True Crime: Hong – er, Sleeping Dogs flushes out the horrors of organised crime in a refreshing, cinematic look at the open-world over-the-shoulder action-adventure genre. But is its Kung Fu strong enough?
Step into the shoes of Wei Shen, a Chinese-American police officer who must infiltrate the Sun On Yee, an enigmatic Triad. Wei is deep undercover, in an underworld where cops and traitors are executed with impunity. Error will result in his death, as will detection. Living a dual life is difficult, but vengeance drives Wei along a dark, twisted and alluring road.
The inevitable comparison that has to be made: does Sleeping Dogs survive in the shadow of the GTA franchise? The answer is a resounding yes. Not only does the game pull out of the behemoth’s shadow, it manages to bring some fresh ideas to the genre, meaning GTA can’t sit on its laurels if it intends to stay in front. How does it achieve this? In a few ways, but here is the most important:
Substance. There is something spell-binding, a rare beautiful thing when a game has a story, written in strong cinematic style, that makes you feel for your characters and those around him. Watch Wei battle with his cognitive dissonance and feel the consequences of the atrocities he must commit to be part of a family bound by spilt blood and an archaic sense of honour and duty.
There is a fine balance between being undercover and running amok, something that factors into every mission. In RPG fashion, you earn experience during missions. This experience is split by faction, police and Triad, each with their own unlockable abilities. From being able to hijack cars without setting off alarms to doing more damage with melee weapons, levelling up really does improve your character. In addition to this, you need to keep face, a level of status in the community. Completing missions and doing favours results in more people liking you, allowing you access to better clothes and faster cars. Experience isn’t just about killing everything though. Police experience is often subtracted for things like property damage, killing innocents, being clumsy and the like. This results in a fine line between getting results in a car chase scene and using some discretion to avoid killing civilians and destroying properties.
There would be no point to being in Asia without martial arts. Wei Shen is an old Kung Fu student, who makes rather aggressive use of the environment around him. Using a hand-to-hand combat system similar to Batman’s free-flow system, prepare to fight throngs of henchmen. Using your feet, fists, kitchen knives and counter moves, Wei can keep the upper hand even when surrounded. If in need, or desired, Wei can also slam his opponents into walls, phone booths, urinals and extractor fans. Remember, the Triad respects the most violent gang members, so creative and macabre deaths award more experience. Performing combos is rather easy, meaning less time is spent on learning moves than using them to master the combat situation. Eating food provides extra health regeneration, as does fighting really well, which will activate a face streak, complete with a few special moves.
When not fighting, either to explore or chase down a snitch, Wei can use to entire city as one massive parkour environment. This makes chase scenes exciting and city exploration on foot a lot more interesting than other games in the genre, without turning the game into a building climbing affair.
Hong Kong has fewer guns than the ammunition riddled States, meaning that guns are much more tactical, their inclusion in a fight making a large impact in the game. In fact, weapons, both melee and ranged, are more like power-ups that you collect and use for a short while, meaning the unarmed combat never feels neglected, as Wei has a habit of dumping firearms, rather than just killing indiscriminately. Wei can make use of cover to avoid gunfire, and to line up his shots. Getting a headshot or aiming while vaulting over an object results in a John Woo-esque slowing of time, allowing for improved accuracy while looking like it belongs in a cinema.
Be prepared to spend a lot of time driving around Hong Kong, with its neon signs hanging directly next to old temples and narrow winding streets. The colours and sights are unfamiliar, with almost no English to help you learn more of the various odd shops and sights. The races and cars in this feel less realistic than in some open-world games, feeling more like Need for Speed than anything else. This comes as no surprise, as several of the developers worked on Need for Speed titles in the past. As a result, the driving is faster with easy handling, which comes in handy when you slow down time to pop your head out the window to shoot out another car’s tyres or to jump on another vehicle and hijack it. Yes, just like in the action movies.
Collect, Gamble and uh… Sing!?
The city is littered with collectibles which reward you with weapons, money, skill training and health boosts. There is a lot to do in Hong Kong, from street races and poker to betting money on fighting cocks. When not dating one of the various lady friends available in the game, why not try your hand at some karaoke?
A great game, whose story deserves being listened to. Hopefully more gaming companies realise that quality overrides quantity for many players. My largest complaints with the game would be the GPS tracking only uses legal roads to plot a route and that the ending felt a tad rushed. Other than that, I hope to see you in the massage parlour, spouting Cantonese profanity.
The quick time events feel unnecessary, and could be done away with. This is not the pressing of a button to parkour correctly, but rather the mashing of a button in certain combat situations and to stay on a vehicle during an action hijacking. The timing needed to parkour perfectly is perhaps too tight, and I disliked the same button was used for sprinting and parkour.
Design and Presentation: 8.5/10
Sleeping Dogs brings a vibrant Hong Kong to life, a refreshing break from generic American city number 443. Sure the city is smaller, but everything is really densely packed. The cinematic tones and flair bring the world to life, with tiny gems visible in every alley. Remember, a man who never eat pork bun, is never a whole man!
Not the longest game or the largest city you have ever been given to explore, but Sleeping Dogs makes up for this by providing great quality. It took me 17 hours to complete the game. There is still a lot out there to do, meaning I will be visiting Hong Kong again soon.
Great graphics, smooth controls and a large, vibrant city to explore and control. But that isn’t the best part. This game does its best to make you feel what Wei feels, to endure the hardship, confusion and suffering that his dual existence creates. This game is an open-world adventure cum movie, which it pulls off with aplomb.
Played on PS3. Available on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC
Last Updated: September 1, 2012