Developers: United Front Games, Square Enix London
Publishers: Square Enix, Bandai Namco Games (Australia & New Zealand)
Release Date: August 14th, 2012
Available On: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PlayStation 4. There may be differences between versions.
Originally meant to be a part of the True Crime series, Sleeping Dogs is an open world shooter that takes place in Hong Kong. Featuring undercover cops, triads, and surprisingly fun gameplay, Sleeping Dogs is a sleeper hit that shouldn’t be missed.
Undercover cop Wei Shen is sent into the Sun On Yee gang in an effort to capture one of their leaders. Things get interesting as the Sun On Yee is quickly revealed to not be the tightly run machine that the police expected it to be. While the Sun On Yee is dealing with external problems, mostly in the form of a rival gang called the 18K and from the police themselves, they’re also slowly and methodically betraying and destroying each other from within. While not exactly a new or unique story, Sleeping Dogs is aided by some particularly strong characterization. Wei Shen is clearly suffering from his role as both a triad member and an undercover cop, Big Smile Lee’s drive to become the Sun On Yee’s new leader is kind of fighting at time, and I couldn’t help but feel bad for every event Jackie Ma got caught up in. Mrs. Chu may also be one of my favorite characters in gaming to date. That said, while I liked the story I found that by the end of the game there were a ton of loose ends that didn’t really seemed to get wrapped up. Worse: the game just sort of stops rather than coming down to any meaningful ending. I was honestly surprised when the credits sudden rolled across my screen.
If your first impression of Sleeping Dogs is that it looks a lot like Grand Theft Auto, then no one would probably blame you. An open world crime based game, Sleeping Dogs does do enough to try and make it not a blatant Grand Theft Auto clone. The biggest difference comes with the focus on melee combat. Boasting a system similar to the Arkham games, combat involves carefully watching enemies so Wei Shen can counter their attacks while attacking when the chance is available. Grappling enemies is important, and depending on what’s nearby I could have Wei preform a bunch of different environmental finisher attacks. Melee weapons are also available if an enemy drops them, though with so little durability I often wondered what the point was.
The fun combat system does have a couple of downsides, the biggest being the lack of enemy variety. Besides the regular criminals the only other kind in the game are heavy hitters that Wei has to counter or grapple before they can be hurt, and fat enemies that can’t be grappled but tend to constantly catch Wei in grapples. In an attempt to add something new, the game has the “face” meter. Every time I hurt an enemy it goes up, and every time I got hit it goes down. Fill it all the way and I would go into a special mode where I got a few passive buffs, like extra damage and getting to grapple enemies I normally couldn’t, plus my health would regenerate. Managing face should be important in combat, but I honestly forgot about the meter after a while and never really gave it much thought.
Of course it’s not just all melee combat, with guns and driving playing large parts in the game as well. I enjoyed driving in Sleeping Dogs, the it handles well enough to work and the ability to hit a button to ram other cars should seriously be a standard feature in all similar games. Yet on the other hand, shooting while driving drove me nuts as cars suddenly handled horribly. They would suddenly get weird tank controls, and lose the ability to speed up or slow down, something I couldn’t understand for the life of me. Thankfully, as soon as the gun was away the cars would go back to handling like normal. Shooting on foot is just kind of dull. Nearly everything I did put the game in slow-mo, and as long as I kept getting kills then the slow-mo would continue endlessly. So nearly every shooting segment devolved into “slide over cover to enter slow-mo, walk forward and headshot endlessly to keep it going.”
Missions in the game saw a good balance of all three elements, though it takes a while for the shooting to show up (Sleeping Dogs took me about 3oish hours to finish the story and all the included side quests, the guns didn’t show up until about 7 or 8 hours in.) Missions were pretty interesting, and I found the various scenarios to be pretty entertaining. By the end of the game I fast talked (and sang) my way into a karaoke bar’s VIP section so I could threaten the manager, collected protection money from various markets while fighting off another gang, secretly assisted the chief of police with deconstructing a crime scene and trying to figure out what happened, and participated in a street race to impress a couple of women.
Side quests also offer a good chunk of content, though some of them are pretty repetitive. One of them involved clearing out a small group of thugs, then hacking a camera, before finally using Wei Shen’s TV to rewatch the area and point out the guy who looks like he’s dealing drugs. This one seemed to pop up more than any other, and it wasn’t ever really interesting. Better ones include foot chases against people who steal Wei Shen’s wallet, random hit and runs, and a set of combat arenas that really put my fighting skills to the test. There’s plenty of content here.
As I completed each mission I got to experience Sleeping Dog’s kind of convoluted leveling system. There’s actually three different things Wei Shen gets experience in: his “Cop Score”, “Triad Score”, and “Face Score”, plus he can learn new melee techniques by finding jade statues. Each level starts Wei Shen out with a 100% on his Cop Score and it goes down if he does things like knocks over sign posts or kills innocents. On the other hand, he starts with a 0% in his Triad Score and that goes up when he deals damage to and defeats enemies. The goal is to, of course, try and keep the Cop Score at 100% while raising the Triad Score there. The amount of XP that Wei gets in each skill is relevant to how much he scores, and both lines have a (small) upgrade tree. Face Score, on the other hand, is almost entirely earned through side missions and are just given in set amounts. It seems weird to have three different XP bars for three different upgrade trees when all of this could easily have just been tossed into one.
As if the side quests weren’t enough, there’s also a few different mini games hidden around Hong Kong. Stealing cars, hitting up karaoke bars, going to bet on cock fighting, playing mahjong poker on barges in the middle of the sea, going on dates, hunting for the game’s 100+ collectables… There’s a lot to do in Hong Kong, and this is good as Sleeping Dogs unfortunately lacks a multiplayer mode of any kind. Still, a player can probably put a solid 40 – 50 hours into Sleeping Dogs to get everything out of it.
Sleeping Dogs has some problems, mostly stemming from it’s boring gunplay and convoluted leveling system. But with a fun story that gets carried by extremely interesting characters, really fun melee combat, and missions that kept me coming back for more, I found Sleeping Dogs to be well worth the amount of time that I got out of it.