Welcome To Hong Kong. Come Stay Awhile.
Sleeping Dogs took quite the interesting development trail to release. First, the game was being developed as the next in the True Crime series. After continual delays and budget concerns Activision cancelled the game. After about six months Square Enix picked up the game and let United Front Games finish development and Square took up publishing duties. I am glad that Square decided to take a chance on Sleeping Dogs (which Sqaure is not known to do really). There is a lot of good going on in this game including a John Woo quality plot, refined combat mechanics and open-world driving that is just plain fun. While the game may not be as large as the Grand Theft Auto’s, there is no doubt that Sleeping Dogs is a welcome addition in the sandbox category.
You play the game as Wei Shen, a cop that has returned to Hong Kong from the States and is arrested after getting busted on a bad drug deal. He is offered a chance to infiltrate the Sun On Yee gang because of his friendship with a member of the gang, Jackie Ma. Jackie takes you to meet the leader of the Water Street Gang, Winston. The Water Street Gang works under the Sun On Yee to complete all the tasks they need completed whether it be drug runs, collecting protection money or just straight up murder. Winston is having trouble with an old member named Dogeyes, the leader of a rival gang that is trying to muscle in on the Water Street Gang’s territory. This is where you spend a good bit of the first third of the game. As you complete more missions for Winston and gain the trust of the Water Street Gang you find yourself getting suck in deeper and deeper into the triad lifestyle.
As Wei begins to get more involved inside the Sun On Yee, the stakes begin to get raised more and more. Not only are you becoming well know by all the power players in Hong Kong, you also have to stay accountable to Pendrew, the man who is leading the investigation into the Sun On Yee. This is where Sleeping Dogs separates itself from other open-world games like GTA or Saint’s Row. While the story is set in stone with how it plays out, you have three separate menus for upgrading your skills: the Police, the Triad and the Face.
Police XP is gained by completing investigations marked on your map with blue shields. these could be simple drug busts, which have you beating the crap out of a gang of thugs, hacking a camera on the corner they work, then head back to your apartment and watch the closed feed for a drug deal. Once the dealer is identified a simple hit of the button and the cops are on him in a minute. Many of the investigations are multi-part affairs that involve things like the illegal street racing scene to women being kidnapped and sold into the sex trade. Triad XP is marked by green shields on your map and will move forward the Sun On Yee portion of the story. At first you will be completing collection missions for Winston but soon find yourself showing rappers a night on the town and revenging your fallen brothers. A lot of the missions play out like a Chinese Godfather complete with betrayals and red weddings. Face XP are marked as yellow on your map and these are simple side quest missions that raise your face meter, or what the citizens of Hong Kong think about you.
The reward for completing all of these missions are the upgrades you receive. Each category has its own set of skills that are awaiting you. At first you find yourself simply breaking out windows to steal a car. Wouldn’t you rather just carry a slim jim with you to get quick access? The upgrade system is not as deep as Far Cry 3, but there is a lot to unlock and it is fun to try out all the abilities you open up. Once you learn how to “action jump” from your car to a speeding car you truly begin to see how Sleeping Dogs is an homage to cop movies also.
Your fighting abilities are also full of upgrades. You are tasked with finding statues around town and returning them to your sensei, Master Sifu. With each statue returned you will learn new ways to combat your enemies. Combos, roundhouse kicks and even limb breakage are in your arsenal before long and you will want to use them…a lot.
This leads to what is the best thing about Sleeping Dogs, the combat. One of the weakest aspects of games like GTA is that hand to hand combat and even gunplay is not particularly fun. Even when GTA 4 implemented their loose cover system, it only seemed like a minor upgrade that was avoiding a bigger problem. Sleeping Dogs has solved the problem of fighting in open-world games. How you might ask? Simple, you take your lead from the Rocksteady Batman games. When entering into hand to hand attacking enemies are highlighted in red right before they attack. Timing your counter is essential to survival in Sleeping Dogs, especially when you take on groups of 9, 10, or more guys. You can not simply go in swinging away or you will quickly find yourself with a beaten ass. When you have the counter timing down there is no better feeling than opening up your inner Bruce Lee on hosts of enemies. Striking actually feels like you are hitting and kicking something. Breaking opponents legs or arms will make other opponents cringe for a split second giving you an advantage against them.
As if simply beating your opponents to a pulp with your fists and feet weren’t enough, you have the wonderful world of environmental kills. By grabbing your opponents everywhere you can kill them using the environment will be lit up in red. Throw them into a garbage can, crack their skull against a brick wall, electrocute them in a fuse box and even impale them on a meat hook Texas Chainsaw style. You wanna feel like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas? Play Sleeping Dogs. Wei Shen will show you how to get things done.
You Want Beethoven Or Soufly Today?
Driving is another area that Sleeping Dogs is a winner at. It still amazes me that after all the Grand Theft Auto releases we have had that driving in that series still feels floaty and not too realistic. Saint’s Row and now Sleeping Dogs has figued out how to solve this equation and I hope Rockstar can with GTA 5. Cars handle extremely well and feel like they have weight to them. At super high speeds you always feel in control, but still have the inkling that you are one bad move awy from an epic crash and that is a good thing. You may find yourself, as I did, spending a lot of the game driving a motorcycle around Hong Kong. While I had my fair share of cars I bought for my garage (which can be accessed throughout many parking structures placed throughout the city), I always seemed to go back to the ease and fluidity of the motorcycle. Especially when you have to weave between traffic on the interstate system or chase suspects, it is an obvious choice.
Like other open-world games, Sleeping Dogs has a complete audio experience when you are in a vehicle. While the soundtrack may not be as big as GTA, it certainly is just as varied. Boosey and Hawkes carries your classical selections from Bach to Tchaikovsky, Sagittarius has your 80’s mix reminiscent of Vice City, a complete channel dedicated to Roadrunner recording artists and multiple Chinese artists on other stations. There really is no more surreal experience than shooting armed enemies in a car chase and seeing their car explode as you are listening to Handel’s Messiah. Yeah, you just read that correctly.
Wei Shen’s story is equal parts respect, loyalty and towards the end of the game, terror. While the characters in Sleeping Dogs are ruthless in their profession, no matter what side of the law they are on, the last 45 minutes to hour of the story goes much more dark than you expect, even after all of the blatant murder, betrayal and sex. When all the players in this game of human chess are in place the lines are so far blurred that Wei finds himself not choosing black or white, but standing in a muted gray splattered with red. Sleeping Dogs really does play out like a video game version of a John Woo film and no, Stranglehold does not count. Think of Wei Shen’s story as Hard Boiled with a controller.
Sleeping Dogs is just plain fun. There is no simpler way to put it. Its story will keep you engrossed, especially if you are a fan of Chinese cop movies (here). While you won’t be running around beating people to death with a purple dildo like Saint’s Row 3, there is still plenty of sexual innuendo like going to get a special “massage” to up your face meter. The representation of Hong Kong is not as big as Liberty City, but it is quite large and is the perfect mix of feeling like a big city while also being memorable enough to remember where to go without looking at your map every five seconds.
What I am trying to get at it that Sleeping Dogs may be the new kid on the block when it comes to open-world sandbox games, but it carves its own niche in the genre. People may only think of the GTA’s or Saint’s Row’s when the conversation comes up, but in a perfect world, Sleeping Dogs interjects itself right in the middle of it with a perfectly placed roundhouse kick.
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