Developer: United Front Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
Genre: Action, Open-World
Things looked bleak for the open-world sub-genre of action games. A surge in popularity meant nearly every developer and his dog wanted to get in on the action. Some franchises, like Saints Row and Assassin’s Creed, have only refined their visions of open-world storytelling and gameplay (with fantastic results), whilst others, like the deplorable Crackdown 2 and Red Faction: Guerilla have all but buried once-promising franchises. Sleeping Dogs, after a considerable time in development hell, has finally been released, and, despite it being dumped by Activision for “budget blowouts” and being “below expectations,” is incredibly fun, and even manages to steer clear of some of the pitfalls and perils of the open-world game sub-genre.
Players assume the role of Wei Shen, an undercover cop who has recently relocated to his native China from the United States to quell the increasingly powerful triad gangs in Hong Kong. He is an interesting and well-written character who I enjoyed my time with. In fact, I think every character in this game is entertaining, and did not find myself wanting to skip cutscenes or jam a knife into someone just to shut them up as I have with other recent games (Zimos from Saints Row: The Third, I’m looking at you).
A lot of the elements in Sleeping Dogs may have been already done in other games, but everything in it seems – for a lack of better words – smarter. There are no silly pedestrians running around spewing lame jokes or profanities ala Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row, the driving (whilst very arcadey) is thrilling and fast-paced compared to other games, but where the game really shines is the action/fight sequences. As guns are (apparently) rare in Hong Kong, the majority of the fights will be martial arts brawls, with Wei Shen often being largely outnumbered, but not outmatched. The combat is very reminiscent of Batman: Arkham City and Assassin’s Creed, though a lot more brutal, and a lot less gymnastic than Batman’s commando rolling, cape-flicking backflip antics.
Completing missions for either the triads or police will unlock additional skills, whilst training at the Kung Fu school under Wei’s childhood Sifu (teacher) unlocks additional fighting moves and combos. The fighting is often brutal, with plenty of “whoa” moments that left me on the edge of my seat and lauging from sheer shock, particularly the environment take-downs, where Wei will utilize a phone booth, air conditioner fan, or other device to eviscerate his enemies.
There’s way more to Hong Kong than rumbling in the Bronx (see what I did there?), though. Players are able to engage in a range of activities from street races to drug busts and high speed car chases, where Wei has to protect a police car from manic waves of triads in cars and on motorcycles. There are also story-related chase sequences where Wei has to vault over obstacles and dodge civilians in pursuit of a suspect or criminal. Unfortunately, a lot of these on-foot sequences feel very repetitive compared to other parts of the game, largely because there is only one A.I. that players will encounter during these sequences. Other parts of the game feel so realistic, there is no predicting the outcome of a story mission or street race, but the on-foot sequences always end the same way: the criminal/suspect will run from A to B, without falter, pushing civilians over hand rails and store fronts like it’s going out of fashion. Just once I would have liked a suspect to run in front of a car or off a roof randomly. Hell, it would have been interesting if it was scripted that a suspect runs in front of a bus or off a roof before Wei can interrogate him, given the frantic nature of Hong Kong.
One feature I enjoyed was the presence of in-game leaderboards, for activities such as longest wheelie on a motorcycle, jumps and other stunts, as well as the longest time driving without a crash. The leaderboards add a little rivalry between friends, and I have already found myself attempting to beat friends’ scores when I’m not busy with a mission.
It must be said, that Sleeping Dogs has frozen on me on more than one occasion, and there have been quite a few odd glitches during gameplay as well. I have been launched out of my vehicle, bursting through the windshield of my car as though I was in a high speed crash, when I haven’t collided with anything at all, and I have had activities and missions fail to start, or certain events during a mission (such as a gang fight) fail to trigger, leaving me to load my latest save. It can be frustrating, but I’m certain Square Enix and United Front Games are aware of these problems and a simple patch will correct them.
I happen to think Sleeping Dogs looks quite good, considering how late in to the current generation of consoles’ it has been released. Wei himself is a little bland compared to other characters, but then again, he is a cop, trying to blend into the triad world, and his outfits are highly customizable. The city of Hong Kong itself neither looks ugly or pretty, however it does look accurate. Vehicles and bikes are as can be expected, as are the buildings. To summarize, the game looks adequate, but won’t wow you. I also encountered some pretty bad texture pop up, particularly when driving a fast motorbike.
When players start the game, they will notice a plethora of film actors (including the legendary James Hong) in the actor’s credits. It baffles me why film actors in games are becoming increasingly popular. From a marketing perspective, it’s great to have someone immediately recognizable in the game and on the cover art. However I find gaming I find recognizable actors can be detrimental to a games immersion factor. Instead of enjoying and learning the characters, players become too busy trying to remember that Uncle Po (the Dragon head or president of the triads) is Kung Fu Panda’s dad, or how he was in an episode of Seinfeld. No one in the voice acting cast really warrants the budget for paying for film actors, either, as most roles feel well within a normal voice actor’s grasp. The soundtrack is great, with several radio stations playing a variety of music from metal, to rap, to Chinese traditional music fused with beats. A great soundtrack to accompany any high-speed chase through a marketplace.
- A fresh take on open-world games
- Kung Fu is the new gun, and it’s going to be hard to go back to other open-world games
- Everything Hong Kong could possibly have to offer is in the game, from knock off T-shirts to Karaoke groupies
- Some glitches and texture problems
- Some events are repetitive
If you need a new single player action game, give Sleeping Dogs a go, it’s easily better than Saints Row: The Third, and the combat is tighter than Assassin’s Creed and Batman. A Must play for brawler/kung fu fans.