Genre: Action Developer: United Front Games Publisher: Square Enix Classification: MA15+ Consumer Advice: Game deals with issues or contains depictions which require a mature perspective
Release Date: 17th Aug 2012 Platforms:PC
Average of 9 Ratings
Login to submit your review score
If you've never heard of it, Sleeping Dogs is an open world third person action title, in which you can traverse Hong Kong in all manner of cars, motorcycles and boats as Wei Shen - a police officer who is going undercover to take down the Sun On Yee triad organisation. Wei spent his youth in amongst the fringe elements of the triad, before his family moved to the US to get a fresh start - and now he's back, using his old connections to get in amongst the gangsters who rule over Hong Kong.
Given its location and theme, I expected Sleeping Dogs to be a slightly modified version of Infernal Affairs - the Hong Kong crime thriller remade into The Departed by Scorcese in 2006. Nevertheless, Sleeping Dogs tells a largely unique story - mainly focusing on Wei's struggles to maintain his two identities as a cop and triad as he makes friends and moves up the ranks of the Sun On Yee - and the people he brutally beats and kills along the way.
The story is definitely one of Sleeping Dogsí strengths - and while it never strays from the standard path of these sorts of things, the writing and the characters do an excellent job of drawing even a jaded cynic like me in. Wei Shen is likeable the entire way through - and while I expected his old friend Jackie - a perennial loser - to be an annoyance, he actually grew on me throughout the game.
Sleeping Dogs does an amazing job of showing how events affect Wei - particularly with his troubled sleep. When Wei goes to bed after a particularly harrowing mission, he wakes up with a start, re-hearing the conversations which took place. For a short time after that he has a nervous tic as he walks, randomly shaking his head or rubbing his face in his hands muttering to himself. It might not sound particularly effective on paper, but it goes a long way to humanising Wei and helping the player associate with him.
The city of Hong Kong itself is another major strength of the game, as it is filled with life. Street vendors shout at Wei to come check out their goods, people get out their mobiles if he steals a car in front of them and shady looking gents in strange locations will sell him items to decorate your apartment.
People outside Weiís apartment have conversations too - in the same building as Weiís first apartment lives a young adult woman, her mother and a doctor and as he enters and leaves his apartment heíll pass two of the three having conversations about various things - generally men. At one of the apartments Wei gets later he will pass an older couple who constantly have something new to bicker at each other about - and while I have so far only finished the game with 25 hours put in, I never heard a single repeated conversation about mudcrabs.
There are heaps of things to do throughout Hong Kong too - street races, drug busts, shrines to find and use to boost your health - even Karaoke, letting Wei belt out select tracks by Pat Benatar and Aha with all his might. The main thing Wei does in Hong Kong however, is punching.
Combat in Sleeping Dogs primarily focuses on Wei's martial arts ability and will feel familiar to anyone who has played Batman: Arkham City - Wei strings attack combos by tapping or holding the X key, counters with Y and grabs enemies with B. Enemies don't wait for Wei either, but he is suitably quick to respond - as long as Wei isn't in the middle of another attack he can break from whatever he is about to do to counter a new opponent. The combat always feels realistic too - Wei's moves can get elaborate as you finish off an enemy after chaining together a series of attacks, but the animations have a sense of impact and both Wei and his victim react accordingly.
Wei's counters are situational - if an enemy lunges at him from behind he will throw them over his shoulder, if someone kicks at him from the side he will grab their leg and elbow them in the gut. The fluid motion of combat and counters looks fantastic, but its grabs which are by far the most satisfying method of attack. Once Wei begins grappling an enemy, he can hold him in place and punch him, throw him to the ground or use the environment to do some damage. Wei can use the environment in any situation - slamming an enemy into a wall or breaking his face on a hand railing - but in many situations there are specific objects Wei can use to his advantage.
If you played 2005's Punisher game on the Xbox, PC or PlayStation 2 you'll have a good idea of what to expect. Wei can throw enemies through aquariums, impale them on swordfish heads, mash their faces into activated table saws and crush them under car engines. It's... well, to be honest, it gets a little boring after a while. Naturally, having your face thrust into a barbecue means you won't be getting back up anytime soon - meaning every enemy Wei uses in an environmental attack is an enemy he doesn't kick to death like Bruce Lee.
The variety is huge, meaning even though there are only about four different enemy types, each fight feel unique. The different enemy types change how Wei handles a situation - he can use any attack against a standard enemy, but will have to counter or grab one who frequently blocks. Fat guys can't be grabbed and the moves they do that Wei can counter are short and infrequent - so laying into them with standard and heavy attacks is your best course of action. Wei also has a 'Face Meter' - once this is full, enemies become intimidated and easier to attack.
Things get a little tougher once enemies bring weapons like crowbars and knives into the fight, but it follows the same dynamics. Once guns get involved however, things change significantly. The gun mechanics themselves are a bit of a let down. Tapping LB makes Wei hide behind cover, but he doesn't much care for it and will leave it with the slightest provocation - a tap on the analogue stick in any direction is often all he needs. On top of that, the aiming reticule on all weapons, but the pistol in particular, is huge. And while it might just be a cruel joke the gods are playing on me, if Wei has 99% of the crosshairs on an enemy and 1% on the enemy's hostage, that hostage will die every single time. I kid you not, I replayed two different hostage situations at least five times each and the pretty lady I was trying to save copped a bullet in the face in every instance.
When Wei is not killing hostages however, there are a lot of things to like about gun combat in Sleeping Dogs. If Wei is behind horizontal cover (a crate or table, not a door frame) a tap of A will vault him out over the top towards the enemy. Once this is done, holding the right trigger gives Wei an adrenaline rush, slowing down time a la Max Payne and allowing him to take out his enemies with ease. It wasn't made clear exactly how long the slow motion aiming would last - at first I assumed it was tied to the Face Meter like melee combat, but Wei can use it even when his Face Meter is empty.
Aside from combat, the other significant gameplay element comes from driving. Driving isn't as well handled as it has been in other games, but Sleeping Dogs compensates for that by making it incredibly difficult for Wei to crash. Cars are stuck firmly to the ground, taking serious speed to get any air and with a little practise Wei can take any corner using B to handbrake, instead of LT to brake. It's difficult to complain when a game makes driving easier, but sometimes it's nice to have a bit of a challenge.
Wei can also do something called 'Action Hijacking' - in which he leaps from his current vehicle to another vehicle, throwing out the driver and taking it over. It's difficult to get right at times, requiring a specific distance between Wei and the target - but itís used sparingly during the game and isnít required more than a dozen times. Which brings me to my one serious issue with Sleeping Dogs. It isn't big enough.
Sleeping Dogs is packed with interesting concepts and ideas, not to mention outstanding voice acting from the likes of Lucy Liu, Emma Stone, James Hong and Tom Wilkinson. But with the exception of a select few people, Wei loses friends and contacts extraordinarily quick. Many of the situations which suffer from this fit into spoiler territory, so letís just say the emotional impact of a characterís death suffers significantly when youíve just barely had time to meet them.
Not everyone Wei meets dies however, sometimes he just forgets or ignores them. Emma Stone, for instance, plays Amanda - a tourist Wei meets outside his apartment. He takes her to look at a temple and gets her phone number. When you have some free time you can call her up, take her to a park and if I understood the saxaphone music and camera pan, have sex with her. Then that's it, you can never call her again.
What gets me really upset though, is Old Salty Crab. A bit past halfway through the game you have to break into a house and you are accompanied by self proclaimed Feng Shui expert and Triad gopher Old Salty Crab - an old overweight Chinese man who drives around in a busted rust-bucket. He never stops talking, chuckles at his own jokes and - and I don't want to overstate anything here - is the greatest character in video game history. Wei Shen, as charismatic and clever as he is, is a pointless waste of megabytes next to Old Salty Crab, who should have been the protagonist of this game. Once you've finished the mission however, you call him up and speak to him for maybe ten seconds and then you never speak again. That is a god damned travesty. Sort yourselves out United Front Games.
Nevertheless, even with the despicable lack of Old Salty Crab content in Sleeping Dogs, it is definitely worth your time. Itís fun to run about beating people up, sing Karaoke and jump from car to car and it is made even better by Sleeping Dogsí excellent story and characters.