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Sleeping Dogs

16:3629/08/2012Posted by Chris MorellOne Comment

There have been many pretenders to Rockstar’s open world throne, taking inspiration from the Grand Theft Auto series in an effort to mimic its financial and critical success. Popular franchises such as Just Cause and Saints Row have become enjoyable in their own right, having realised that while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, a game needs creativity and a unique spin if it hopes to win over the masses. Although Sleeping Dogs initially seems like an unassuming GTA clone with a penchant for fisticuffs, it soon blossoms into an outing that surpasses the exploits of Niko Bellic in a surprising number of ways.

You play as Wei Shen, an undercover agent tasked with covertly taking down a Triad organisation known as the Sun On Yee. Unlike the typical GTA anti-heroes trying to get by, Wei has a greater goal in mind; a goal which will be tested in various ways as he attempts to juggle his dealings with the gang and the police he reports to. This makes for an interesting and much more personal tale, with drama stemming from Wei’s torn allegiances as he falls ever deeper into the criminal underworld. You’re never quite sure what could happen next, so the game keeps you guessing even though you’d be right in expecting a few characters to bite the dust in later missions.

Wei makes for a likeable lead, remaining polite to those he cares for, but treating his enemies with a brutality that makes him perfect for the gangster lifestyle. His criminal journey begins as a simple henchman working for unsavoury characters, and yet somehow, these faces may grow on you, becoming true allies as the gang wars escalate into something much more deadly. Wei’s mental state remains the focal point throughout, with the climb from unwanted outsider to cherished brother influencing his world view. Heavy handed perhaps, but it might just make you question what a villain is when he’s capable of a thing such as brotherhood.

All this takes place in a fictionalised Hong Kong; the game lacks any form of street-by-street accuracy, its world built entirely as a backdrop for the action with busy junctions, market districts and well-designed interiors for you to drive, punch, kick and blast through. You’ve seen higher production values before, as the game suffers from occasional screen tearing and rough textures overall, but these technical sins can be forgiven due to the fun you’ll be having from a gameplay standpoint. Those who suffer from the collector’s itch will be well catered for too, with a substantial amount of items to find off the beaten path such as lockboxes, jade statues and lamps, the latter of which extend your health meter.

One of the true stars of Sleeping Dogs is the hand-to-hand combat, which cribs successfully from the Batman: Arkham series and even builds on it. Not only can Wei counter incoming blows and then follow up with moves which flaunt his martial art skills, he can also make use of the environment for context sensitive takedowns. The jade statues can be returned to Wei’s trainer in exchange for new techniques, making the flow of combat even more exciting as you decide whether to break a leg and instil fear into surrounding foes, kick them into a phone box or drop them onto a spike. The accompanying sound effects are both meaty and very satisfying.

Gunplay rewards the player for accuracy, as a well-aimed headshot means instant death for the opposition. Enemies aren’t bullet sponges yet still take more than two shots to the stomach to be put down for good. It doesn’t quite reach the quality of a streamlined experience where shooting is the star, but that’s a big part of what makes Sleeping Dogs so different – you won’t be holding a firearm for half of the missions. The game’s greatest strength lies in its variety, as it unashamedly takes you through the stylised Hong Kong, pushing you into a steady stream of pulse-pounding situations. There are mundane moments where you’ll drive to a waypoint while listening to a character’s dialogue, but this is just a single aspect of what is a thoroughly fleshed out production.

Wei can use every trick of the trade to get the job done, whether that means picking locks, hacking security cameras, planting bugs or simply taking pictures on his mobile phone. There’s a plethora of mini-games to master, but none of them are overly difficult or all that complicated. One mission will have you break into a house to smash pots, change the time on the clock and shift a piano, but you’ll soon be charging down traffic on a motorbike to catch a kidnapped girl Wei used as bait. You’ll disarm knife-wielding thugs, chase down a Triad with free-running and then try to lose the cops (not as harrowing as it’s been in similar games) before going in for a new mission that will test your skills as well as Wei’s moral code.

Dating girls won’t result in a half-baked attempt at sexiness, instead netting you real rewards that help in your travels, though each date boils down to one of the many side activities (the awful karaoke mini-game really should have been left on the cutting room floor) but are still bookended by cutscenes. The same can be said for pedestrian requests, which increase your Face meter once completed. With increased Face comes new rewards, such as new clothes that would be otherwise inaccessible while completing police and underground missions leads to unique upgrades of their own. There’s reason to allow yourself the odd distraction, and it’s entirely your call as to which of these you do.

Just because a game lacks a multiplayer mode doesn’t always mean that it’s lacking. With good variety, solid character and world design, Sleeping Dogs offers a story that gamers haven’t quite seen before, even if it does borrow liberally from other franchises. Unlike other titles, the game doesn’t go all out and rely on the wacky or extreme to separate itself from the competition, instead choosing to present itself as a jack of all trades in a genre where no one knew it was needed. You don’t have to be into martial arts flicks to appreciate Wei Shen’s journey into the seedy underbelly, nor is a passion for GTA a requirement. You only have to enjoy fun gameplay and be willing to forgive a few missteps and its technical limitations. Expect Sleeping Dogs to be no less than this year’s sleeper hit.

This review is based on a Playstation 3 copy provided by Square Enix.

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One Comment »

  • sleeping dogs said:

    Sleeping Dogs Game Review At first this game puzzled me because I thought it was set in America.
    A lot of people are speaking in American accents. But it turns out Hong Kong is it’s
    actual setting (there’s even a British guy in there as well.) Spotting the genuine Asian person is
    the challenge. Anyway that doesn’t really matter, my job
    is to give you a game reviews light sprinkle of words
    and wisdom as to whether or not you should buy the game, so we shall
    begin. Straight away it gives signs of being heavily story orientated which is a good thing
    in my opinion! I like the story, I’m not going to give a big
    break down of the whole thing because that’s what makes Game Reviews
    long and I don’t want to spoil things for you.

    But, the story gets a thumbs up from me.
    I’ll talk about the things which I like about Sleeping Dogs,
    first off there is a pretty nifty game mechanic where you have 2 different experience systems.
    You gain experience as a cop and as a triad (saying cops and triads shouldn’t be a spoiler, you should be
    aware of this.) So you gain experience as a cop by completing undercover cop
    cases and not killing innocents and wrecking the place.
    You level up as a triad by beating down bad guys and the usual gang related things.

    I really like the combat though, the fist-fighting seems
    quite fluid and I actually get beaten a lot of the time which to
    me, shows that the combat is a challenge (which not a lot of games are
    these days.) The developers have done well to keep weapons out of your hands as much as possible.
    So you do have to fight with your fists most of the time,
    it makes a refreshing change from every man and his dog packing heat in other games.
    Things I don’t like so much about the game include – the graphics, they’re OK but that’s as good as they
    get. Also some of the driving controls are very unrealistic.
    I get that they wanted to put some extreme stuff in there, like hijacking cars by jumping out of one and into the other, fine.
    But ramming other cars is just plain bad, there’s a button to ram
    car’s and when you press the button you seem to get a boost of speed
    in the direction of the car you want to ram.

    I mean ANY direction, even if it’s parallel to your car, it’s bad design in my opinion. Finally the only other gripe I have is the fact that every female you meet
    in Sleeping Dogs wants to be intimate with you as soon as they meet you.
    Now I’ve heard a few things about Hong Kong but this
    is just starting to look like Bangkok. Video Game Review Conclusion Overall I think its
    a good game, you’ll get a lot of hours of game play for your money and it’s very entertaining with a good story.

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