Sleeping Dogs features a slick narrative, plenty of colorful characters and thrilling improvisational combat. The game was almost killed off by Activision, but thankfully publisher Square Enix took over the project, releasing it last week. The game feels fresh, is easy to pick up and play and blends a number of entertaining elements into an engaging cocktail. It has been released for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 formats. Our review is of the 360 version of the game.
Sleeping Dogs kicks off with your return to Hong Kong after a long hiatus. You left decades ago when you were a teen street thug, but after emigrating to the USA you cleaned up your life and now return as an undercover police officer, albeit one with a murky past. You catch up with an old gang mate and before you know it you are well on your way to being reintegrated into the local scene.
This time around you are supposed to be bringing the local Triad chapter down from within. Things never seem this simple though and the game rewards you equally for helping your gang mates as well as doing good police work.
Indeed it is the moral duplicity on offer as a part of the game's unfolding mission structure that helps keep Sleeping Dogs fresh and exciting. You can play things straight and continue your undercover work, but you can also have a foot in each camp, helping the gangsters while also continuing to report to your superintendent. This makes for some interesting dilemmas as the narrative invites you to dance with the devil.
At times you'll even be running from local law enforcement too, as not everyone is aware of your undercover role. You do this while feeling your cover may be blown at any moment and this insecurity isn't helped by the fact that not all of those in law enforcement approve of your methods or involvement.
Sleeping Dogs lets you enjoy the diversity of a digitally recreated Hong Kong. The city in the game is smaller, but very much inspired by the real thing. There are bustling freeways, skyscrapers, docks and markets and the game has distinct day and night cycles that help keep things interesting.
Just like Grand Theft Auto, Sleeping Dogs really makes you feel like you are a part of a milieu. The city has a life of its own and things keep happening whether you are there or not. This makes the gameworld appear far more believable.
Sleeping Dogs also features a stellar cast of voice actors with even the likes of Lucy Liu chiming in with an entertaining performance as a disapproving police officer. The vaguely Asian rap, rock and dance music that features in the game is also pleasantly refreshing, as is the added authenticity brought by a mix of Cantonese (with subtitles) and English in the dialogue.
The game's primary play mode is good old hand to hand combat, but Sleeping Dogs still manages to maintain a freshness that will delight you, even once you are well into the meat of the campaign.
As well as basic punch and kick combos the game makes it easy for you to perform throws, “grapple and punch” combos and there are also weapon options. For example you can rather comically take on foes with bags of shopping you find lying around. Most tantalizingly of all there are some great moments when you can vanquish thugs, as you slam roller doors down on them or thrust them into spinning ventilator blades. The clever use of the environment while in the middle of heated brawls makes you feel like a joypad driven Jackie Chan as you nimbly dart all over the place while engaging in fluid and fast paced melee combat. This is delightfully hectic and challenging.
Sleeping Dogs also gives you the option of waiting for a foe to attack you, so that you can dispatch them with a a well timed “counter”. These work properly most of the time, but sometimes the system fails and you get pummeled when a successful counter attack would have seemed fairer. This happens more often when you are surrounded by multiple opponents and the game's targeting and camera system loses the plot a little.
There are some nice character advancement elements on offer too. You can earn points as a "cop" or "thug" and these can be spent improving your skills in various ways. Sleeping Dogs lets you buy new clothes and trinkets once your reputation is such that you are deemed “thug worthy” enough to wear them. Donning these different threads can improve your abilities, while also further enhancing you appearance as a genuine gang member.
The game also rewards you with oddly named “Face” experience points. You earn these when you perform a number of random tasks for the many and varied citizens of Hong Kong. Face points are essentially rewards for non plot-driven side quests and they are worth earning. That said, some are mundane too. Dropping off someone's lunch money isn't exactly the world's most rewarding of tasks.
With these three basic reward and leveling systems (Face, Cop, and Thug) Sleeping Dogs keeps you keen. Your character also develops new moves, learns to better handle damaging attacks, gets access to cooler weapons and other useful toys.
The game serves up some great martial arts animations, but the driving mode is sometimes marred by sluggish long range drawing issues. The camera also has an annoying habit of switching view so that you can suddenly only see the bonnet of the vehicle you are driving when you crash. This can sometimes be helpful, but at other times it obscures a useful view, making it hard to get underway and back on track as you pursue an escaping thug's car.
The Sleeping Dogs trailer below is well worth watching if you are curious.
All images courtesy of Square Enix
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