Is Sleeping Dogs the sleeper hit of the year, or will it leave you yawning? Read the review and find out!
Ok, full disclosure: I’ve never spent more than an hour on a GTA or Saints Row game.
But before you stop reading, hear me out. It’s not that I don’t like open-world games – some of the best gaming experiences came while playing the likes of Red Dead Redemption, LA Noire and the original Mafia.
However, modern urban sandbox games just don’t do it for me. Driving around in a gleaming metropolis just isn’t unique enough for me, and when I heard of Sleeping Dogs, I was ready to dismiss it. But I gave it a try and surprisingly experienced one of the most cohesive games of the year.
Story in a nutshell
GTA in Hong Kong mixed with Chinese undercover police drama.
Ever see the movie The Departed (or the Chinese movie it was adapted from, Infernal Affairs)? Then you basically know the gist of the story.
You play Wei Shen, a Chinese-American undercover cop returning to Hong Kong after years of living in the States. You’re tasked with infiltrating the Sun On Yee triad, gaining their trust and rising through the ranks, while trying not to lose touch with your duty as a police officer.
Anyone that’s played a sandbox game should know the deal by now. You’re given tasks to perform throughout the city, primarily of the “fetch this item and bring it back” or “beat/kill this guy” variety. Interspersed are races, random quests to boost XP, and other mini games to waste time.
What makes Sleeping Dogs different from others, aside from the setting? Well, not much actually. It doesn’t have the pedigree of GTA, or the zaniness of Saints Row, Just Cause or Crackdown. It’s not as expressive as LA Noire, as stylish as the Saboteur or Assasin’s Creed, or as compelling as Red Dead Redemption. However, it pulls from all these games, and everything is put together so well that you’re treated to a seamless gameplay experience that is better than the sum of its parts.
The bulk of the first half of the game will see you brawling with random thugs. Thankfully, the fistfights are fast, fluid and intuitive. Although you won’t be chaining 50 hit combos like Batman in the Arkham games, it never came across as frustrating or monotonous. The environmental kills are a treat to perform and remind me of the Punisher game from a few years back.
The gunplay is what you expect from a sandbox game – decent, but not up to par with third-person action shooters. The guns lack the “oomph” that other third-person shooters bring, but it’s passable and wasn’t a huge distraction. They’ve injected a bit of Max Payne bullet time to give it a bit of style too.
The driving parts are much better than I expected, with noticeably different feel between various cars and bikes. Vehicle enthusiasts might be disappointed that the diversity of vehicles isn’t up to par, but I was quite ok with that. One of the highlights for me were the car chase scenarios – you’re able to ram vehicles off the road, but also have the ability to shoot out of moving vehicles, and can even hijack other vehicles while in motion.
The graphics are comparable to other current-gen sandbox games, but what set it apart was the art direction. Parts of the game world feel gritty and fully realized without looking too clean. I did experience several bugs where random people would disappear and reappear, or disembodied headlights would drive down the highway, but these were pretty infrequent.
The fact that the city isn’t teeming with people and traffic does take away from the illusion that it’s set in one of Asia’s largest cities. That’s obviously not the game designers’ fault, as hardware and playability would’ve taken a major hit if you were stuck in traffic for two hours or had to walk through a sea of people everywhere you looked while your console struggled to keep up.
Speaking of people, the voice acting is very good, and there are some surprise appearances by known Hollywood stars like Emma Stone. Of course, no Chinese-related game would be complete without James Hong, the dude who played Lo Pan in Big Trouble in Little China.
The characters you’ll play and interact with are the archetypical sorts you’ll find in these stories – weak best friend, the guy who doesn’t trust you, the old but powerful crime lord, and the female by-the-book cop. One thing is for certain – this game definitely holds the record for the most number of tatted-up Chinese triads who aren’t regular video game bad guys.
- Fun gameplay
- Good art direction and voice acting performances
- Fluid, intuitive melee combat
- Driving segments are much better than other sandbox games
- Awesome driving action sequences
- Decent facial animations (not comparable to LA Noire though)
- Some cool mini games (Karaoke? Yup!)
- Engrossing storyline and a main character you want to root for
- Fetch quest galore
- Mandatory race challenges might annoy those who hate racing
- City doesn’t feel as populated as it should be
- A few small weird graphical glitches
- Not much replay value
The opening scene of Sleeping Dogs:
The Old Guy in me Says
This game is a lot better than I expected it to be, and should be owned by everyone. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that this game makes me excited to play GTA V despite never actually finishing a GTA game in the past. It’s worth a play-through for anyone who is into action and/or open-world games and is a must buy for anyone into Asian crime dramas.
Time-wise, there’s so much to see and do in the city that if you’ve got a job, a girlfriend/wife/kids, you will definitely be kept occupied. You may even get in trouble for losing track of time – consider this both a warning to my readers, and an apology to my wife…
Sleeping Dogs is one of this year’s (pardon the pun) sleeper hits, and you definitely owe it to yourself to virtually explore the seedy underbelly of Hong Kong first-hand.