I play games because they’re a way for me to do things I would never be able to do. They have the power to wow me with a simple push of a button and see different worlds, lives, and even countries. Exploring the shady underworld of Hong Kong is Sleeping Dogs from United Front Games: a sandbox game that takes everything we know from Grand Theft Auto and Yakuza, then combines them to make one hell of a ride. When I played it at E3, I only got a gist of what Sleeping Dogs truly held. As it turns out, it’s a living breathing world disguised as a video game. No ordinary gangster game. From the moment I started in Hong Kong I really did “enjoy my stay.”
Right off the bat, the controls are familiar and easy. They just feel right as you hold X (I played it on the PlayStation 3) to sprint and tap it again when nearing an obstacle to hurdle over it. Oh, yeah, Wei Shen is a freaking parkour master, by the way. This opens up a lot of the world, allowing you to access certain rooftops and secret areas to find collectibles, hide from the police, or complete missions. The gunplay is the standard “hold L2 to aim and then R2 to shoot,” throwing in a cover system to help survive the onslaught that ensues whenever more than two thugs have a gun. As part of the setting, guns are limited. You’ll mostly only get them if they’re placed before you, hinting that there will be a firefight, or if you disarm an enemy with one yourself. This would be perfectly fine as disarming is relatively simple, but when there’s more than one with a gun it’s a nonstop barrage of bullets at Wei’s head. You really need to use tactics, particularly the one that requires sprinting the hell away from situations like that. It’s good to not feel invincible like that. After being able to beat up ten guys with his fists, seeing Wei unable to withstand guns gives an actual sense of difficulty that’s needed.
Sleeping Dogs is simple if you stop and plan your next move during a firefight, but it’s just plain easy if you’re having a fistfight. Not necessarily a bad thing as you really feel like a master martial artist. This is perfect for people like me who can’t even hurt a fly. Not to say that there isn’t some difficulty at first, but it’s overcome once a feel for the controls is met. Hitting square releases a light attack; pushing it down harder does a stronger attack. This is reminiscent of The Bouncer from back in the day for me, except that the triangle button is used to counter any attacks. More like Arkham Asylum, when the enemy is flashing red, it means they’re about to strike and this is your chance to counter. Hitting triangle constantly won’t work as Wei takes a moment to do a stance each time leaving you open for any attacks that are coming. Again, it’s that balance between easy and tactics that this game walks. The circle button is where it gets really interesting: the grapple button. Now, you probably think this is standard in a game, but is it standard to use this button to then drive your enemy’s head through an ice chipper? Environmental attacks play a big role in defeating your enemies quickly. They’re also incredibly gory. Explore the different places to shove heads through and you’ll be saying “no way.”
When it comes to the free roam aspects, there’s plenty to do, even if that’s to do nothing at all. I spent thirty minutes simply swimming around the ocean because it felt so real. I also was kind of wondering if he’d eventually run out of stamina and drown or something, but no, Wei’s like a robot. Besides those digressions, you’ll find missions for the main story, side missions, races, gangs to take down, cameras to hack, lockboxes to pick, martial arts clubs, gambling, and a whole heap of collectibles. It took me 17 hours to complete the main story and only a small amount of the extras Sleeping Dogs has to offer. A lot of the side missions are pointless, particularly the drug busts. It requires you to first defeat a small group of thugs guarding a security camera, hacking it, going back to your apartment, and using the camera to pick a thug to arrest. It gets old doing it over and over again, as can a lot of the extras, but some in particular are very fun: the side missions and races. The races are self explanatory, you have to buy cars from certain classes and then race in that car class. The side missions on the other hand can come from dating a girl (which reaps a lot of rewards for its simplicity) to a random pedestrian on the street needing help. They’re an extension of the main story with unique things to do in between all the collecting.
As mentioned before, Sleeping Dogs allows for buying cars. Along with this comes food, clothes, and apartment additions. Most of these are simply for the simulation of it all, which is very welcome and allows you to get even more sucked into the Hong Kong setting, but a lot of the clothes you buy will also give you small perks. Wear an entire thug outfit and you’ll receive a bonus in Triad XP.
But what does that Triad XP mean? Well, in Sleeping Dogs, experience is divided between police and triad experience. As you obey the law more during a mission, you’ll get more experience for your police skill tree. Clumsiness while free running, hurting innocents, and doing property damages decreases the amount of skill you’ll get each mission towards your police XP as it starts full when the mission begins. On the other hand, Triad XP starts at zero at the start of the mission. As you kill, cause mischief, and use the environmental attacks, your Triad XP increases more. Both of these split up to give you different new perks and moves with each increase of level. It’s an interesting take that fits perfectly well with the story of an undercover cop with mixed loyalties.
[+Free running is easy and fun] [+Gunplay calls for strategy] [+Hand to hand combat flows extremely well] [+So much to do] [+Interesting upgrade system] [+Side missions, martial arts clubs, racing, and gambling are really fun] [-Some extra stuff can get repetitive]
The story is Sleeping Dogs’ strongest point in production to me. You play Wei Shen, an-ex triad turned undercover cop on assignment to take down the Sun On Yee. Stakes are high and it’s not just Wei Shen’s life that gets put on the line with every mission. We see a story about how psyches can be toyed with when undertaking something personal like this. Loyalties are questioned and the players starts to question it all themselves. It was really wonderfully executed and I had never played a game that delved into the topic, allowing me to actually wonder whether it happens often or not. Another strong point comes in the star-studded voice actors. This proves to pay off in the end as the emotion when each character speaks is there; even the unimportant characters that only speak once aren’t bad.
Graphically speaking, there are hiccups that can be seen in the rendering. Car seats look like blobs at times, and it’s a huge pet peeve of mine when “crab claw” hands make their appearance, but the facial expressions work well.
Glitches show up that break the game, too. I was stuck on a cockfight watching the rooster cluck about for twenty minutes without an opponent. Another time resulted in me falling infinitely into the ground. These are normal, however, with a game this size. They also only truly broke the game for me once, completely forgivable when the rest is so great.
Speaking of which, the soundtrack is amazing. I don’t know if it was on purpose that during a mission whenever I entered a vehicle the song playing went perfectly with what was happening. Nothing incredibly mainstream can be found on the radio and this really depends on what type of music you like to listen to, however there’s so much variety that you’re bound to find a couple songs you’ll love, at least.
[+Story is excellent and engaging] [+Voice acting is well done] [+Hong Kongis beautiful and vibrant] [+Soundtrack is well chosen] [-Graphics can seem odd during cutscenes at times]
I’m a vocal person about games prices being too high, but Sleeping Dogs is a must play, regardless of the $59.99 price tag. There’s so much replay value and you’re actually encouraged to do so with the replay mission option. Outside of the main story there’s the aforementioned extras left for you as well. Not to mention that the game handles so well you’ll want to just spend hours exploring Hong Kong, feeling as though you’re actually there. If you won’t buy it full price in spite of all that, buy it at price drop, rent it, just please. Play. This. Game.
[+Whole lot of replay value] [+$59.99 price tag would be a steal]
I loved it, in case you didn’t get that from the rest of my writing. I mentioned before that I played games to do things I can’t do at the moment, and that’s exactly what Sleeping Dogs helped me with. I’ll never be a member of a Triad, I’ll never kick ten thugs in the balls, and I’ll never be able to swim into the middle of the ocean and just look back at the beautiful Hong Kong skyline. Even if I do go to Hong Kong one day, this is a great buffer until then. I felt like I was there, among all the NPCs in an actual Hong Kong. As I rolled down the streets and the neon lights of the stores fly by, I shoot at the police chasing me. It was an amazing gaming experience topped with a compelling story and just plain old fun.
[+Free running is easy and fun] [+Gunplay calls for strategy] [+Hand to hand combat flows extremely well][+So much to do] [+Interesting upgrade system] [+Side missions, martial arts clubs, racing, and gambling are really fun] [+Story is excellent and engaging] [+Voice acting is well done] [+Hong Kongis beautiful and vibrant] [+Soundtrack is well chosen] [+Whole lot of replay value] [+$59.99 price tag would be a steal] [-Graphics can seem odd during cutscenes at times] [-Some extra stuff can get repetitive]