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First Impressions - Sleeping Dogs - More than a GTA Clone

Some of you may know the story of Sleeping Dogs. Originally called True Crime: Hong Kong when it was going to be published by Activision, the company decided that suitable progress was not being made and cancelled the game. Square Enix bought the game, but doesn't have the rights to the True Crime name, and thus Sleeping Dogs was born.

I don't know at what stage of development the game was when Activision killed it, but my first seven hours of gameplay demonstrate that I think they made a mistake (though I don't know how it's selling, so maybe they didn't?)

I was aware of this game but it wasn't really on my "must-buy" radar until I saw some of the reviews. While Game Informer gave it a 7.75, most of the negative aspects of the review seem to be about bugs and lack of polish. I haven't encountered a bug yet (other than a small one where the door of a garage I was supposed to drive a car into didn't open, but driving around the block made it open again for some reason). Hollander Cooper of Games Radar loved the game and extolled its virtues. After hearing all of that, along with IGN's glowing review of it and what was stated in the review, I was hooked (notice to you lamers out there: I didn't let the review scores sway me. I actually read the reviews and determined that there was enough to like in the game for me to buy it. You should try that sometime before complaining).

(Thanks to EmptyLIfeBar)

So how is the game so far?

I have to say that I'm loving it. Similar to Grand Theft Auto, this is an open-world crime game, though this time you're playing an undercover cop in Hong Kong, infiltrating the gangs to try and bring them down from within. There are tons of side missions and things to do in addition to the main story, though. You can do police missions, favours for residents of Hong Kong, there are tons of things to collect, as well as health shrines to find that will improve your maximum health. There are also side activities, such as cockfighting (which I haven't done yet), martial arts events, races (would it be an open-world crime game without races?), cars to steal (again, would it be an open-world crime game without cars to steal?) and even karaoke!

The dual-world in which Wei Shen (the guy you play) is living is highlighted in the skills upgrades. You can earn Police points for doing police missions (and surprisingly, you can lose some police points, or not get as many, by doing things like running over innocents or damaging property in the middle of missions). These points will eventually let you upgrade your firearms skill. You earn Triad points for doing things for the gang (mostly during story missions, but other things as well), which will help you upgrade your melee. There are 12 jade statues hiding around Hong Kong. Finding one and taking it back to your martial arts master will allow you to learn a new move. And doing things for Hong Kong citizens can earn you Face, which will allow you to buy better stuff and also fill a "Face Meter" that gives you bonuses and other benefits in combat.

As I said, I'm seven hours into the game, and I've used a gun on one mission so far (though I now have the gun, so can potentially use it more often now). The emphasis is on hand-to-hand combat, and fans of the Batman games will love this. It's not a clone of the Batman system, but there are similarities, like the ability to hit "Y" (or whatever button it is on the PS3 or PC)  to counter an opponent's move and turn it back on him. Your enemy will glow red when they're about to attack, much like the Batman games. However, the funnest part of the combat system is environmental kills. If you grapple somebody, certain areas of your environment will turn red. Take them over to the red area, and you can do things like slam their head with a freezer door, or (my particular favourite so far, in one of the story missions), send the guy through the glass of an aquarium wall, making water and fish come cascading into the room. This even gave me a fish to beat somebody with!

The graphics aren't anything to write home about, and are probably the biggest weakness. However, they're certainly fine for what you need to do. The camera can occasionally get annoying, especially in driving. When you want to back up and drive off another way, sometimes it's hard to get the camera oriented so that you can see where you're going. Also, while the Hong Kong setting is nice, it just doesn't have the exotic feel to it that I think the real Hong Kong would have. Other than the occasional Chinese line of dialogue (mixed in with all of the English), and a few settings like the Night Market, it doesn't feel that different than Steel City or Liberty City. Other than having to drive on the left, of course (still getting used to that). Maybe that will change when I actually get into the Downtown Core, as the city layout is supposedly really based on Hong Kong.

Speaking of driving, there is much driving around Hong Kong in this game too. There are radio stations, but there's only one station with songs I've ever heard of. The rest of them aren't bad, though (and there's even a classical music station too).

The funnest part of driving? The ability to ram cars. And not just run into them, as in GTA and other games of the ilk. No, you can actually ram them. If a car's alongside you, press "X" and you swerve to the side, potentially knocking them out of their pursuit of you. Action hijacks allow you to jump from a car you're driving onto (and sometimes into) another car, taking that one over instead. The car handling isn't too bad in the game, though there can be some issues at times.

As most of you know, I rarely do game-specific blogs. It takes a game really capturing my attention to get one of these out of me. Who knows? 20-30 hours in, the game might become a bit boring and I won't love it quite so much. Maybe the missions will get repetitive (while none of them are exactly new, there are some intriguing additions to the normal ones) or maybe the story will start to make no sense (as much sense as these stories make anyway). Maybe the gunplay, as it becomes more prominent, will start to drag (one of the Game Informer review's criticisms was of the gunplay).

But right now? I am so glad I took the plunge and bought the game, despite my initial indifference. This game is so much fun (assuming you don't have a hatred for swearing or open-ended crime games with lots of violence, of course) and only seems to be getting better.

Note 1: For those of you wondering, I am not going against what I said in my "go with your gut" blog. My gut was not telling me to avoid this game. I was just really indifferent to it

Note 2: If you hate button prompts as much as JMan does, you will not like this game. Every time you're next to something that you can either climb or jump over (in a cool Hong Kong action movie kind of way), the "A" button prompt comes up. When you get close to a shopkeeper from whom you can buy things, the notice comes up of what you can buy and what button you need to press to interact. Doesn't bother me, but if it bothers you, please note that there is a lot of it in this game.