From the faithfully recreated, bustling streets of Hong Kong to the visceral hand-to-hand combat, Sleeping Dogs was a sleeper hit when it launched, and quickly cemented itself as a cult classic. It’s one of those polarising experiences though, that either had you loving or hating it, with a pretty standard sandbox formula giving way to a new setting and gameplay mechanics. Instead of a proper sequel, we’re getting Triad Wars – an online vertical slice of Sleeping Dogs that’s probably going to divide far fewer people.
Triad Wars starts relatively well, plunging you into a very similar Hong Kong embroiled in a three-way turf war. You’re asked to pick a side, and I ended up following the dirty gambling, cock-fighting kings of the metropolis, the Shing Wo (mainly for their awesome gang tag though). After that I got to choose from three stock characters, and dive straight into the game. It may be an MMO (or, at least, it thinks it is), but there’s virtually no customisation from the start here. You pick up and go, no questions asked.
It doesn’t take long for things to get interesting either. Before I knew it, I was running through dingy alleys chasing a man in a suit, only to be confronted by three goonies in a spacious arena moments later. It’s here where Triad Wars excels, because it shares the exact same DNA with Sleeping Dogs. The Batman-esque combat allowed me to effortlessly pull off weak and strong strikes, reverse opponent attacks and deliver some truly gory finishers with environmental hazards.
Taking down thugs and completing objectives will reward you with standard XP,, which you can then use to make your kung fu really fast, of beef up your abs to take a few more hits. It’s standard RPG elements that hardly made a noticeable difference in-game, and it’s pretty disappointing that most of the abilities you can unlock for your eventual gang mimic the ones you unlock for yourself. There’s very little discrepancy – even if actual multiplayer isn’t exact working right now.
But wait, how is it an MMO then? Well, it actually isn’t in a sense. Triad Wars will eventually allow you to collect some friends for co-op fun, but right now it’s little more than a shared world Sleeping Dogs. You won’t run into any other players on the streets, and you won’t be able to visit social hubs for trading and socialising. You’re playing in a bubble of Hong Kong that is all yours – and only populated by AI controlled mirrors of other players.
They become important with the only really new part of Triad Wars, which lends a lot from popular mobile games such as Clash of Clans. You’re given a piece a land to transform into your own front (what happened to joining that other gang? No idea). Earn enough money and Face (the equivalent of rank) and you’ll be able to establish more business opportunities around your headquarters. You can open up far-from-legitimate gambling rings, counterfeiting operations and smuggling, all to generate more cash per minute and acquire goods. These processes take real-world time though, and it was common for me to hit the headquarters page, launch some productions and just…wait.
Similar enemy headquarters are peppered around the map, with a limited number of side-quests accompanying them. Raids on rival ground comes with a time limit, so completing optional objectives first grants more tick tock for the clock. These quests are bland and predictable though, forcing you to either drive to a location in a limited time, or take out a few thugs to send a message. It eventually dawned on me that it wasn’t even required though, since raiding a rival was just so darn easy.
With the starting meat cleaver and 9mm pistol, I was racing though carbon copy safe houses in record time. You earn more cash and Face for taking out a rival’s businesses before confronting the AI version of the player you’re attacking, which holds promise for more complex raids in the future. But that wasn’t the case during my few hours with the game, and mashing said cleaver into some truly unfortunate faces got the job done most of the time.
Once you’re done with a raid, you’re then left with seemingly no other option than to push on through to the next one, which offers nothing in terms of variation. Triad Wars is a gruelling grind of a game that trades play time with in-game buffs, weapons and cosmetic rewards. You can visit the store to spend precious gold bars, or take the plunge and whip out the credit card for hassle-free progress. It’s the trick of the smartphone game trade, boiled down into an experience that is a husk of the adventure it’s based on.
And it’s probably why there’s been so little fan-fare about the game at all recently. Triad Wars, as it stands, feels like nothing more than a cheap cash in on a surprisingly well received action title, from which it channels mechanics and puts them to the most boring use possible. Combat is still aces, and the city of Hong Kong looks better than ever, but there’s little else to commend here.
Even the most die-hard Sleeping Dogs fans will find it difficult to suck any enjoyment out of this predictably cheap knock-off. Unless something truly drastic changes things over the next few months.
Last Updated: April 8, 2015