- Publisher: Square-Enix
- Developer: United Front Games
- ESRB Rating: “M" for Mature
- Genre: Open World Action
- Pros: Hong Kong is awesome; learn to curse in Cantonese!; nice voice work; fun hand-to-hand combat; solid story; satisfying progression
- Cons: Utterly predictable; too easy; minimap breadcrumb trail is awful; bland side missions
- Read PS3 Sleeping Dogs Review here
You play as Wei Shen, a Chinese-born, American-raised police officer who returns to Hong Kong years later on an undercover mission to infiltrate the Triad. As is the genre norm, you start out as a lowly foot soldier and quickly rise through the ranks as everyone important ahead of you on the totem pole has a nasty habit of dying. Overall, the story is pretty completely predictable, but the characters are surprisingly likable so it is easier to forgive the fact you usually know what is coming and just enjoy the ride. Plus, the Hong Kong setting just makes everything more interesting even if we've seen similar stories before.
You are playing as an undercover cop, though, so the internal conflict between right and wrong, good and bad, and Wei's job and his new friends is a recurring theme. It isn't fully or satisfactorily explored here, but that is more a problem with all games in this genre more than with Sleeping Dogs itself. Thankfully, Wei isn't like GTA4's Niko Bellic who murders dozens of enemies and then gets all maudlin about it, but instead he acts more like LA Noire's Cole Phelps who goes from calm to crazy and back at the drop of a hat. The whole cast of colorful mob bosses and the overall story is the real focus here though, so Wei being a little bi-polar doesn't hurt the experience.
Shooting uses a cover system and is pretty solid all around. The interesting thing about Sleeping Dogs is that most of the time you don't actually have access to guns and instead rely on your fists (more below) or melee weapons. When the guns do show up, however, the controls are very solid and the shooting is rather satisfying. Your arsenal includes pistols, SMGs, assault rifles, and grenade launchers and you can do a lot of damage provided you have enough ammo, which is surprisingly scarce. It is a nice twist on a genre that usually gets far too shooty far too quickly.
As we mentioned, though, through most of the game combat is actually done in hand to hand. The fighting system is similar to the Batman Arkham games where you have an attack button, grapple button, and counter button, and have to use different combos and attacks to take out different types of enemies. The combat flows together really naturally and as your moveset expands you really start to look forward to fights. You also pick up weapons like crowbars or knives or handheld saws that can really do damage. Perhaps the best part of the combat is the addition of environmental objects such as metal shutters, phone booths, industrial fans, table saws, and much more that you can grapple enemies into in order to finish them off, similar to The Punisher game from last gen. There are some really brutal and crazy kills using the environment, and that combined with the excellent hand to hand combat makes fighting a room full of thugs a real joy.
Sleeping Dogs also adds a freerunning element to the game where you have to time button presses to smoothly and quickly jump over fences, jump across rooftop gaps, or vault over barricades. You can't climb all over the place like Ezio, or anything, but it does lead to some occasionally interesting foot chases where you climb up and over and through buildings. It is a tad overused, though.
Missions in Sleeping Dogs are fairly typical things like driving other gang members around, chasing down fleeing vehicles, breaking up drug deals, fighting rival gangs, and all of that good stuff. Since you are also a cop, there are a handful of police cases you get to solve that are interesting and rather different from the Triad missions, but there are only 4 of them total so they are over pretty quickly. Like most of the rest of the game, there isn't anything especially original or innovative with most of the missions, but they are well presented and usually quite a bit of fun. One nice touch is that you earn separate XP for police, Triad, and Face (just doing stuff for people around town) that all unlock new upgrades and abilities so you have a fairly constant stream of new toys to play with.
In addition to the story there are, of course, some side missions you can do, but they are mostly bland and rather repetitive. You can hack security cameras and then run back to your apartment to watch the feed in order to send cops in to bust a drug dealer when they show up, but the mission is the exact same every time which gets old pretty quickly. There are also street races, but they are generally easy and not all that fun. There are hidden shrines you can pray at to add to your health bar, as well as lock boxes filled with money, which are kind of fun to keep an eye out for as you explore the city. You can also gamble, enter fight clubs, watch cock fights, and more. Perhaps the most fun and interesting bit is that there are venders all over the city selling food items that temporarily boost your stats as well as other venders selling all manner of other things. You can buy clothing or even things to decorate your various apartments. These vendors aren't always on your minimap, though, so stumbling upon someone selling something interesting is always neat. You never have to worry about money, either, because you get tons of HK dollars for doing pretty much anything, and it adds up quickly. An interesting side quest has you finding jade statues for Wei's old kung fu master, and when you bring one back to him you learn new moves while he spouts Chinese philosophy. You can also visit karaoke bars, but the gameplay during songs just has you moving an arrow to match bars moving by on a scale (think Rock Band singing where you have to match your pitch to where the game wants it, just you aren't actually singing here and use the analog stick instead). There is also a series of girlfriends you take on one date each, which is entirely forgettable.
Easy As Pie
One thing that needs to be said about the game is that it is really easy overall. Sure, you can get overwhelmed in a fist fight against a bunch of enemies and lose, but as long as you pay attention it is pretty hard to fail any of the missions. You have tons of time to do everything and even the occasional "protect person X as you fight through area" are really easy. The only thing that might ever make you fail is when the breadcrumb trail on your minimap freaks out and sends you in the wrong direction, which seems to happen more often the further you get into the game. Of course, by that point you should have a pretty good grasp of the layout of the city (it is big, but not full scale Hong Kong) so you can find your own way if you have to. All in all, though, Sleeping Dogs is a fairly easy game that will take 20 or so hours to beat the story and mop up most of the other hidden stuff around town.
The presentation in Sleeping Dogs is pretty uneven. The city looks good with several distinct areas that are pretty distinctly "Hong Kong", but the textures overall are kind of grainy and gritty looking. It looks okay, but nothing special. The character models are okay looking, and the cars look decent. The lighting and rain effects also look pretty good.
The sound is much better for the most part. The dialogue is done in a mixture of English and Cantonese (just like real Hong Kong) by a strong list of Asian and American actors, and the radio stations are also a similar mix of music and DJs in both languages. A funny thing about the game is that by the end you'll likely have a pretty robust vocabulary of Cantonese swear words and insults, so who says videogames don't teach you anything!
All in all, Sleeping Dogs isn't exactly a fresh or original game, but it executes all of its borrowed elements better than the originators did so the overall experience is very solid all around. We also really feel like the Hong Kong setting earns the game a bit of a free pass because it is something fresh and new and just plain interesting even if the story or gameplay has been done before. Yeah, we've stolen cars and driven around before, but not on the right side of the car on the left side of the road! Visiting the street markets, going to karaoke bars, seeing a different style and culture of gangsters - it is all just so darn interesting in this setting. The same game set in New York would have been bland and awful because we've seen it before, but in Hong Kong it is fresh and satisfying again. Sleeping Dogs is a great entry in the open world crime simulator genre and we highly recommend it.