September 2, 2012
Sleeping Dogs, developed by United Front Games, was originally slated to come out under the name True Crime: Hong Kong. However in its initial development phase it was intended to be a brand new IP. During its development life-cycle, Activision, due to various reasons, decided to drop the game. This eventually led Square Enix to come in and pick up the project. They then chose to ditch True Crime and publish the game under the name Sleeping Dogs.
Still set in Hong Kong, Sleeping Dogs chose quite an exotic location for the game to take place in. Hong Kong is often seen a mash up of Eastern and Western cultures and that on its own gives the game a setting that is distinctively different from other open-world games. Sleeping Dogs' version of Hong Kong feels like a faithful recreation of the city. The Streets, the buildings, and the people draw an accurate representation of what Hong Kong is supposed to be like. Not only is that achieved by the high attention to detail that the visuals of the game sport, but the sounds of the game do an amazing job of bringing the city to life. United Front Games seemed to have put a lot of effort in creating a living breathing version of Hong Kong, and they managed to do so with immense success.
While a lot of open-world games tend to put the narrative on the backburner, Sleeping Dogs completely disperses that stereotype by bringing it right to the forefront. Inspired by popular Hong Kong Cinema films such as Infernal Affairs and The Election, Sleeping Dogs' story is one of the most engrossing in recent memory. The main character of the game, Wei Shen, is an undercover cop on a mission to infiltrate the Sun On Yee Triad in Hong Kong. Shen is surrounded by a number of supporting characters that do a great job of fledging out the story and keeping the plot interesting. Initially you might write off the game's characters as typical heroes or villains, but soon enough you realize that the characters in Sleeping Dogs have a lot more depth to them compared to a lot of titles out there.
Combat in Sleeping Dogs is definitely one of the main highlights of the game. While other open-world titles often choose to make gunplay the main focus of combat, Sleeping Dogs stays true to its setting by emphasizing hand to hand combat instead - specifically Wing Chun. Combat in Sleeping Dogs closely resembles the quick and fluid system of Batman: Arkham Asylum/City, and is heads and shoulders above any combat system in an open-world game. Sleeping Dogs also allows for brutal environmental kills which include things like smashing a guy's face into an air conditioner or locking up an enemy to rot inside a dumpster. Those environmental kills add tons of satisfaction to an already excellent combat system which keeps gameplay both entertaining and rewarding.
Guns do play a part in Sleeping Dogs' gameplay, but they don't have as huge of a role as in say the Grand Theft Auto series. This is mainly due to the game being set in Hong Kong where guns are uncommon and are only used as some sort of last measure to finish off the job. The game has a cover-system that although is good, does not feel as solid as what dedicated 3rd person-shooter might off. Sleeping Dogs also features Bullet Time which triggers once you jump over an obstacle from cover. Once Bullet time is active, everything is slowed down to allow for more accurate and precise shooting. All in all gunplay in the game is good enough to complement the fantastic hand to hand combat of the game, but does not shine as one of Sleeping Dogs' strong points.
Driving on the other hand is an area that the game has above average performance. Long gone are the days of sloppy vehicle controls and awkward turns. The handling of vehicles in the game feels natural and makes driving around the city much more enjoyable. There's a taxi service available in the game, but unlike other open world games, it's a service which seems almost redundant.
As you complete various missions in the game you get experience points that level up Wei Shen's different values. The game has three main types, Face XP, Cop XP, and Triad XP. These will all level up depending on the type of mission you undertake, and what you do in the mission. In addition, Sleeping Dogs has a dojo which is used to acquire new moves for use in combat. The moves are learnt by finding different statues across the city and bringing them back to the dojo which allows you to unlock them for use. The diversity and branching of those experience values allow you to improve and shape Wei Shen throughout the game, but it's a shame the individual types didn't have more variety. Once you obtain the maximum level in each category, you will have unlocked every move - there's no room for deviation.
While the game does not include any form of online multiplayer, it does contain a feature called the Social Hub. The Social Hub can be accessed from the pause menu and essentially tracks a bunch of different stats in the game. These stats can then be compared with friends or with worldwide leaderboards. Examples of such stats are things like "longest drive without crashing" or "highest jump with a motorbike". The Social Hub is a great addition to Sleeping Dogs as it allows a form of social interaction to be present without breaking you away from the game's focused single-player experience.
While there's plenty to praise about Sleeping Dogs, there are a few problems that the game suffers from. The first one being that the characters' facial animations and general rendering. They just aren't on par with the rest of the game's animation quality. There are various lip-syncing problems and facial expressions issues that make the characters' faces feel lifeless at times. Characters like Amanda Cartwright and Tiffany Kim just seem poorly designed - more detail should have been emphasised here. They should have also played a larger role in the game. Often you'll meet a girl, have a date and they won't ever get screen time again. It then becomes quite jarring when one of the girls comes up as part of the story, suggesting a deeper relationship that you weren't even aware of.
Another problem is that while the diversity of the side missions available in the game is impressive at first, they might feel a bit repetitive towards the end. This is mainly due to side missions essentially offering more of the same, which can be an issue to someone looking for a more dynamic set of side missions to do. Still, Sleeping Dogs is a game that packs plenty of punch and you're sure to get your money's worth.
Sleeping Dogs is one of the biggest surprises of the year so far. Aside from a few problems that the game suffers from, the amazing story, deep characters and solid combat offer an open-world experience that shouldn't be missed. Sleeping Dogs represents the culmination of what open-world games should try to achieve.Editor's Choice
Sleeping Dogs was reviewed on the PS3. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.