Welcome To Hong Kong
Sleeping Dogs has had a mildly rocky past. It was originally being developed as a brand new IP called Black Lotus before it became a new installment in the True Crime series. Then, after multiple delays and budgets issues, the game was dropped by Activision, leaving it in the dreaded development limbo that tends to swallow whole far too many games these days. Thankfully, Square Enix saw promise in it and helped repackage it as Sleeping Dogs. Now it’s finally out, and because it’s officially kicking off the holiday season and releasing alongside another open world title—the highly anticipated Darksiders II—the stakes are pretty high.
For the unfamiliar, Sleeping Dogs is an open world crime drama that follows undercover cop Wei Shen (voiced by Die Another Day and Elektra ‘s Will Yun Lee) as he attempts to infiltrate the feared Sun On Yee Triad. Overall, the voice cast is top-notch, including Lucy Liu ( Kill Bill ), Emma Stone ( The Amazing Spider-Man ), Tom Wilkinson ( Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol ), Kelly Hu ( X2 ), and Edison Chen ( Internal Affairs ). With a cast like this, it’s unsurprising how fantastic the voice work is, as each character is believable and realistic. This helps carry the already engrossing story to a whole new level as Wei Shen delves deeper and deeper into Hong Kong’s seedy underbelly.
This game has one of the better casts of characters I’ve seen in some time. Each person you meet is unique and interesting. Some are likeable and some really aren’t, and there are a few that straddle the line between the two.
As an undercover cop, Wei’s tasked with infiltrating the Sun On Yee Triad. Over the course of the story, Wei’s loyalties to both sides come into question, sometimes with surprising results. Characters you’ll grow to care about on both sides are affected by Wei’s actions, and there’s more than a few jaw-dropping twists along the way.
As a cop, Wei has some neat gadgets you’ll get to know really well. Each comes with its own minigame that you’ll have to master, and while we’ve seen variations of a few before, like lock-picking, safe-cracking, and hacking, others are a little more unique. For example, tracing phones and planting bugs tend to pit you in an intense race against the clock. One mission had me tracing the phone call of a friend who was dying as I raced across the city before the time ran out. Then there was a mission that had me planting a bug in the office of a serial killer. These types of missions are fun, rarely frustrating, and break up the gameplay very well.
Sleeping Dogs is an open world game with a massive city for you to invest countless hours exploring. It’s a beautifully realized world that brings with it a more focused attention to detail than what’s offered by several comparable open world games. Unfortunately, it lacks the extraordinary level of customization that games like Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto offer, so a more comprehensive arsenal of customization options would’ve been nice. You can purchase from a decent selection of vehicles, from the mundane to the exotic, but each vehicle has a paltry three to five paint jobs available on average. They’re also all preset, so you don’t have the option of coming up with your own combinations.
Understandably, there’s no changing Wei’s appearance, but you can outfit him in the generous wardrobe that’s been provided, many of which that offer special bonuses should you wear a full set. It’s a neat idea, but it’s not one you need to explore if you don’t want to, since many of the bonuses can be gained by outfitting Wei in certain accessories, like glasses and jewelry.
There sure is a lot to do in Hong Kong. You can play through the meaty campaign, which has been neatly divided into missions that progress your rise through the Triads, and missions that have you solving crime and performing miscellaneous other cop duties. Naturally, the two are intertwined, so you can only progress so far into one before you’ll need to work on the other. On top of that are the martial arts clubs that are scattered about the city that have you fighting waves of fighters, and cock fights where you can gamble your money on which rooster you think has the largest capacity for murder.
Street racing plays a pivotal role in the campaign and some of the side missions, and it’s also an activity you can partake in for extra cash. This only makes the lack of any real car customization all the more disappointing, as you’re forced to play with the limited selection of what’s available. A nifty feature you’ll grow to love is the ability to ram your vehicle into pretty much anything else that’s on the road. One button can send your car hurling into another car, truck, motorcyclist, or unsuspecting pedestrian. You can also “action hijack” other vehicles by driving up behind a vehicle, jumping from your car onto your target, and taking it over. That really never gets old.
The only downside to the driving is the occasionally annoying camera, which tends to move in the wrong direction or spaz out a bit at the most inopportune times. This issue persists while you’re on foot, and, more specifically, while you’re engaging in fisticuffs with other characters. In games like God of War, when an enemy can’t be seen on-screen, they won’t attack you, but in Sleeping Dogs, it’s common to get sucker punched by someone who was waiting just out of your field of view.
This issue can lead to some frustration; the camera is partly to blame, but this is mostly due to the bizarre health system. Sprinkled throughout the city are food stands that sell consumables to boost your defense, damage, and health regeneration. The only problem is that they can sometimes be hard to find, and Wei gets in fights often. This could’ve been remedied by letting the player accumulate a small supply of healing items to keep on hand. As it is, you either need to go into a fight prepared—which means you may need to stop for lunch before a brawl—or your chances of survival will be slim.
It’s a good thing the combat is so great, because a skilled player will have no problem Batman: Arkham City-ing (yep, that’s a verb now) their way through waves of baddies without breaking a sweat. Sleeping Dogs shamelessly borrows a page out of Batman’s book by gifting you with some brutal martial arts abilities. You can unleash devastating combos, which you can chain together to fill a meter that, when full, can temporarily boost your damage, defense, and health regeneration. You can also counter enemy attacks so they don’t break your streak of unstoppable whoopassery, or grapple enemies and slam them into walls or various other objects in the environment for extra points and damage.
This is a fantastic game. Where some strive for realism while sacrificing fun, or focus on fun to the detriment of realism, Sleeping Dogs manages the impressive feat of finding a between the two. The characters are universally interesting, the story is engaging, there is never a shortage of things to keep you busy, and it all comes packaged in a gritty and visceral virtual version of Hong Kong. What more could you want?
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
This is a gorgeous game, thanks in no small part to its impressive attention to detail. 4.5 Control
The combat is fluid, the driving is intense, and outside of a few camera issues, Sleeping Dogs controls remarkably well. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music provides an excellent backdrop, but it’s the voice work that really shines. 4.5 Play Value
Between the racing, cockfighting, alley brawls, and a meaty campaign, there’s never a shortage of things to do. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|