Sleeping Dogs Review
(PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Developer: United Front Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: August 17, 2012
The tale of Sleeping Dogs is a strange one. Back in 2008, when United Front Games formed, they began working on an open world game about a Hong Kong based, female assassin. Activision saw the chance to squeeze some money out of it and pulled out a publishing deal with UFG. In 2009, Activision debuted the game as True Crime: Hong Kong. After delaying it from 2010 to 2011, Activision cancelled the game. They cited the fact that they wanted to focus on titles with more earning potential. Apparently the game wasn’t good enough and couldn’t compete with the likes of Grand Theft Auto and without blockbuster potential, it didn’t make sense to compete. Despite Activision, the games executive producer said that the game was playable from start to finish and ‘stood out from the competition’. This is where Square-Enix stepped in. Taking a risk and trying to build their stable of good western games - Kayne and Lynch 2 says hi. Squeenix took up the publishing rights to Sleeping Dogs in 2011. One year later and the game is out…and surprisingly good.
Despite starting out a tad wobbly, by the end of my 20 hour experience I was leant far forward, holding onto the edge of my seat, absolutely riveted by the story and characters. The entire game is mish mash of brutal, stupid and arcade mechanics, but it’s the story that made me carry on until the end. The fact that mechanics are incredibly solid and the open world feels stuffed makes Sleeping Dogs stick its head slightly above the clouds of other mediocre open world games.
He’s career copper; calculated, complicated and very, very clever
You assume the role of Wei Shen. Unlike the antagonists of its contemporaries, the main character in Sleeping Dogs is not a double crossed criminal sent back to the bottom, nor is he a broken man trying to escape the life of crime. He’s not even a violent, murderous psychopath just for sake of the being violent and murderous. He’s career copper; calculated, complicated and very, very clever. As Wei Shen begins to get sucked further and further into the Triad criminal underworld, his motivations become more and more unclear. His world becomes unravelled and you become increasingly unsure where his loyalties lie. It’s these blurred lines that make the story in Sleeping Dogs so compelling.
Those blurred lines are introduced as soon as you begin the game via its rather unique levelling system, Cop, Triad and Face. During the games primary missions, you have to balance your Cop and Triad levels. You have to drive carefully, not destroy public property and avoid killing civilians whilst simultaneously brutalising your enemies with as much violence and malice as you can muster. Face is a separate metre. Assisting the unnamed masses of Hong Kong nets you Face points. It lets you know how the citizens of your hometown feel about you.
This unique RPG-esque system is the reason why Sleeping Dogs stands out from the crowd. Trying to control your gory kills while acting like an upstanding citizen really does make you feel like an undercover policeman – plus they keep you on your toes. However, by the finish of the story you will have almost unlocked all the upgrades, regardless of how you play the game. They also don’t feed back in Wei Shen’s tale; just a handful of varying endings depending on your levels would have made me go back and try out full Cop or full Triad to see how it would have affected the game’s outcome.
Sleeping Dogs version of Hong Kong is purportedly designed around the real city. The map, whilst not as big as Liberty City or Steeleport, feels expansive and diverse enough not to let you become bored by your surroundings. It feels alive, populated and you really do feel like you are a stranger in a strange land. The flow of the city feels fantastic as it fluxes from day to night. Hong Kong is an open world you will want to fully explore, with missions, face quests, karaoke and massage parlours on every corner.
It’s not inspiring, it’s inspired
The graphics, on the other hand, are… good. There isn’t anything particularly bad about them, but they aren’t really noteworthy either. However, I did experience a handful of texture and draw distance issues that took me out of the experience. There were more than just a few technical issues during my playthrough. Sleeping Dogs crashed on me four separate times, leading me to having to reset my Xbox 360. Those instances were not the only moments of technical instability in the game. Character models clipping through walls and dodgy physics came into play every time I switched on the game. At one point, I found broken HTML code rather than the accept button in a menu. While they aren’t exactly huge issues, they do bring you out of the engrossing story and world.
When it comes down to core mechanics, Sleeping Dogs can stand at least on par with its contemporaries. The hand to hand combat is very button-mashy and simple, but very effective. It plays almost exactly like Arkham City, starting out as simple button presses and evolves into longer combos. It makes Grand Theft Auto IV or Saint Row The Third antiquated by comparison, however it does fall into the trap of having 10 guys stand around the protagonists just waiting, watching you kick seven shades of you know what out of their mate. The fact that the driving in Sleeping dogs is good comes as no surprise. Members of the team used to work for EA Black Box, the old developers of Need For Speed, and United Front Games’ work on the Modnation Racers game.
Although everything in Sleeping Dogs is pretty good, what really struck me was how unoriginal it all is. The missions, characters, side-quests, driving and shooting has all been seen elsewhere. It’s not inspiring, it’s inspired. It’s an amalgamation of the ideas of others. Many games use a ‘borrowing’ philosophy, but it’s rarely this obvious. However, it doesn’t cross the line to derivative as the blend of all the elements is done so well.