PAX East 2012 was my first taste of Sleeping Dogs, and the first time I had ever heard of it. The developers that were there told me the history of the game, how it was suppose to be originally True Crime: Hong Kong but hit a few bumps in the road and things looked grim. That was until Square Enix picked it up, and it was retitled Sleeping Dogs. The hands on demo in that hotel suite was amazing, so when the game finally had a release date, I could do nothing but wait. It was all worth it.
Sleeping Dogs is a cop drama game that follows the story of an undercover agent named Wei Shen. Having been an agent for some time, when he was shipped back to Hong Kong, the police department knew exactly where to send him: straight into the world of the infamous crime triad of the Sun On Yee. Slowly working his way through the ranks, Shen gains the trust of his new brothers in arms and does what he needs to do to break down the organization from the inside out. During his time there, his superiors question his motives for taking the case, and his methods of getting the job done. Moral lines are blurred and a whole lot of blood is shed.
The first thing that anyone will notice is that the game is pretty. I don’t just mean the typical, “Oooh, grass moving” kind of pretty. No, I mean if you take a boat, drove it as far as you could, and looked back at the city, it is beautiful. Get into the heart of it, and you can see the crazy amount of details put into the game. Food stands, the shops, buildings inside and out, they all have these little things about them that make them flawed and unique and it gives the world a bit more of that real world feel. The time passes and weather changes, soaking your clothing and slicking the roads as you travel. Even when extorting money from shop owners, they give you it in a red envelope, which is typical in Chinese and other Asian societies when giving money during holidays or special events. Something like that just brings more life into the game. The character designs are amazing too, from the way the hat leans slightly off of a rival leader’s head to Shen’s tattoos. A lot of work has been put into make each of the main characters stand out from one another so that no one is lost in the shuffle.
The gameplay is solid to say the least, and most players will find that it feels like it borrows a little from everything but brings all of it together smoothly. The melee combat seems to be a revamped version of the system from the Batman games, mixing light and heavy attacks with combo with the ability to counter incoming attacks. Gunplay is awesome, even if the game helps you out once you’ve got your sights on a target; if the target sidesteps or even really moves, the game will auto track, which felt a little like cheating, but in some situations, it was kind of helpful. The game also gives you limited bullet time depending on what you’re doing. Vaulting over barricades, falling down off edges, and shooting while driving will all allow you to activate your bullet time, and it’s balanced perfectly that you can take out a handful of targets before the timer ends and you’re able to take cover or knock out a car before you have to focus on driving again. Speaking of cars, the vehicles come in a large variety and they each handle different, of course. Be it sunny or rainy, and yes, the rain will mess with the handling. I found one car and one motorcycle that I liked and stuck with them, only changing out when the missions called for it.
The story is wonderful, and is quick to pull the player in this dark, dank world of crime and violence. The pacing is well done, though the real time frame of the game is distorted due to the fact that no dates are given, and the only way you can tell the time is either where the sun is at or pulling out your phone which has the time of course. You can figure all of game takes place over an extended period of time, maybe a couple of months, maybe longer. It is the only way to explain how certain events can be brought up in conversation, about how they’re a week or more away, and then two missions later, you’re at said event. The speed gives the sense that Shen is living in a fast pace world and when he can, tries to enjoy the time he has to himself. There are moments where the story will take a sharp turn and you will become emotionally invested in most, if not all of the main characters, and care what happens to them. There is one moment that is a massive foreshadowing to the ending, and comes fairly early in the game. It can be overlooked if you don’t pay attention to what has been said, and even if you do follow that train of thought, the ending still isn’t a disappointment. Pair with flawless voice acting, and the story and characters just work so well together. Lines are delivered with emotion and you can feel the tension between the opposing groups as the game progresses.
Growing in skill is done through a variety of ways. During your missions, you can gain Triad experience and Cop experience. The former starts off as a meter that is built up by performing in violent ways; downing an enemy, taking out a car that is chasing you, or a well placed shot between the eyes. The latter starts off as a full meter that decreases with each act that “breaks the rules”; stealing, harming innocent bystanders, or damaging property. Each tree provides their own unique benefits; the Triad offers more aggressive abilities while the Cop tree gives you passive benefits. Another way to gain new abilities is to collect twelve jade statues and return them to the local martial arts school. There, you’ll be able to learn a new melee ability or combo which will help during combat. Lastly, there is the Face meter, which is two fold. First, performing different combos during battle will increase the meter, and once capped out, Shen will first and foremost start to regenerate health. Other talents comes from increasing the main Face meter, which is ranked up by performing favors around the city, be it helping a fellow Sun On Yee escape the cops or simply delivering a friend’s lunch money to the local noodle store. Competing in the local races and winning is another easy way to build up your Face experience. Benefits like discounts on clothes and vehicles, longer food and drink buffs, and your very own private valet that will drop off a vehicle to you no matter where you are just a few. And yes, I said buffs. Consuming foods and drinks around the city can increase certain stats temporarily. Some examples are health regeneration, melee power, and damage reduction.
During your missions, you’ll be forced into a series of minigames depending on your activities, like hacking cameras is a game of Mastermind while planting a bug is a game of mild coordination. These never feel forced, and are actually well done, but can become a bit repetitive, though can once you become comfortable with it all, you can fly through it all. There are a few quick time events that are never more two button presses, and once again, familiarity will set in. Fast talking your way past someone is always Triangle (for the PS3), so if you know you’ve got a line of people to deal with, you can prepare yourself to hit the button.
There are very few flaws with the game, which makes it amazing experience. At times the camera can work against you when you’re trying to drive or trying to turn around, but with time, you learn to compensate for it. The other problem with the game is that because nothing is pre-rendered, game models can freak out and not do what they’re suppose to during a cutscene, such as walking around a car, or the words become out of sync with the lips. The biggest offender of this was when a moving van of sorts crashed (which I found out it was one I had shot the tires out on, oops) into the car I was standing next too, blocking the view of the two people I was with. The scene went on, but I had to laugh as the women walked through the van and I climbed back into the car. The worst problem I had was that the game would flash either green or blue randomly, for a minute second, enough to make me blink my eyes and shake my head. It did grow to become a nuisance as I continued, but half way through the game, I ended up ignoring it.
SUMMARY: Sleeping Dogs is a must have if you’re into any sort of drama, especially one that can be quite brutal and gruesome at times. The fact that it has a compelling story, strong characters, and an amazing world makes it worth every cent and the minor flaws are easy to overlook. If you’re looking for something to round out your summer, this is the game to pick up. From the feel of things, I do hope there is some follow up DLC in the future.
- THE GOOD: Beautiful world, fleshed out characters, and a story that keeps on going
- THE BAD:Repetitive minigames and twitchy driving camera at times
- THE UGLY: Some of the takedown kills are just buckets of blood, not that that’s a bad thing.
Verdict: Buy it!
And the “Most Gruesome Death” goes to: The one you’ll never see. Get to the end of the game, and you’ll see what I mean.
(Originally posted 8/20/2012)