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Sleeping Dogs Review: Don't Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Sleeping Dogs is a mash up of open world concepts from the current generation. The serious narrative of GTA, free running of Assassin's Creed, and the polished gameplay of Saints Row combine to create a unique experience in the living city of Hong Kong.

The development cycle of Sleeping Dogs was wrapped in change, uncertainty, and peril. Originally titled "Black Lotus," the name was changed by the original publisher, Activision, to True Crime: Hong Kong to associate the license with another Activision IP in the hope that attaching True Crime to the game would garner more hype and subsequently better sales. After multiple delays and another name change, Activision canceled the game completely in early 2011. Late in the summer of 2011, Square Enix got the publishing rights to True Crime but renamed the game Sleeping Dogs to avoid licensing the True Crime name. However, the content was largely unchanged. After a year of polish for the developer, United Front Games, and a year of support and oversight from publisher Square Enix and developer Square Enix London, Sleeping Dogs released in multiple markets across multiple platforms in August of 2012 (released in Japan in September of 2012).

The greatest strength of Sleeping Dogs is found in its dark and realistic narrative encompassing the thirst for revenge and the price associated with such a thirst. Wei Shen is an undercover cop whose unique Chinese-American background makes him a valuable tool for infiltrating the rough streets of Hong Kong. Wei, with his mother and sister, moved to San Francisco while Wei was still a child, but not before Hong Kong had made a lasting impression on his life. The move to San Francisco was supposed to help Wei's sister, Mimi, escape her drug addiction. However, Mimi died of an overdose in San Francisco, and Wei's mother was unable to cope with the loss and committed suicide. His world torn apart, Wei, who was working as an undercover officer in San Francisco, killed the man who supplied his sister with the fatal drugs. Though substantial evidence to implicate Wei in the murder was never found, Thomas Pendrew recognized the truth and Wei's potential and recruited Wei to infiltrate and destroy the Sun On Yee, a particularly powerful Triad in Hong Kong, from the inside. Wei accepted the offer and left the United States, but he still carries the pain of his family's death. There are still people alive who contributed to the destruction of his family, and Wei has every intention of holding those individuals responsible for his sister's death. The story of Sleeping Dogs picks up in Hong Kong as Wei begins his rise within the Sun On Yee. The narrative that unfolds explores the meaning of family, the ethical temptations of police work, and the point where the ends no longer justify the means. The answers to these questions that you arrive at throughout Sleeping Dogs are not easy answers, and the journey to these answers is filled with twists that lead to a satisfying conclusion.

Sleeping Dogs takes place in open-world Hong Kong, and it is divided into four main regions. On the east, North Point is the starting area for the game and is the most rundown region of Hong Kong. Central is characterized by its well-developed, downtown structure and contains the central and northernmost points on the map. Aberdeen is located southern edge of the map and mixes the downtown skyscrapers of Central with the slum areas of North Point. Kennedy Town is the posh region that is in stark contrast to the seedier side of Hong Kong. Each area will provide Shen with a unique home base. Overall, the open world of Sleeping Dogs is not a strength when compared to games like Saints Row, GTA, Red Dead Redemption, or Assassin's Creed. Yes, you do have street races, tons of collectibles, and leaderboards tied to the stats of those on your friends list, but so many activities feel uninspired. *** fighting, poker with dominoes, and the overabundance of technically sound aspects of the game (e.g. lockboxes, racing events, and drug busts) lead to your time in Hong Kong feeling like a chore. These activities are optional, and unless you are a masochistic completionist, avoidance is probably the best course of action. Give the different events and activities a try, and if you do not enjoy it, simply walk away.

Sleeping Dogs takes an interesting approach toward combat. While the third-person shooting mechanics are a little loose and the guns feel under-powered, the melee combat shines. The combination of light and heavy attacks coupled with counters, disarms, and stuns create a surprisingly deep gameplay experience with the push of a few buttons. Take the Batman Arkham combat system. Dumb it down slightly. Root the animation and style in the charm of a martial arts film, and you have a fun excuse to beat up many guys. Triad XP is gained through combat during missions. Clever combos and environmental kills are only a few ways for you to impress your criminal family and increase your standing within the Triad. Once you level up, you will be given the option to choose a new ability or perk that coincides with the skill tree. Skills vary for the Cop, Triad, and Melee trees. Cop XP can be gained by completing certain missions for the Hong Kong Police Department and by protecting civilians during Triad missions. Melee abilities are unlocked by finding statues spread throughout Hong Kong. Both the Cop and Triad XP factor into the encompassing Face level. The Face level can be raised through missions given by civilians and by going on dates with various eligible women. High Face levels can result in the reduced cost of certain items and boosts to your Face meter which is the yellow bar that fills during combat. When the Face bar is filled, Wei will receive melee boosts during combat and enemies will become intimated.

Technically, Sleeping Dogs is a polished game, but problems do occur occasionally. Only one serious bug occurred during my 20+ hours with the game. Wei was walking through the streets of Hong Kong at night when all the cars disappeared in an instant. The city was running smoothly, but all the cars were gone. After a few moments, people began to pop in an out of the picture. They did not move. They simply appeared and then vanished. After about ten seconds, I got scared and turned off my 360. When I restarted the game, everything was fine. However, this was not the only problem. Noticeable issues regarding frame rate can occur when traveling at full speed in certain vehicles for extended periods of time. During sequences with vehicle combat, the most effective way to deal with a pursuer is to shoot out a tire. Resembling Bullet Time from Max Payne fame, shooting out a tire triggers a cinematic effect where the camera slows down; the color palette is washed out, and the car explodes. While this effect is cool the first few times that you see it, the distinctiveness wears out quickly, and you are left watching the same cinematic effect dozens of times because the developers needed to protect the game from itself during these sequences. Though less egregious, the usual buggy game tropes are present to a limited extent. Dead bodies flailing violently, pop in, and civilian AI can do weird things from time to time. Overall, Sleeping Dogs is an ambitious game that runs well.      

8.25 (A Fantastic, Dark Story Set within a Beautiful, Yet Dull, Open-World)

After your time with Sleeping Dogs, you will probably feel a fondness for the story and for Wei Shen as a character, but you will also have a sense that Hong Kong could have been so much more. While the pieces to the open-world puzzle do not completely fall into place, Sleeping Dogs is an example of the narrative cohesiveness and depth that can be achieved in a genre known for player freedom and a lack of cohesive purpose. Not every minigame or collectible will feel worth the effort, but the combat and great moments will keep you moving forward to the very end. It is easy to pass on Sleeping Dogs due to the competition within its own genre or the excitement of a new console, but if you have never experienced Sleeping Dogs, then you should no longer let sleeping dogs lie.


Release: 8/14/2012

Developer: United Front Games

Available for PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3

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