statement easier said than done. Cars at times feel boxy. Taking corners or hitting any type of object slows you down more than it should. This makes racing frustrating on occasion as you need to be perfect or hope the other drivers make a mistake. Route guidance is for the most part accurate but there are occasions where it leads you close to your target but doesn't tell you how to get to it. It will ruffle your feathers a little but certainly won’t ruin your experience.
A welcome addition to the sandbox genre is the RPG elements that Sleeping Dogs has incorporated. There are three fundamentals that require XP: your cop, triad and face skill trees. Each of the skill trees offer you unique rewards. The result of this is levelling your character and becoming more powerful. Based on your actions at the end of each mission you are awarded with a score for your cop and triad bars individually. These impact the way in which you play the mission and allow you to go back in an attempt to get the highest score for the leaderboards. The social hub adds additional depth in the form of mini-stat games completed while playing. If you are a competitive person, this may add some additional play time but in truth it is simply a nice addition which will only interest you for a fleeting moment.
Side missions, which contribute to your face level, each follow their own separate story paths which are interesting enough to hold your attention for the short time in which you participate in them. The truth is that the mission variety as a whole is very limited. The majority of the time you will be completing the same style of missions in different locations or on a larger scale. The totally gripping storyline saves the game from feeling repetitive, but only just.
Sleeping Dogs is a well-imagined game that feels much more than just another Hong Kong knock off. While it does draw from better games, it combines all of these aspects well enough to make you love the time you spend playing it. There are technical issues for sure, but they can all be forgiven. At around 15-20 hours for the story and 30 hours of gameplay if you are a completionist, it is not a short game. I can honestly say I was sad to see it end. I really do hope to see a bigger, more polished Sleeping Dogs in the future.
Rating: 8 howzits out of 10
Check out the trailer on MSN Video.