So finally we have True Crime Hong . . . err I mean Sleeping Dogs released this year after many delays and production hitches. Sleeping Dogs has had a complicated development cycle beginning as an original property and then getting rebranded to be a part of the True Crime series in 2009. However Activision who owned the publishing rights at the time didn’t see the game as a franchise and decided to cancel the project leaving Square to pick up the almost finished game and release it as Sleeping Dogs. One of the biggest tragedies with this game is that it didn’t come out as True Crime because then there could have been at least one good True Crime game because Sleeping Dogs is actually really good.
Sleeping Dogs puts you in the shoes of undercover cop Wei Shen trying to take down the Sun On Yee by infiltrating their ranks. Wei reconnects with a childhood friend that is a low level soldier and gets in good with one of the Triad generals known as Red Poles named Winston. Wei quickly proves his value and manages to move quickly through the ranks and gaining the respect of the other high level Triads. At the same time Wei can accept missions for the police from a female detective. Wei has a contact and handler with the police named Raymond who is in charge of his case files but feels that Wei is getting too personal with his new Triad friends.
Sleeping Dogs actually has a decent story going for it but it is a little cliché. The biggest problem I have with the game is that they don’t capitalize on the undercover story enough. There should have been moral choices and multiple endings but sadly the game just plays through with one consistent story. While the story has been told before the game makes it work by having some interesting characters and a great presentation. There are plenty of stereotypical characters all over the game but the important ones really have a sense that they matter and are given the proper attention. There is even a story going with your best friend Jackie that plays out in a very interesting way.
Sleeping Dogs has so many mechanics just by being the nature of an open world sandbox style game. There are quite a few side missions or activities you can do when you aren’t playing through the missions and while they are the average activities you find in open world crime games there are some really unique ones as well. My favorite activity in the game is the karaoke. You can actually play karaoke in a club and listen to the voice actors singing popular songs (of which they have made some great choices) and it just makes me want to see all the behind the scenes of them recording that dialogue. There is also racing and fight clubs you can attend and another kind of random activity is betting on cock fighting and while it’s not fun it is a step in the more outlandish aspect of the game. Aside from the side missions there are the main story missions which are divided between working for the Triads and for the police. The game does a really good job of varying the missions so I never felt like it was too repetitive and didn’t ever get bored. There is also the ability to replay all of the missions so if you ever want to go back and try for a better score or just want to play the game again you can.
Sleeping Dogs, when you first look at it, seems to use a lot of other gameplay mechanics from other open world games. There is a cell phone used just like in GTA (although this has made it into almost every open world game at this point) and there is vehicular combat and air jacking that is very similar to The Wheelman. While it may just look like one big rip off, Sleeping Dogs uses these things in a way that just feels like this is the future path of sandbox crime games and they should just be in every game. Vehicular combat is one of the best additions to any game and I think more games should be using this feature.
While there are guns in the game Sleeping Dogs is mostly melee focused but honestly that is the best part about this game. The melee combat is professionally choreographed and the kung fu fights are brutal and extremely fun. The driving is solid but motorcycles can take some getting used to. I’d rather just go for a car but there are races and missions that force you onto a bike and those are the only times I ever got frustrated with the driving. While I usually hate racing in these types of games none of them are ever that hard and I actually had some fun with them. Whether you are driving or running on foot, travelling around the city of Hong Kong is just a lot of fun. While the driving is solid there is some parkour style traversal that makes moving around on foot and chasing down perpetrators very satisfying. There are a few hiccups in the traversal such as if you are jumping from platform to ledges or planters on the ground that the game may not recognize the connection but it was hardly ever an issue.
The combat is probably one of the biggest selling points of this game. The melee fighting is so much fun that I would spend a lot of time just hanging out in the fight clubs fighting through them all multiple times. The game is all about getting you in close to your enemies. Even when you are in a gun fight there are mechanics in place, such as leaping ledges and slowing down time, that encourage you to run up on the people shooting at you and taking them down. The game also has a heavy focus on environmental interaction with the melee. You can smash faces into walls or graphically throw people into spikes or in the trunks of cars, there are tons of possibilities and some that will just make you grin. There is a leveling system that gives you new abilities or fighting moves and the fighting only gets more hardcore as you unlock new moves.
There is some interesting cop related mechanics related to technology that you have. Your phone is a kind of multi tool that you can use to hack cameras by finding the right numerical digits or the combo to lockboxes scattered around the city (there are a lot of collectibles in the game). There are also moments in the game where you have to bug apartments where you have to move around the joysticks to find the sweet spot until it activates. All of these things can be a little tedious after the hundredth time you have done them but they are cool additions that play towards the cop angle.
Hong Kong is bright, colorful, and full of life. The characters look pretty good until they speak. There is great body animation overall but the faces look incredibly stiff when characters are trying to emote. There is some minor frame rate issues but it is all tied to the cutscenes as they may seem a little weird at times but the actual game plays smooth constantly so that is a trade off I am willing to accept. Even when things are moving at a high speed, as some of the cars tend to do, things stay focused and never slow down. While the game won’t win any awards from a technical stand point there are still great visuals to be had and nothing is offensive to the eyes. There are actually a lot of nice touches to the game such as great car damage and Wei getting all bloody during fights where he is getting beat up or from the other guys you may be beating up. The UI is very simple and not too distracting so there are no worries there.
Sleeping Dogs is a really good time. If you like open world crime games then you most likely won’t be disappointed. There is a good story with some great character development and enough mission variety that it is all worth seeing. The game loses some interest by not having any kind of morale decision as it really lessens the whole undercover cop angle but the story is written in a way that it makes sense and is fun. I actually found myself really interested in the story with Wei’s best friend Jackie and thought it was one of the better character relationships in the game and showed a really unique side to the so called bad guys. The game does try to toy with idea of who is really bad but with the single story path it doesn’t lend itself to much of a payoff. The game could have really benefited from at least having two endings, one for the Triads and one for the cops.
The combat and driving is fun enough to keep you playing the game and replaying the missions is a great addition and gives the game quite a bit of replay value. If you were to just play through the story the game wouldn’t actually be that long, maybe ten to fifteen hours, but the side missions can keep you distracted. My favorite side mission was the drug bust missions where you would take out an area full of thugs and hack a camera to survey the area. Then back at your apartment you can watch the camera and find the drug supplier and select him to have him arrested. It is the most cop like mechanic in the game and helped remind you that you are actually a cop and not just a criminal character.
Whether you are singing karaoke or smashing in gangsters faces Sleeping Dogs is one hell of a time. It’s been a little while since there’s been a big open world game and even with Sleeping Dogs crazy development cycle the game delivers a unique combat experience and fun story. The game has a great world where you can buy cars and clothes, fight with Triads, race cars, or just cause havoc if you like and it all amounts to a great time. Sleeping Dogs seemed like a game that was headed for disaster and pulled a complete curve ball and turned out to be pretty great. Activision may have been in the wrong to let it go because I would love to see this game become a franchise and I hope we get a sequel because with a little innovation Sleeping Dogs could set a high bar for open world games.