Once upon a time Activision went through a massive purge and started canceling titles left and right. No title was safe from their metaphorical shredders as they removed titles like Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk from their release list. Amongst that bonfire of canceled games was True Crime: Hong Kong. Later, Square Enix realized what an amazing title True Crime: Hong Kong could have been, so they bought it and decided to develop it with United Front Games. The end result is now called Sleeping Dogs.
Sleeping Dogs is a title that appears amazing when presented on a store shelf. With tag-line details reading about a cop working to penetrate the underbelly of Hong Kong's crime empire, it's a hard title to say no to. Additionally, it's a title that's published by the legendary video game company Square Enix, the same company that worked to release last year's hit action RPG Deus Ex: Human Revolution. To put it simply, Sleeping Dogs has everything going for it.
Sleeping Dogs is even clear and to the point when it comes to its presentation. Right off the bat the player is introduced to Wei Shen, an undercover cop employed to take down one of Hong Kong's most feared Triads. Along the way, it is revealed that Wei has a troubled past and was childhood friends with many of the men he is sent to arrest. It's a recipe ripe with conflict and emotion. However, just because it's a good recipe doesn't mean it's a good game. Plenty of good recipes can wind up terrible in the wrong hands, like the last time I tried to make mochi.
ONE COOL COP
A Fresh Face in Gaming - It's honestly a bit rare to see an Asian protagonist outside of a Dynasty Warriors title. Rarer still is the way that Wei cuts away from the typical video game protagonist. He isn't your every day bullet-eating main character that bench presses SUVs when he's bored. Rather, Wei is something else entirely. Growing up on the streets, Wei grew close bonds with the other poor children. As a result, despite him being an undercover cop he is also sympathetic towards others. He often tries to handle situations by discussing the problem with someone else, and the combat that usually ensues often is the fault of the people he was trying to negotiate with. As a whole, Wei is very distinct, and players will feel that as they play through the main story.
I Never Thought I'd Be Happy to See Guns - Gun fights are common in most games. Get to point A then shoot bad guys in the face until you make it to point B. Once at point B, do the same bit until you get to point C. In Sleeping Dogs, gun fights are a rare thing. With melee combat being the main source of action in the game, gun fights become much more valued than they are in other titles. Gun fights here makes you appreciate the ability to kill an enemy with one well placed round rather than with a minute long beat down. Speaking of beat downs…
How About That Combat System - I guess I wasn't the only one who thought Batman Arkham Asylum had a pretty good thing going with its combat system. Square Enix must have felt the same way, because the fighting in this game is top notch. Better yet, unlike in Arkham City where Batman can flying drop-kick an enemy from ten feet away, Wei's responses feel authentic. Failing to strike or block an enemy properly often leaves Wei looking like a gormless fool, and the strikes in Sleeping Dogs really carry weight behind them.
Real Characters - While Wei is certainly unique in his own respects, he is complimented that much more by an amazing supporting cast. Every one of the main characters in Sleeping Dogs is different in their own respects. For example, a character introduced early on named Winston appears to initially be a cold blooded killer. Halfway through the game [MINOR SPOILER AHEAD] Winston's character is expanded and the cold blooded killer turns out to be frightened for those around him. He expresses to Wei that he wants his family (both literal and the members of his gang) to be taken care of if anything bad were to happen to him. [end spoiler] Moments like this were where the characters in Sleeping Dogs really stood out.
Karaoke and Cock Fights - Sure a mini-game where Wei woos a girl's pants off by singing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” is damned ridiculous, but it's also beautiful. The world of Sleeping Dogs is alive. Whether it's a back alley cock fight or two neighbors bickering over relationships, Hong Kong feels real.
MAYBE A BIT TOO COOL
Glued to His Motorcycle - One of the last things a AAA title wants is bad physics. Unfortunately for Sleeping Dogs, it had some of the most insane vehicle physics I have ever seen. There was more than one occasion where I found myself going for the wheelie distance record when I would hit the front end of an SUV. Every time this happened Wei would go soaring across the Hong Kong sunset E.T. style. It seemed literally impossible to knock Wei off his motorcycle until during a crucial moment in a mission when I hit a tree with a rear tire and went soaring once again, but this time without the bike.
If I Hit One More Guard Rail… - The game ranks players on how well they perform as a member of both the Triad and the police department during the mission. The Triad score starts empty and begins to go up as the player completes missions, based on their violent performance. Inversely, the cop score starts at full and drops if the player injures pedestrians or causes general havoc. While it's an interesting concept, pulling off a flawless mission only to have a random cyclist smash into your car and cost you a perfect score is only less frustrating than doing it while your roommate laughs at you.
Bugs, Bugs Everywhere - It does not bode well for a game when I have to restart the tutorial mission four times because the NPC I'm supposed to follow keeps getting stuck in a wall. Bugs are terrible things that can easily ruin a good game, and Sleeping Dogs has plenty. An example of this is the collision detection. Hits will sometimes go straight through enemies, and I failed more than one mission because Wei thought “Jump over the guard rail” meant “try to climb the wall adjacent to it”.
Over Already? - One thing that I've always enjoyed about sandbox games is that they generally take a while to beat. It came as a major surprise to me when my buddy informed me that he had completed the game in 10 hours. What was more surprising was when I completed the same feat not a few hours longer than that. Sure there are plenty of extras, but when the main story line of a game is short, the game as a whole just feels short.
I really enjoyed Sleeping Dogs. It's a title that takes itself seriously, but isn't afraid to get ridiculous. I cracked up laughing the first time I saw Wei jam out on an air guitar during a certain karaoke night, and got worried when Winston had to go speak to his higher ups about his actions in the organization. Unfortunately, it is a buggy game, and there can be many times where bugs will completely ruin a mission. Additionally, the incredibly short main campaign will make gamers feel slightly robbed of their money. However, if they can look past those main faults, they'll be in for an action packed thrill ride that will leave them at the edge of their seats until the end.
- Nickolai Niver