Platform : PC
Release Date :Aug 2012
Price : £19.99 (Steam)
We very nearly didn’t get to play Sleeping Dogs. The game was originally cancelled in 2011 while it was being developed under the title True Crime Hong Kong. Originally intended to be a standalone game, then publisher Activision decided that the game would have a better chance as the third of their True Crime series, joining Streets of LA (which was great) and New York City (which was.. not so great) but eventually decided to cancel the title as, apparently, it wasn’t good enough to compete in the market. Months later, publisher Square Enix acquired the rights to the game (but not the title) and brought the team back to finish their game under a new title, Sleeping Dogs.
I have no idea if the build that Activision cancelled had any similarities to the finished game, but if it did then whoever made the decision to cancel it is clearly insane.
Sleeping Dogs begins with an undercover job gone wrong. You play as Wei Shen, an undercover Hong Kong cop who is infiltrating the local Triads, the Sun On Yee. As his first job falls apart Wei is eventually arrested, as he is undercover most of the local police force do not know that he isn’t a criminal. In jail he meets a childhood friend, Jackie, who is working for one of the local gang leaders and uses this as a way to be introduced to them to gain their trust.
From here, you go on a range of missions and begin to work your way up the chain of command in the Sun on Yee and meet a wide variety of characters, both from the police and the triad, while Wei tries to keep himself from going too deep undercover and truly becoming one of them.
The main story missions of the game I found very gripping, as the voice acting and animation of the characters really added to the believability. As is quite common these days, the majority of the cast are voiced by actors though due to the setting of the game the majority of these are Hong Kong movie stars as opposed to your standard Hollywood selection, though there are still a few of these. The last few missions of the game feel truly epic and are a fantastic ending to the experience.
Each mission you play gives you experience, either in your cop or triad experience. This is indicated by three triangles onscreen while you play. The cop bar starts full, and you lose points on it based on if you accidentally kill civilians, cause damage or fail at jumps and so on. The triad bar fills up as you play, with bonuses for combos, takedowns and environmental attacks (more on those later.)
If you’re like me and go for 100% completion in games like this be aware that there are less triad scoring missions than cop scoring and you could end up replaying missions over and over to squeeze a little more score out of them. I discovered a little too late that there are outfits that add a bonus to your triad scoring, so picking these up early is recommended.
There are also little side missions, called favours, as well as open world events that occur and street races. The favours will be very short missions for usually random people on the street, while the open world events can range from breaking up fights or chasing down thieves to rescuing people from being kidnapped. The street races pit you against several other racers, in cars or motorbikes, and can earn you some serious money. Each of these mission types add to yet another experience bar, your face experience. This gives you bonuses to how much things cost or damage multipliers in combat.
The gameplay is incredibly fluid. Wei has a range of free running style moves at his disposal, which come in very handy in the fast on foot chases you’ll sometimes end up in. Jumping up and over and vaulting off of obstacles is no problem and all performed with the tap of a button.
You don’t get to use guns very often in the game, as Hong Kong has strict gun laws much like the UK, so these are found rarely on gangsters or for specific missions. When you do have them however the aiming system is tight and accurate. The lack of weapons does make this a significantly more grounded game than a Grand Theft Auto for example as you can’t go on any manic rampages with rocket launchers or whatever. Not that this is a problem, but just a heads up to anyone going into the game expecting GTA Hong Kong!
The majority of combat in the game is melee based. Wei has a variety of martial arts moves to begin with, and you learn more from the master of a local dojo as a reward for returning to him statues that had been stolen which are dotted around the map in your standard open world adventure style. The melee controls are very simple and intuitive.
As always, I’ve played this with an Xbox pad. X is your primary attack, and holding it down instead of simply pressing gives you heavy attacks. You can chain normal and heavy attacks into combos to cause more damage. B is grapple, which allows you to grab and then either throw enemies or use environmental attacks. These are great. In each area you end up fighting there will be a variety of items which will glow red; phone boxes, windows, bins, tables, industrial tools and a variety of other things. Grappling an enemy and then throwing them into one of these will instantly take them out (and usually give them a somewhat gruesome death too.)
Finally, and most importantly, Y is counter. This will feel quite familiar to anyone who has played the recent Batman games, and is basically a necessity. Enemies will flash red when they move to attack you, and if you press Y at the right time Wei will counter their attack causing the enemy massive damage. Later in the game you’ll often be surrounded by massive groups of enemies, so mastering the counter early is a necessity or fights will often not go your way.
In addition to the statues there are also other things to seek out such as lockboxes, which give you either money or items and health shrines, which increase your health bar. There are nearly 200 collectables in total and finding these would be quite a chore if not for the collectable finder upgrades that you unlock during the course of the game which add these to your map.
Visually, the game is something to behold. Unlike the True Crime games that it would have been part of, Sleeping Dogs does not attempt to accurately recreate the real layout of Hong Kong. Instead it takes its inspiration from the design and culture and reinterprets it into a more game friendly layout. You’ll encounter busy markets full of stalls with various things to buy, an impressive vista of the city from high up on Victoria Peak and go from quieter suburban areas to a bustling major city. The game world itself is by far the visual star of the game, but the character and vehicle models are also very good, though there are occasionally some slightly dodgy animations that look a bit out of place in the motion capture era. Wei’s sprint animation always looked a little off to me, which was a bit of a shame as I spent a lot of time running.
As is common with just about every open world game, there are a variety of radio stations to listen to in your car as you drive around the city. There’s quite a range of music in the game, from a Kerrang radio station to classical music and a few stations with Chinese music as well.
In quite a surprising turn for a high profile game like this there is a lot of Chinese language in the game with the majority of characters at least having a few exchanges in Chinese, which are of course subtitled for those of us who don’t speak it. It made for a real immersive feel to the game as all too often Eastern developed games get saddled with a not great Americanised voiceover (I’m looking at you, Shenmue) which loses a lot of the culture of the setting.
Overall, I thought Sleeping Dogs was fantastic. I did sour on the game a little at the end as I was replaying missions to grind triad score and a couple of the challenges, but for the majority of players this isn’t going to be too much of an issue anyway, and I’m still overwhelmingly on the positive side towards it. Now I just have to hope that they confirm a sequel.