Sleeping Dogs is a game we should be happy it actually saw the light of day. Originally developed under the Activision umbrella as a part of the True Crime series, it was eventually shelved and canceled. Six months later Square Enix bought the rights to the game, but not the True Crime license, so SE renamed the game Sleeping Dogs.
When Sleeping Dogs was released I was super excited and I even avoided reviews and any kind of spoilers I may have otherwise come across. I wanted to come at this game fresh and without any prior convictions. In hindsight, that may have been a bad idea.
For some reason or another, I love open-world games. Something about running around doing whatever I please, driving and entering cars just appeals to me. I loved GTA IV and I loved Saint’s Row: The Third, so it stands to reason that this game should not be any different right? Wrong.
Sleeping Dogs (Xbox 360 [reviewed], Playstation 3, PC)
Developer: United Front Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Let’s start with the story; You are Wei Shen, mega undercover cop who is tasked with taking down the Sun On Yee. I say “mega undercover cop” because the gameplay mostly seems to forget you are a cop at all, between environmental kills and open world events having you do everything that a cop wouldn’t do or be able to do. Holding a guy in a fireplace while his top half lights on fire or stabbing a thug with a knife is not exactly cop behavior. I guess you could view it as Shen’s character acting the part of a triad member, but by the time I got to the end of the game I had completely forgotten I was even a cop. That’s a problem.
Sleeping Dogs takes place in Hong Kong, or as accurate as a game based in Hong Kong can be. The city is large, colourful and very fun to traverse. Despite other people saying the game looks like an early 360 game, I thought the game looked great. Yes, character animations were kind of stiff and awkward looking, but the environments were vivid and detailed. I guess it is hard to get both at the same level of detail. My problem with the game world is that it just feels empty and lifeless most of the time. You’ll see the same 15 people everywhere and sometimes clones side-by-side as well. People are just really there to get in your way and don’t seem to do much else. Some carry items you can use as a melee weapon (umbrellas, briefcases, shopping bags) and none of them carry money to steal. If you provoke them they’ll either react then go back to what they were doing or they’ll fight back.
Apparently everyone knows martial arts in Hong Kong, because when they do decide to fight you, they seem like they know what they are doing in a hand-to-hand fight. The only exception to this is women, as women will never ever fight back. They’ll either run away or crouch down and cower. If you hit a women thoug,h more often than not guys around her will come after you. That’s a nice touch. There are even times when you’ll kick a shopkeeper in the head and their head will bleed, but after a few seconds they’ll revert back to whatever they were doing while still covered in blood and acting like nothing happened.
Speaking of women, for some reason Sleeping Dogs decides to make Wei Shen go out on one-off dates. The game tries to paint your character as a bit of a ladies man and there is even a outfit that is supposed to make you even more attractive to the ladies. All the women you can date in the game (if one date counts as dating) are discovered via the main storyline, but play out like side missions. Each date features an aspect of game play that you’ve done or will be doing a million times, such as taking pictures, hacking security cameras or driving really fast. The point of the date is unclear to me and I find it a distraction that probably could have been left out. Your reward for finishing the date is having something unlocked on your mini map, like where all the security cameras are located. How does my date know this information and why is she so willing to give it up?
The main draw of Sleeping Dogs is the combat system. Combat is by far the best thing in the game and is mega fun as well. You start with a simple punch combo and counter system, but as you collect Jade statues (12 in all!) you gain new abilities such as a back roll, a jumping kick and more. The whole system is simple to understand, but not too simple where it becomes boring. Trust me, at times I would just go around and begin fighting people just to get in another scrap. Unfortunately, on the other end of the spectrum is gun play, which doesn’t fair as well. Sleeping Dogs‘ world makes it very clear that guns are a rare commodity in the world, so you’ll be doing most of your fighting mono on mono, fist to fist. When you do have to use guns though it is absolutely not fun.
Mr. Shen is not a bullet sponge and all the food regen buffs in the world won’t save you. The game uses a very clumsy cover system and bullet time maneuver to get you from point A to point B. You may run out of ammo, but your enemies do not. If you run out of ammo you’ll simply toss your gun away like the useless object it truly is. This reminds me of something else that bugged me about the game, the fact that you are just a litterbug. You eat something and you throw away the package wherever you are. Drink a can of energy drink in your apartment? Simply toss the can on the ground, who cares. The only good things I can really say about using guns is head shots are your friend and using guns is luckily not the majority of your gameplay.
When you aren’t kicking the crap out of clones of triad members you’ll be using your phone…a lot. Your phone which is a non-descript smart phone of no particular origin or branding and is technological marvel. It can hack PC’s and cameras with one interface. It can help crack a lock on a lockbox (can you find all 100?). It even can trace a phone call and submit your case files to your handler. Please note that you can only take a snapshot when the game tells you can and people only appear on your contact lists when it is important to the story. While I did like that 20 of my closest friends weren’t calling me every five seconds, (I’m looking at you GTA IV) I wish the phone could have done more non-mission related things.
Seeing how it is an open world game you would expect to maybe have some fun distractions to take your mind off the main story. If Karaoke is your idea of fun, you’re in luck! Besides a really sad Karaoke mini game with like 10 songs, all you can do in the world is collect things, races (ugh) or maybe a random open world event where you help someone with a problem they have. Fun fact: every NPC in this game knows your name. So much for being undercover.
When I break it down, Sleeping Dogs was not the game I thought it was going to be. I expected a great story with a crazy open world to just disappear into. What I got was an decent story that seemed to forget I was actually an undercover cop and a world where people randomly walked around, did their canned animations and could care less about me. I imagined having to make choices between acting as a triad member or being a cop. The only thing your actions affect is your EXP type and total at the end of the mission. Did you mess up and missed that QTE jump? Whoops you lost Police EXP for being clumsy.
Sleeping Dogs could have been great and I had fun, but sometimes you should just let sleeping dogs lie.