Sleeping Dogs may at first seem like just another GTA clone, but it is so much more than that. While Sleeping Dogs does borrow from other games in the genre, believe it or not there are places where it surpasses, even the standard bearing GTA series. Is it a perfect game? No, but it is a game that is well worth your time and effort.
One place where I think Sleeping Dogs really manages to separate itself from its competition is in story. The game treats us to the story of Wei Shen, and his attempts to infiltrate the mob scene in Hong Kong, more specifically a gang called the Sun on Yee. Along the way, we learn the intricacies of Wei, and his journey is one of the better stories I have seen used in the open world sandbox type of game. Think ‘The Departed’ meets ‘Hard Boiled’, and you have an idea of what the story will hold for you. As Wei falls deeper in line with the Triad, the story starts to blur and you are left wondering just what way things will play out.
The mission structure of the game is set up so that you can decide to do missions for Sun on Yee, or you can opt to do a mission for one of your police contacts. Alternately, there are side missions that vary between good cop, bad gangster stuff. The mission structure really lends itself well to Sleeping Dog’s leveling system. Shen is equipped with three different meters that serve as his level system. Cop, Triad, and Face. The first two are pretty obvious as to what they are. The Face meter can best be measured as respect, as your Face meter increases, so to do the benefits you can reap in game. Food bonuses last longer, massages have a better effect, all the way down to getting a 40% discount on everything you could possibly buy in the game.
Anyways, each field offers new rewards each time you level up one of them. The Cop meter will earn you new abilities with firearms, and cars, and even get you a key you can use to open the trunk of any cop car if you are in need of a weapon. The Triad meter, when leveled up, offer more bang for you buck in the sense that you gain more power on melee attacks, and a few new tricks for Wei to use.
I mentioned in the opening that Sleeping Dogs manages to surpass its predecessors in certain ways. One such way, in my opinion, is hand to hand combat. The combat is more free flowing, and reminiscent of the old game Jet Li’s Rise to Honor, mixed in with some Batman Arkham Asylum for good measure. Attacks are mapped to the x button, while grabs are done with the b button, and dodges/counters are done with a well timed push of the y button as your opponent flashes red. To me one of the major problems with the GTA series was that when you got stuck fighting hand to hand, things never seemed to work like you wanted them to.
In addition to the fluid fighting mechanic, you can also unlock new melee attacks by collecting jade statues, and returning them to the training school and your old teacher. Each statue you find will allow you to be taught a new move, and a little training session to make sure you know how to use it.
Sleeping Dogs combat is smooth, very fluid. Which is great, because as mentioned early in the game, Hong Kong doesn’t have a lot of guns like America does, so gunplay is kept at a minimum. This actually helps the game stand out a bit, as when you do come across portions of the game that use guns, it really adds sort of a ‘shit hitting the fan’ element that is missing from other games of this type, where guns are readily available from the get go.
Sleeping Dogs gunplay mechanics, while not perfect, are more than adequate, even offering some bullet time effects, if you position your player properly. Aim down the sites with the left trigger, squeeze off your rounds with the right trigger. Personally, I think the shooting could have benefited from having an auto locking system of some sort. But it is all serviceable, and doesn’t detract from the game, so minor gripe.
The driving mechanics are on par with other games in the genre, though the cars seem to move a lot slower overall. What I mean by that is when you are driving, it doesn’t really seem as if you are moving through the city any faster than if you were running. Obviously you are, as you cover more ground, faster in a vehicle, but it doesn’t have that feeling to me.
Sleeping Dogs is not going to win any best graphics awards, or floor you with its visuals. Nothing is bad here, it’s just that things look slightly outdated. Hong Kong looks good, but character models aren’t carrying to much detail past a few of the main characters that you come across repeatedly. The city isn’t exactly brimming with people crowding the streets as you would expect from the real city, but that is okay. The less people on the street the safer my driving is going to seem.
Probably the biggest single problem with Sleeping Dogs is the camera. The camera is constantly trying to center itself. It will occasionally even do this as you are trying to rotate it around to get a view on something. In addition to that, Wei apparently cannot look straight up, as your field of view when trying to look up for collectibles is very limited. This can be very frustrating at times both while driving, and in the middle of a battle. Especially frustrating in battle when you have to eliminate upwards of 13 opponents before you can clear the area.
Sleeping Dogs features some incredible voice work, featuring such stand outs as Will Yun Lee, who will be playing the Silver Samurai in the upcoming Wolverine sequel (The Wolverine). The game also features Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins) , Kelly Hu (The Scorpion King), Robin Shou (Mortal Kombat), Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man), and lastly, the legendary James Hong (Big trouble in Little China) as Uncle Po. In addition to that, United Front has done a tremendous job of bringing their version of Hong Kong to life. All the ambient sounds and even the music selections are top notch, and very well done.
The game does feature some online elements, but not in the form of co-op or multiplayer, but instead they are in the form on leader boards. The leader boards are worth mentioning because if you happen to be in game and doing something that there is a leader board set up for, you will get a box that pops up in the corner. The box will not only show you what place you are currently in, but it will tell you who is in first, and what their time was. I found myself on more than one occasion just blowing right past a mission start point in favor of trying to catch whoever was atop my ‘friends’ leader board. I thought this was a rather interesting way to make you care about the inclusion of the leaderboards.
So what are we left with for Sleeping Dogs? A highly entertaining game, that while it does nothing absolutely perfect, it does get everything just right enough to hold your interest, and in some areas handles its mechanics better than other games in the genre. What we do get though is an incredible story that will have you guessing just where Wei’s allegiances are right up until the end. Sleeping Dogs is well worth your time and your effort. Not to mention Wei Shen is a complete bad ass.