Version Tested: PC
At once, Sleeping Dogs was a title that many has thought to be vaporware after going through “re-birth” not once, but twice. It isn’t that known that Sleeping Dogs was once called Black Lotus and later on was re-formed into True Crime: Hong Kong. But since Activision didn’t see potential in another True Crime title, United Front Games was asked to pack their bags and take their game elsewhere.
Square-Enix came to the rescue and today, the game is known to us as Sleeping Dog. The plot goes along the line of an undercover cop whose name is Wei Shen, infiltrating a notorious Hong Kong triad in order to bring it to justice. Wei Shen is a hard-boiled Chinese American adept in Mixed Martial Arts and has a knack for doing things his own way.
While the story may seem to be fresh for westerners, it does spell a form of that all-too-familiar “I know what’s going to happen next” for gamers who grew up watching Hong Kong action flicks and dramas. Fortunately even though the plot isn’t going to give gamers a lot of mind-twisting “huh?! moments”, the action-packed sequences and “Infernal Affairs” drama it brings more than makes it up for its predictability. Simply put, I knew what is going to happen, but I’m eager to see how it unfolds.
Sleeping Dogs is first and foremost an open-world sandbox game. There are 4 main areas in the game that makes up Hong Kong — a slum back alley-filed North Point, the high-end Central equivalent of New York City, the in between not-so-rich-nor-poor Aberdeen and of course Kennedy Town which is where the docks are.
Given that Hong Kong is a rather small country, it is to be expected that the game isn’t going to be as big as any of the Grand Theft Auto games. But the seemingly odd absence of the popular Tsim Tsa Tsui and Mongkok is a little bit disappointing.
Being an open-world sandbox game, players are given the choice of when to initiate the main story missions or the subsidiary “cop missions” as they roam the streets. While the main story missions moves the plot forward, the subsidiary “cop missions” on the other hand will allow Wei Shen to fulfill his duty as a cop to crack down some of those open case-files which the Hong Kong Police Department doesn’t seem to care about, despite acknowledging their threats.
These are cases like serial murder, illegal street races, and so on. While the story missions are often times quite a blast to play through, the cop missions felt like more of a chore due to the lack of depth in them. A little more story into to them would have made the cop missions more engaging.
Side-missions and mini-games are of course all in the game. A couple of which are fun while the others feel repetitive after several tries. One of the side-missions required Wei Shen to beat up thugs in drug-traded areas that has a CCTV over them. It’s simple, beat up the thugs and hack into the CCTV via a boring “guess-the-4-pin-code” mini-game, go back to your hide out and alert the local police to snitch out the drug dealer. Indeed it does feel redundant after a couple of drug busts.
On to the gameplay side of things, the fighting system in Sleeping Dogs is very much a hybrid of Assassin’s Creed and Batman: Arkham games. Aside from the additions of grappling and using environments to take down your enemies, the familiar simple punching, kicking and counter-attack options are all there.
Wei Shen’s moves are however rather limited in the beginning and players will have to upgrade his skills through leveling up after successfully completing the main story missions. Once you have unlocked most of Wei Shen’s skills, taking out enemies is as satisfying as punching the guy in the face who tried to court your girlfriend, literally.
Speaking of leveling up, you do get to earn money in the game to purchase outfits for Wei Shen. Some sets offering bonus abilities while some are simply for making Wei Shen look good, or funky if you deem so.
While there are guns in the game, the chances that you get to use them is few and between. Nothing new however on its mechanics, it very much borrows Max Payne 3′s style of bullet-time but a less satisfying shooting experience.
Much of the bulk of travelling in the game requires driving or riding a motorcycle. The handling of the vehicles are arcade-ish, twitchy and takes a little time of adjusting. Otherwise, the vehicle varieties in the game isn’t too overwhelming nor sparse either which makes a good balance. I only wished there were helicopters in the game, but alas there isn’t.
Running Sleeping Dogs on the PC is quite a charm to the eyes. While you do need a fairly high-end PC to run the game at its maximum details on an acceptable frame rate, being able to employ the free high-resolution texture pack makes Sleeping Dogs one of the best looking open-world sandbox game to date — second only to a heavily modded “iCEnhanced” GTA 4.
The rain effects is beautiful to look at and play in (yes, I feel intrigued to do missions in the rain, simply because it looks so good), sun flares gleams through the eyes and the character models are nicely detailed.
The areas in the game isn’t exactly authentic when compared to the real Hong Kong, but United Front Games has done a good job in trying to capture the flair and its style. Animations on the other hand can sometimes look “robotic”.
One of Sleeping Dog’s biggest attraction is its impressive list of voice casts, but on the other hand is also its biggest flaw. About 70-percent of the game is spoken in English and 30-percent in Cantonese. Through cut scenes, the characters often speaks in English and throwing in one or two Cantonese phrases here and there. It all sounds to me as a very disconnected vibe as the Cantonese lines sounds “forced” and unnatural — and yes, I’m Chinese.
I would have very much like to see if the majority of the game spoke Cantonese instead with some English phrases thrown in, which is exactly how the majority of people in Hong Kong speaks.
Sleeping Dogs is a fresh new take on the open-world sandbox game in terms of its plot, venturing out of America where majority of other sandbox games sets themselves in. It’s a little bit of a disappointment as Sleeping Dogs had all the ingredients in truly setting itself as a direct competitor to Grand Theft Auto but ultimately falls short on it.
But otherwise, if you are looking to play an action packed Hong Kong flick with an addictive fighting system, Sleeping Dogs is a very good game to play over a long weekend.
On a side note, if you do decide to play Sleeping Dogs on the PC, make sure you play it an Xbox 360 controller. While the keyboard and mouse works, they are finicky and does lead to frustration in some of the mini-games.