In my mind, one of the greatest travesties of this generation of open world games is that we inevitably end up comparing any one that comes out to Grand Theft Auto in some way of form (just like I’m sure I’ll do here). That’s not because they were the first game in the genre, but the first one to set people on fire with the desire to play it. Everyone hopes to tap that vein – to make a game that will get everyone talking and then in turn cause people to play (and then talk more). While there have been a number of games that have come close, many more fall very short of that lofty goal, and end up being forgotten by the time the next flavor of the month game rolls around. So what about Sleeping Dogs then? Will it rise to the top, or be a giant flop?
For those that don’t know the story behind this game’s development, let’s go on a quick history lesson, shall we? Sleeping Dogs used to be known by a different name – True Crime: Hong Kong (although even before that it was known as Black Lotus). Activision didn’t see the game being as much of a success as they had hoped it would be because of different delays, so they cancelled development. Square Enix then swooped in and picked up the rights to the game (but not the name), and kept the same team that was originally working on it. Because of this, the core of the game was able to remain unchanged, and ended up becoming more polished. History lesson over – back to the review.
Sleeping Dogs throws players into the shoes of Wei Shen, an cop working undercover to infiltrate the Sun On Yee Triad (yes, it’s a play on the actual Triad, Sun Yee On). It sounds like the story behind a number of martial arts action movies, and it ends up playing just like it as well. It almost feels like if it were a movie, John Woo could easily have directed it. There are a number of twists and turns in the story, but really you can see most of them coming a mile a way – that’s pretty common in this genre though. One of the best parts of the story though is how there are both Triad missions, and police missions (as well as a ton of side mission content). Everything sounds great so far, and while the majority of the game is fantastic, I am going to break with my normal review style and address the negatives first.
One of the things that bothered me with the game is how the different experience points are accumulated – more specifically in relation to the Triad XP and the cop XP. You see, there are a number of different experience levels you can gain in Sleeping Dogs – police, Triad, face, and martial arts. That in and of itself isn’t a problem with me, and it really adds a lot of depth to the game because you have different ways of playing to level certain things. The problem I have is this: during missions, doing things that would be considered “against the law” will subtract from your cop XP (cop XP starts full, while Triad XP starts empty) and violent actions will increase your Triad XP. Run over a pedestrian accidentally during a mission, and you’ll get a huge deduction from your cop XP… but only if you’re in a mission. If you are just roaming the world you can run over people to your heart’s content with no negative repercussion other than the police might chase you. The system should be prevalent throughout the game – experience being altered even when not in missions based on how you play, leading to a much bigger meta game. If you’re going to go for it, why not go all the way?
The police themselves are another point of contention with me. They are absolutely moronic. Do something to start a car chase and you’ll find two police cars tailing you. Take out one, and the other doesn’t call for backup ever, or even raise your heat meter – so that all you end up having to do is take down the second car and you’re in the clear. Another situation I tried was climbing high in a construction site and popping a few civilians. Soon three cops pulled up, and while they stared at me I gunned them down easily. This raised my heat meter to level 4 and I heard a lot of sirens, so I moved back so I could just see over the floor. The scene that greeted me was comical – four police vans sped into the area and crashed into the parked police cars (running over their dead comrades in the process), and then kept going. They never stopped, and within three seconds my heat meter was back at zero. The A.I. is NOWHERE near that bad at any other point in the game – for some reason they just chose to make the police the stupidest people in the game world.
The last problem I have is with the “Drug Bust” activities. Let me explain how these work – there are three phases to a Drug Bust, and for the most part they’re not really bad. First you take your character to any one of a number of different drug strongholds and take on a group of enemies. There can be any number of enemies (the lowest I saw was five I think, with the highest number topping out at sixteen), and sometimes they have weapons or even guns. This part is the most fun of the Drug Bust activity – finish this, and go on to part two. The second task involves “hacking” a security camera – basically you go to a terminal and interact with it, then guess a four digit code. The problem with this is that while you only get six tries and it could be difficult, each number can only be used once, so it ends up being super easy. Get through that and you move on to the worst part of the activity, busting the supplier (or doing the same damn thing over and over). In part three you go back to your apartment and interact with your television. Next you look for cameras that flash “Triad Activity” at the bottom, and interact with them. Lastly you are supposed to observe the scene and identify the supplier so that the police can arrest him – it sounds great in theory, however the supplier always dresses the same, and always does the same actions. There is no observing, trying to use detective skills to find out who the head bad guy it – you literally look for the guy talking to the group dressed in a suit. That’s it. Thankfully these activities grant you a TON of cop XP, but they are damn well tedious to sit through.
Okay, small negatives aside, lets get into what Sleeping Dogs gets RIGHT. For one, the combat is a dream. The hand to hand Martial Arts combat is pulled out without a hitch, letting you use more combos that you would believe from an open world game. Hard strikes, counters, throws, breaking bones – it’s all here, and all works in perfect harmony with the rest of the game. I would actually say the hand to hand combat is one of the two absolute best things in Sleeping Dogs (we’ll get to the second in a minute). Gunplay, while not perfect, is better than I am used to from other open world games (I’m looking at you GTA) – being able to pull of stunts like action disarms to grab a gun and waste people just shows how well they have married the Martial Arts element to every aspect of Sleeping Dogs. You can also use a form of “Bullet Time”, but you have to unlock all the different ways you can use that.
The second thing that this game does better than ANY other open world game I’ve played is the driving. Cars are fast and responsive – they handle like you would expect them to in a general racing game. Each of the vehicles have a different feel to them, like you can actually tell weight differences – and all of that is show off completely with their amazing drift system. In Grand Theft Auto I would always hate to do any racing missions – the vehicles all pretty much handle like boats on land; clunky to control, and no sense of speed. With Sleeping Dogs though, I looked forward to starting a new race, and unlocking new vehicle types. There is just something about zipping along and then mashing on the drift button that felt right – especially when you see your vehicle effortlessly glide around a corner. While I’ve spoken just about cars, the motorcycles are the same way – each has a completely different feel to it. From the cruiser to the crotch rocket, every motorcycle is a completely different entity with realistic physics guiding their movements. This is the kind of stuff any game maker could take lessons in. They even married the Martial Arts aspect here by allowing you to perform some “Just Cause 2″ style action jumps from one car to the next – perfection indeed.
Just because I’m gaga over the combat and the driving doesn’t mean at all that they are the only good things in Sleeping Dogs – far from it. The acting is top notch here, and you can really feel a lot of emotion in pretty much every scene. I am thankful though for subtitles, because a lot of the characters talk candidly in Chinese, which I can’t speak a word of. There are also a number of fun activities that you can jump on like cock fighting, martial arts clubs, and karaoke. No, you don’t actually sing in the karaoke mini games – you move the control stick to adjust your pitch. It’s silly, but it is a heck of a lot of fun – especially listening to how you sound when you make a mistake. Just like the karaoke is fun though, so is the rest of the game. In fact, that is the basic theme of what makes me want to go back and play the game again. It’s not the great combat, not the fantastic driving – not even the poignant and artfully told story; it’s the fun factor. If I could grade on that alone, Sleeping Dogs would be beyond perfect.
Bottom Line: While there are some minor problems with Sleeping Dogs, they in no way take away from just how fantastic this game is to play – get over the shortcomings and see what a gem it really is.
- The driving is equally as good as you could find in a pure racing game
- Martial Arts permeates every part of Sleeping Dogs, and it is implemented without flaw
- The fun factor alone makes the game worth playing
- The police AI is completely ridiculous
- Drug Busts could be a LOT more interesting with some thought
- The experience system could use a little work
You can grab a copy of Sleeping Dogs for the PlayStation 3 and the XBOX 360 from places like Amazon for $57.70, or for the PC for $44.99