'Sleeping Dogs' is a sleeper hit of the year - Review

Tuesday, 14 August 2012 12:49 AM Written by 

It would be all too easy to refer to “Sleeping Dogs” as simply a “GTA” clone. Such a comment would be insulting to the developers at United Front Games and Square Enix London. “Sleeping Dogs” is as much of a “GTA” clone as “Battlefield” is a clone of “Call of Duty.” Sure the games share a genre, but “Sleeping Dogs” does plenty to distinguish itself from the games that inspired it.

 


“Sleeping Dogs” has the trappings of a piece of Asian crime cinema like “Infernal Affairs,” the movie that inspired widely praised Scorsese mobster flick “The Departed.”

You play as Wei Shen, a gifted Hong Kong police officer who goes undercover in the Triad gang called The Sun On Yee. After spending some time stateside, Shen returns to Hong Kong to begin his life as a double agent. Thanks to his past as a criminal he’s able to infiltrate the gang and gain their trust, but he becomes strained by the pressure of his duty as an officer and his loyalty to his gang family.

At its heart “Sleeping Dogs” is an open-world, mission-based game that features shooting, driving, and hand-to-hand combat, but the precise controls and intense story give the game its own identity. The shooting and cover mechanics rival the tightest third-person-shooter experiences. Driving is a fast-paced, arcade style dream.

Hand-to-hand fights borrow elements from the “Arkham” franchise with the attack/counter system. It adds a grapple function, which can trigger overly violent environmental kills involving air vents and electrical panels. Like the Asian cinema that inspired it, this game is not for children.

Platforming elements have been added to the formula. “Sleeping Dogs” doesn’t quite have the freedom of movement of “Assassin’s Creed,” but Shen has the ability to climb to ledges, vault objects, and jump the gaps between buildings. He can hijack moving cars by jumping from behind the wheel to the roof a nearby vehicle, or just by shooting out the tires from his drivers-side window. There’s no shortage of action when you’re in the driver’s seat.

 

 

(Gunfights at breakneck speeds. Just another day in Hong Kong)


“Sleeping Dogs” presentation fits the rest of its triple-A build. This review was performed on a PC, and the realism in the facial expressions and the authentic Hong Kong scenery is breathtaking. The game’s looks truly shine when the neon lights of the city reflect off of the rain-soaked streets.

Will Yun Lee, the voice of Wei Shen, is absolutely stellar at capturing the emotions of a man pulled in two directions. Other Hollywood favorites like Tom Wilkinson (“Batman Begins”), Emma Stone (“Easy A”), and Lucy Liu (“Kill Bill”) lend their familiar voices to the cast.

Like many games of its ilk, Shen starts out small time, running small time errands and working his way up to dealing directly with mob bosses and becoming a bona fide gangster. And let’s be honest, that’s part of what makes it fun. You lose yourself in the role of Shen. His struggles become yours, as do the spoils of his work. “Sleeping Dogs” captures the satisfaction of progression. Shen has a “cop” level, a “triad” level, and a “face” level. Increasing the cop level grants abilities like gun prowess and skills in disarming foes. The triad level features more brutal tactics like using melee weapons and fighting techniques.

 

(Fighting like this will earn you triad points)


The way each level increases is not dependant on choice, like say “Fable” or “inFamous.” Each main story mission has a maximum amount of points in both categories that can be earned. “Cop” points begin at the maximum and are taken away for things like property damage, hurting innocents, and clumsy fighting. “Triad” points start at zero and are added for brutality in fist-fights or with a gun. Both levels can be increased simultaneously, which sets it apart from the polarizing “good” or “evil” choices that are prevalent in today’s games.

“Face” is comparable to reputation. Many of the people around Hong Kong offer side missions involving various odd jobs, many that require hired muscle. Completing these missions will make you more well known around the streets.  Achieving a higher “face” level unlocks luxury vehicles and clothes. Even if you have the dough to purchase these high end goods, you won’t be able to buy them if you don’t have the “face”.

This makes perfect sense. The up-and-coming foot soldier wouldn’t be able to pull off $2000 suits with designer shades and it would look bizarre to see a common thug driving around in a exotic supercar worth half a million dollars. Those trappings are reserved for the infamous mob bosses. You have to earn those perks.

Face doesn’t just unlock items, but also brings perks like discounts at stores and your own personal valet on speed dial.

 

(Sleeping Dogs may look like a GTA clone, but it's far from it)


There is plenty to do on the streets of Hong Kong. Being a cop and a gangster opens opportunities for missions on both sides. Shen can bust local drug dealers or continue to climb the Triad ranks in the main story. If you want a break from the errands you can take part in street races or hack local surveillance cameras to spy from your apartment. These hobbies trigger a wide variety of mini-games. Hacking cameras starts a mini-game similar to Sudoku. Planting bugs is similar to the cryptographer sequences in the Batman “Arkham” games, but is different enough to feel fresh.

Throughout Shen’s rise to prominence, he meets several lady friends who can be taken on dates. These dates end up being nothing more than opportunities to fill the “face” meter. I was hoping to pick a main girl as my squeeze or that at least one of them would play a role in the larger story, but it never came to fruition. Apparently Shen deletes the women’s numbers from his phone after the first date and they’re never heard from again. What a scoundrel.

The only complaint I have with this game is its linearity. I don’t have a problem with linear games and I respect the direction of the writers, but when a game constantly presents two paths I expect  to have to make a difficult decision at some point. But that point never comes. The choice between loyalty to the police or to the gang would have had serious gravity. I don’t with the entire story revolved around choice between cops and triads, but one big decision at the end would have added personal character to the story.

“Sleeping Dogs” is a sleeper hit of the year. The summer brought a lull of games that brought the action, but that lull is officially over. The story may be classically A-to-B, and leave some questions unanswered, but the excellent presentation, and fresh gameplay with classic roots make this game a gem.

9 out of 10


Pros:
Stellar gameplay that sets it apart from other third-person, open world games.
Top-tier presentation in both graphics and voice acting
Gives excellent sense of progression

Cons:
Linear story



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