For years gamers have caused havoc in open-world U.S locations that were loosely based on well known places like New York City, Miami, and Los Angeles. Catering to the American market that loved these open-world titles, developers steered away from replication cities over on the Eastern Hemisphere – besides cult-classic titles like Shenmue and Yakuza. Beginning in 2008 as Black Lotus then being held in limbo at Activision as the third entry in the True Crime series, United Front Games newly titled Sleeping Dogs finally got picked up by Square Enix giving us an experience that mimics the gameplay of GTA while adding hand-to-hand combat that is unmatched in this genre.
Playing as undercover cop Wei Shen, you are entrusted by the Hong Kong police’s Triad task force to ascend the ranks of the Sun On Yee while dismantling the organization from within. The pressure to maintain his cover within the crime family and loyalties with the police department are a heavy burden to bear as the line between what is right and wrong begins to blur. It’s a well-written storyline, full of interesting characters voiced by Will Yun Lee, Emma Stone, Tom Wilkinson, and Lucy Liu. Sadly, the main story does not provide much insight into Wei’s character or any other character you come across. The plot twists and turns add a layer of complexity the moment it threatens to become stale but the tension that accumulates throughout the game never fully gets utilized.
The fictionalized depiction of Hong Kong is beautifully-rendered but suffers from the occasional pop-in that plagues these types of titles. Hong Kong comes to life with a claustrophobic layout filled with various businesses and residential buildings separated by dark alleyways and streets bustling with people going about their business. As you explore the four districts that make up this version of Hong Kong you can’t help but notice that each one has a distinct look and feel based on the economical status of its occupants. Unlike most open world games where your interaction with the environment is limited, Wei can easily maneuver and leap around the city with the ease of a parkour runner. His interaction with the NPCs mimic those found in the Assassins Creed series where acting erratic will cause you to earn the attention of suspects and the authorities. The level of detail on the streets of Hong Kong is translated into the interior of select buildings like nightclubs and hospitals.
While it is difficult not to compare Sleeping Dogs to Grand Theft Auto since it extensively borrows some of the same mechanics – stealing vehicles, various radio stations, dimwitted cop chases and quick travel cab rides to name a few. Each vehicle handles differently and maneuvering through the tight streets of Hong Kong takes some getting use to. One thing Sleeping Dogs has over the GTA series is an in-depth combat system. Unlike other franchises where you can get through each fight randomly pounding away at the buttons, Wei’s movement replicates the combat system from Rocksteady’s Arkham City. In most of Wei’s fights he will be outnumbered, but he can take on a crowd without breaking a sweat as he can parry any incoming attack with a well-timed button press and pull off specific unblockable moves.
Effective combat builds Wei’s face meter, which when full, automatically puts you in a heightened state that regenerates health and gives your attacks some extra impact. The interactive environment allows you to even out the odds as you ram your opponents face into various items like circular saws and fans with bloody results. The gunplay mechanic is not as in-depth as the the hand-to-hand combat as it basically consist of taking cover, aiming for headshots and scourging for guns on the floor. Leaping over cover initiates a brief bullet-time sequence, but overall it nothing new – just safe and functional.
Wei’s loyalties between the Triads and the Hong Kong police department are displayed through meters that mimic a simplistic RPG skill tree. Performing criminal acts will increase your Triad meter and unlock perks like pricey suits and flashy cars while noble acts fill up the police meter which in turn upgrades certain abilities like hot-wiring cars. Choosing which side you want to follow depends on your style of gameplay and have little effect on the conclusion of the story.
Outside of the 30 story-driven missions, Wei can participate in a large variety of side quests that will provide some in-game perks. For example, you can decide to play matchmaker and have Wei date a variety of women which in turn will unlock the location of certain collectibles. Each side quest is entertaining and does not feel like it was just tacked on just to extend gameplay time. Wei can also take part in street races, fight clubs, unlock new martial arts moves at dojos, visit a massage parlor or even witness a cockfight – amongst others. Completing each one is not only addictive by they also unlock various in-game enhancements like temporary health boost and increase speed. Mini games that consist of hacking, tracing, lock-picking and phone tapping pose no real risk since their is no time limit and minimal penalty for screwing up. Multiplayer is not an option but you do have the Social Club section which allows you to compare various statistics like race times, kill streaks and best race times against friends or random players.
Sleeping Dogs is an ambitious open-world action game that combines elements of driving, fighting, and gunplay into one solid package. While overall it is an enjoyable experience I did come across some game-breaking issues like the game constantly freezing and the camera catching a tantrum during intense scenes. Despite these setbacks, Sleeping Dogs delivers an entertaining experience of Hong Kong that will tied gamers over until Grand Theft Auto V arrives.
Editor’s Note: Sleeping Dogs was reviewed using a Xbox 360 copy of the game. If further investigation reveals any substantial differences between the 360 edition and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.
Release Date: August 14, 2012 • Publisher: Square Enix • Developer: United Front Games • Genre: Action Adventure • Multiplayer: None • Achievements: Moderate • Cost: $59.99 • Replay Value: High