Sleeping Dogs has certainly struggled in its development time. Originally part of the True Crime series, the game was set for release after True Crime: New York City. However, after New York City was met with low sales and mixed reviews, Activision soon canceled the development of True Crime: Hong Kong. In August 2011, Square Enix acquired the rights to the title and renamed it ‘Sleeping Dogs’. It’s rather remarkable that Sleeping Dogs has been officially released and what’s even more remarkable is that the game is actually compelling and a blast to play.
Sleeping Dogs tells the tale of Wei Shen, an undercover cop who will do anything for justice. Originally from Hong Kong, Wei and his family moved to the states where they resided for most of his childhood. It isn’t long until Wei makes his return to Hong Kong to take on his toughest case yet, infiltrating the dense and dangerous gangs that are the Triads and the Sun On Yee. Wei must dive deep into the Hong Kong gang lifestyle and try to dismantle the all-power Sun On Yee. The story starts out strong but looses some steam around the half way point. Thankfully, everything picks up in the end with heart-pounding action with plenty of twists and turns. Sleeping Dogs’ story overall succeeds due to the conceiving characters and authentic dialogue. The story also does a good job of toying with Wei’s emotions, forcing him to balance his gang life with his cop one. The plot will certainly hold your attention for just as long as it needs to.
Hong Kong in Sleeping Dogs is faithfully recreated and overall looks fantastic. The variety of locals is astonishing and exploring the enormous map is always fulfilling. While some small details, such as widow shops, look rather low-res, the city itself looks very authentic and feels alive. Hundreds of cars cram the roads, street vendors line the pavement selling anything from delicious food to knock-off clothing and there are plenty of temples and shrines off the beaten path. Wei Shen looks great and has some very fluid animations but, some of the pedestrians look a tad stiff. The cutscenes, all done in-engine, do their job well, but won’t blow you away. During cutscenes, the characters have some stiff facial animations and sometimes their movements look floaty but the superb voice-acting more than makes up for it. Overall, Sleeping Dogs is pleasing to look at and it nails the look and feel of modern day Hong Kong, despite the minor graphical shortcomings.
Sleeping Dogs will put you into a variety of gameplay situations but mainly focuses on melee combat, mainly due to Hong Kong’s very strict gun laws. The combat is similar to last year’s ‘Batman: Arkham City’s, with one button for attacking, and another for countering. The combat is satisfying to perform and works well, even though it can be a little clunky. When fighting in tight spaces, the camera can easily get stuck on a wall or a defeated enemy as well. As the story progresses, Wei unlocks and learns new combos and abilities, allowing him to perform moves such as, grabbing an enemy and then breaking his leg. One big gameplay asset Sleeping Dogs pushes is environmental kills. In most hand-hand combat situations, Wei can grab an enemy and use his nearby surroundings to take him out. Anything from air conditioning units to telephone booths can be used to instantly kill an enemy. Sleeping Dogs does a good job of introducing new environmental kills as the game progresses, always giving you a new way of taking down foes, and they are always gruesome.
It isn’t till later in the game where you are introduced to the gun play. Once guns are introduced in a mission, Sleeping Dogs becomes a simple but, capable cover shooter. Wei can run to cover. pop up to mow some foes down, and then return to cover. During shootouts, Wei can activate slow-motion by vaulting over his current cover while aiming. This is always stylish and fun to pull off. The gun play in Sleeping Dogs works well within the game but doesn’t shy away from anything you haven’t already seen. There are also numerous car and and on foot chases in the game. The car chases are a nice change of pace and the on foot sequences feature parkour elements, highlighting Wei’s ability to vault over various walls and pipes.
Within the open world of Sleeping Dogs there are various side missions to complete. There are gang and police side missions, favors, street races, drug busts, jobs and tons of collectibles to find. There is a ton of variety here, unfortunately, most of the extra tasks become repetitive after a few hours. For example, the side missions called Drug Busts have Wei take down a group of enemies in an area, hack the security camera, then drive all the way back to his residence to catch the drug dealer on film. This is a good distraction from the main story for the first few times but after the tenth time, it simply becomes a chore. All the side missions are optional though, so they don’t demand your attention unless you are going for hundred percent completion.
Sleeping Dogs attempts numerous different gameplay styles and while it never pulls them off gracefully, they are all fun and have satisfying rewards. Considering it’s struggle through development time, it’s astonishing how good the game actually is. It’s a shame that little things hold Sleeping Dogs back from being amazing. Looking at the big picture though, Sleeping Dogs succeeds more than it fails. The story is told through authentic characters, the dozens of open world events will keep coming back for a good thirty hours, and the melee combat with the environmental takedowns is satisfyingly gruesome. In the end, Sleeping Dogs tells a unique tale of struggle, moral choice and loyalty, and it all wraps up nicely. If you’re looking for some good entertainment before this fall’s big hitters, Sleeping Dogs more than deserves your attention.
OVERALL SCORE – 8/10
-Matthew Bruce 2012