PC, PS3, X360
Review based on Xbox 360 version
Developer: United Front Games
Release Date: September 27th, 2012
Sleeping Dogs follows officer Wei Shen, a man returning to Hong Kong after his time as a policeman in North America. He is recruited by a man named Pendrew to infiltrate and help bring down a gang known as the Sun On Yee. After meeting up with Jackie, an old friend from his childhood, he is given the chance to prove himself and join the group. After a while, simple tasks of collecting cash and going up against former ally turned foe Dogeyes and his men turn into an all war within the Triads, specifically targeting them, Uncle Po, and the rest of the Red Poles at the hands of the 18K.
The story itself is pretty simple, but thanks to the open world approach to the game play, you get to go a little deeper with the characters then what the standard script allows. There are side events, hacking cameras to perform drug busts, as well as police work to help bring down a serial killer targeting members of the local gangs, including the people who are quickly becoming your friends to help build the attachment Wei is developing for those he intended to bring to justice. Playing some of these missions really does help to build the main players as actual people and not just characters on the screen, leading to a very tense ending full of betrayal, revenge, and even superhuman exploits.
The biggest downfall to the story itself ends up being the things that defy nature. While it’s common place today for your character in battle to take shot after shot and bounce back, it’s laughable to see it happen in a cut scenes where the rules of modern gaming don’t quite apply. One scene shows Wei taking a full round of buckshot from a shotgun at close range, and you are immediately able to chase the shooter across roof tops with only a mere stumble for a few moments. This leads you to a small dock with the shooter getting away on a speed boat, making you jump with inhuman speed to grab the tail of the boat, further surviving when it is driven into a gas station on the water. The end result is a melee battle where you move the same as when you first got shot, but are strong enough to fight and execute combos, but not direct punches.
But, then again, he may very well be a super powered cop if some of the graphics have anything to say about it. While there isn’t much variety to the characters you meet on the streets or are in battle against, most of the Sun On Yee members are total guido-looking meat heads. This is fine, but the designed sometimes don’t look natural in the cut scenes. Many people, including Wei, will have their arms crossed, and the muscles look disproportionate to the body, as if you’re gazing at an old Stretch Armstrong doll with corn syrup that hardened in the most awkward of ways.
And then there’s the audio. The score is fine for the game itself, but the addition of random radio stations while driving is a nice touch. It all depends on your personal preference, as there is everything from J-Pop to Rap to Classical. There also is a Roadrunner Records radio channel, which is where I spent most of my time. The voice acting, however, isn’t that great and can be a bit painful to sit through. Some of the main characters have a decent performance to them, but many you have to hear constantly in the story lines, or even just side characters are clearly done by extras or staff members that haven’t done much acting if at all. There’s also limited script when it comes to buying things or dealing with parking attendants, hearing the same thing over and over nearly every time. It becomes annoying, but nowhere near as bad as Wei singing karaoke, or some of the glitches that can make things difficult for you.
While most of the game functions properly, there are times where you will vault over things you don’t want to, enemies get stuck behind walls holding you back, and even issues with the camera, especially while driving. If you happen to move it before moving your car, you’re in for a world of hurt when you accidentally run over someone near a cop in Aberdeen or New Kennedy. But the scariest glitch of all is if you call for your valet gets lost, you get tired of waiting and take off, only to be hunted down by him in the vehicle you chose, and sometimes get knocked off the road, if not run over if you step out of the car or off the motorcycle you picked up along the way.
The biggest problem this game has, however, is how incredibly pointless the cock fights are. There are additional medals you need to earn gold ratings in that have to do with things like disarming enemies by jumping over obstacles, killing x amount of cops, and driving full speed for upwards of thirty minutes, not to mention other little mini-games to play against friends like distance jumped in a car, all accessable through the social hub. There you can also replay missions to help build up your Triad score or achievements you need. So, for one hundred percent completion, you will need to earn about one million Hong Kong dollars in gambling, and the best way is through the cock fights. It doesn’t matter what you pick though, and most times even if you choose one specific color and stick with it you will just lose and lose. I picked black twelve times, lost each one, and when I decide white I still lost. Black again for another six and lost each time. The best way to get ahead this way is to save after winning and reload when you lose.
The game handles well though thanks to the controls being fairly simple at first. The deeper in you get, you unlock more attacks and abilities that require a little more effort. The basics are your standard trigger commands to fire weapons and drive cars, right analog stick handles the camera which could use a some improvement as stated. Other than that the basic commands are grapple, counter, punch, and jump. The more upgrades you unlock, the more combinations of these buttons you can pull off, and the more effective your moves become in melee combat.
In the end, Sleeping Dogs is a compelling enough story that takes advantage of the side missions to help build the characters to the point where you actually do start to care about the outcome. It’s you’re standard undercover cop getting in too deep story line, but there’s plenty of material to keep you busy for at least thirty hours. Square-Enix and United Front show off what makes the sandbox gaming style so effective without going too over-the-top with it. If you haven’t had the chance to experience Sleeping Dogs, you should at least keep it on your radar, especially now that you can pick it up a little cheaper, or might already have it thanks to the recent free download through Microsoft’s Games with Gold program.