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It's become rather lazy and convenient to describe Sleeping Dogs as Grand Theft Auto in Hong Kong, but if you're being completely honest, with a few gameplay tweaks, that's exactly what it is - Square Enix's attempt to muscle in on the gaming genre where Rockstar reign supreme.
You take role of Wei Shen, an undercover cop charged with infiltrating The Hong Kong Triads and taking them down. Naturally, this involves getting your hands dirty and committing crimes in order to convince the hierarchy of your loyalty to their cause. But how far are you willing to go?
This is an open world game that will be instantly familiar to fans of GTA. There is a mission system featuring various objectives gives the game structure, focus and narrative and players can slavishly follow these if they wish. Alternatively, there are so many side missions that they can just go off and do their own thing, effectively making up their own story as they go.
The narrative in Sleeping Dogs is highly impressive and one of the game's real strengths. At the start, Wei Shen is a relatively simple character, intent on taking out the Triads. As the game progresses and he gets deeper and deeper into the world of crime, he starts to question his own ideas and motives, realising that things are not as black and white as perhaps he always thought. This is really well handled so that it appears to be a genuine character arc, rather than a convenient plot device. Many of the other characters you encounter also have convincing stories that overlap with your own, so that you become interested and invested in their fate, as well as your own. This gives the game a genuinely emotional edge and, thanks to its well-constructed narrative, it has the ability to shock and surprise.
Missions are well designed so that it always feels like there is a purpose to them. This draws you deeper and deeper into the game, as you want to find out what will ultimately happen to your Wei Shen and his friends. Missions are nicely varied with a range of objectives from simple intimidation through to shoot-outs and even races. This helps to maintain interest levels and stops the game from becoming too repetitive and dull. It also gives the game a real long-term appeal. There are so many missions, side missions, cop missions and things to find that Sleeping Dogs will keep you going for a very, very long time. Just like the best open world games when you finish the story mode, you will want to go back and complete the optional missions, because it's so much fun.
Graphics are very good, with a cinematic styling that perfectly captures the Hong Kong setting. The sprawling city is brilliantly brought to life with enough distinction between the buildings and districts to make navigation easier, whilst also bringing the game to life. There were times when it reminded me of Blade Runner, a mixture of grim, sordid streets, followed by areas full of light and promise. The city and characters seem to have a life of their own and this is underlined by the excellent graphics.
The sound is superb, with both the ambient sound and the voice acting really capturing the setting. The dialogue regularly switches between English and Mandarin, adding to the authentic atmosphere, although it does lead to a slight problem: played on a small TV, the subtitles for the Mandarin sections can be difficult to read. You also have to be a little bit careful who is around when you play this game as dialogue is littered with bad language. This is perfectly justified in the context of the setting and the plot, but some might find it offensive.
The difficulty level can initially be a little off-putting. Perhaps it's a reflection on my gaming skills, but even in the early missions I found myself dying several times. Thankfully, you can retry the same mission as many times as you like without consequence and Sleeping Dogs is worth persevering with. The more I practised, the easier I found it to time combat moves properly or anticipate the moves of opponents, meaning that I got better and better at the game. Sleeping Dogs is never an easy game but neither is it as unfair as it might first appear.
Where I do have more of a concern was with the controls. Whilst these are reasonably straight forward to pick up they were not as responsive as I would have liked. This is particularly true in combat situations. It is possible to come up with some powerful combo moves to seriously weaken your opponent, but I found controls were sometimes a little sluggish, and lagged behind my button presses, making it hard to execute moves properly. This has an impact when trying to put together combo moves, as you are never quite sure whether to press the button again (potentially ruining the sequence) or just carry on (in which case, you might land single blows rather than more powerful ones). It's a real shame that there is this lag, because it can have quite a serious impact on some missions.
Sleeping Dogs can be picked up new for around £15. At that price, it's not a bad alternative if you've had your fill of Grand Theft Auto, but want a similar open world game set in a criminal underworld. Due to lazy comparisons with GTA, Sleeping Dogs perhaps didn't get the attention it deserved on release, which is a shame. Give it a fair chance and you will find that it is every bit as good as Rockstar's celebrated series.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2013
'Sleeping Dogs' is an action-adventure game released in 2012 by Square-Enix for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC via Steam. Originally meant to be part of the 'True Crime' series of games, the poor reception in that series meant that this game was scrapped, placed in development hell and then picked up again as a standalone title. I was recommended this game by my cousin, as normally I don't play action games but after playing a load of rpg titles I wanted to try something different. The good reviews and gameplay videos for 'Sleeping Dogs' won me over, so I bought it with rather high expectations. Thankfully, I can confirm that this game more than met those!
'Sleeping Dogs' is set in Hong Kong. Wei Shen is an undercover police officer who has come back to his birthplace after having moved to the United States as a teenager. He is chosen by the Hong Kong Police Department to infiltrate the Sun On Yee faction of the triads. Wei meets his childhood Jackie Ma, an acquaintance of local Triad leader Winston Chu, and he helps him to join a group called the Red Poles led by Winston Chu. However, Wei has a personal vendetta against the Sun On Yee, and as he gains the trust of the triads, the line between cop and triad becomes increasingly blurred.
The story of 'Sleeping Dogs' is very dark and filled with complex characters and a lot of grey morality. Wei Shen, despite his chequered past with the triads and quite violent approach to undercover work, is a likeable lead character and easy to sympathize given what he goes through in the story. The rest of the cast are also very realistic and well-developed. I think my favourite supporting character was Jackie, the wannabe triad who helps Wei get into the gang, whose attitude towards the triads changes over the course of the game. The ending provides decent closure while opening the possibilities of continuation for what happens next to Wei as well as the Sun On Yee gang.
'Sleeping Dogs' is an open-world game and works similar to the series of 'Grand Theft Auto' or 'Saints Row'. Players control Wei around Hong Kong and take on missions as a triad, as a cop or just help people out with 'Favors'. Completing triad (marked as green on the map) or cop (marked as blue) missions grant you with Triad and/or Cop experience points and money, and levelling up your Triad and Cop meters will grant you upgrades to Wei's skills. Completing Favors nets you 'Face' experience, which improves Wei's standing in Hong Kong, allows you to wear better clothes bought from around the city and gives you combat boosts via the Face Meter.
This brings me nicely onto combat, which is by far one of my favourite aspects of this game due to the emphasis on melee combat over firearms (which I am really bad at!). Wei can attack enemies with the Square button, and pressing it multiple times will build up a combo. You can grapple enemies with Circle, and Wei can either punch them continuously (using Square again) or drag them to a nearby object or wall, which can then lead to an impressive (and graphic) environmental kill. Environmental kills include throwing enemies into rubbish bins, impaling someone onto a meat hook, and so on. If an enemy tries to attack you, you can counter their move by pressing Triangle as they turn red. As you can see, melee combat is incredibly varied and interesting. You are encouraged to mix up your moves because not only does your Face Meter increase (to the point where it can cause enemies to cower away from you) but will get you a better score on the triad missions. Furthermore, enemies will have different styles of fighting and need different strategies to take down; strikers tend to block frequently and need to be grappled to break through their defenses, whereas grapplers are burly types who can easily get you in a headlock (which require some quicktime pressing of buttons to get out of) and need to be defeated by heavy strikes and counters. Therefore, melee combat shouldn't bore anyone in the slightest.
Wei can also defend himself with various objects and weapons (usually which enemies carry) ranging from handbags to machetes. There is also gun combat in the game, mostly from about halfway into the main story. I would say that controlling guns in the game is okay, but it's not as good as the melee combat controls. However, in certain situations players can slow down time while shooting. This is available when sliding over a surface, when dropping from a great height or during a vehicular shootut. The slow-motion is quite cool and thanks to an auto-aim which locks onto your target assists with gun combat greatly. The vehicular shootouts are pretty fun too. I really enjoyed shooting out the tires of triads on your tail and watching their cars slide off the road!
When you are not taking part in missions, Wei is able to drive around Hong Kong in cars, motorbikes, vans and boats (whether bought or hijacked). Driving is really fun and it helps that there are plenty of radio stations to listen to while you're cruising along the motorway. However, there is a problem with the camera while driving cars; when in a car the camera (controlled by the right analog stick) only swings round to one side of the vehicle's body or the other. You cannot get it to swing behind you while stationary, which is problematic when you're reversing the car and can't see either oncoming traffic or the game environment. This is the only problem I had with the camera in the game, and when on foot it is easy to move it around your character and look around.
'Sleeping Dogs' has some impressive graphics. Character models are very lifelike and capture different emotions pretty well. The Hong Kong world is very beautiful and I liked how you can distinguish between the different districts of the city, from the neon lights of North Point to the commercial atmosphere in Central. However, the draw-distance isn't that great, meaning that buildings in the distance are not as detailed as when you are up close to them. I also did come across some graphical glitches while playing. Wei occasionally got stuck in a wall or piece of the environment, some dead enemies could look like they were floating on the ground or floor depending on how they fell to the ground, and once when I caught a taxi to the martial arts school the game crashed on me! Don't worry, the glitches are not frequent and do not hinder gameplay much (and regarding the crash, I was taking a taxi down an alleyway rather than a proper road, which might not have been the game's intention for me to do so).
I mentioned earlier that there were several radio stations to listen to in 'Sleeping Dogs', and most of these tunes lend itself to a large, varied soundtrack for the game. I was surprised as to how much I enjoyed both the Cantonese Hiphop and traditional Chinese music songs while driving, and I feel that these help to bring Hong Kong's fusion of modern and traditional culture to life as you play.
There is also voice acting in the game which is fantastic. Some of Hollywood's more prominent Asian stars provide voices: Will Yun Lee (from LOST) is Wei, Edison Chen is Jackie, even Lucy Liu shows up as pop star Vivienne Lu. In addition, non-Asian actors such as Tom Wilkinson and Emma Stone have supporting roles, so altogether this is a great ensemble. The use of English and Cantonese is very genuine, with many of the characters switching between the two within one sentence (with a liberal use of profanities in either to boot!).
Completing the main game took me about 10-12 hours, and this included me doing all of the undercover cop missions as well as the triad ones. On top of this there are plenty of collectibles hidden around the city- lockboxes, health shrines (which increase your max health when you find enough of them in area), and jade statues (return these to the martial arts school to unlock more combat moves) are just some of the stuff you can look for. Furthermore you can take part in car races with the cars you can buy, bust drug dealers by hacking cameras and outrun the police on the motorway. After you complete the main story, you can complete everything to 100% at your leisure. Hong Kong pretty much becomes your oyster!
For those who don't mind spending a little more money, there are some DLC story missions and items available from the Playstation Store. I have not tried these yet, but they do extend the story and gameplay for me. I intend to try one of them, 'The Year of the Snake' pretty soon.
Many people have decried this game as a clone of 'Grand Theft Auto IV' set in Hong Kong. It is easy to see why, however. Both are open-world games focused on crime, driving hijacked cars and jumping around buildings. However, I still enjoy 'Sleeping Dogs' even if it has lifted elements from a seemingly superior series. The story is a lot darker and more serious than GTA, the melee combat is brilliant and the world of Hong Kong is something a bit different for me. I really enjoyed the game and it has made me more willing to try out others in the same genre. If you're a fan of open-world, adventure games then definitely check out 'Sleeping Dogs'. The game can be picked for the PS3 from about £7 used so it's a real bargain!
I chose to buy this game because of the good reviews and what my friends had said about the game. It was released in 2012 and earned very good reviews as it lived up to the expectations. It was supposed to be part of a re-booted series but due to monetary constraints and development delays in 2009, it was put back and re-branded under the title of Sleeping Dogs. With the majority of the reviews giving the game an 8 out of 10 and from what I had heard, I anticipated good things when I loaded it up...and it didn't disappoint!
You take the role of Wei Shen, an undercover Hong Kong police man who (after a long spell in America) comes home to bring down the Triads and corrupt activities they are involved in. It is set in present day and the game accurately represent the types of vehicles, weapons and environments you would encounter. You can drive cars, motorcycles or take control on boats. The weapons you use range from basic handheld things that people carry (such as umbrellas) to hand held blades (knives or cleavers) to pistols/shotguns/automatic rifles. There are two strains of main missions; those you do as an undercover police officer or those you do for the triads to get within their organised crime ring. Each cross interact and the stories intertwine between the two different strains. You also have side mission to improve your 'Face' (your face around town and reputation) such as helping people out, doing races, stealing cars, singing karaoke or betting on cockfights.
You take control of Wei in 3rd person with an over the shoulder mid pitch view which zooms in and out depending on whether you are driving, fighting or running around. You have a mini map in the bottom left hand corner of your screen which shows nearby activity or (if selected) the route you have to take to your next objective.
Graphically, Sleeping Dogs is very well done. The game is 'open world' so everywhere externally to buildings is free to explore. The streets look realistic with reactive members of the public. The lighting reacts to the type of day and shadows are cast effectively. The cars look and react realistically; breaking and acceleration is different with each car and you learn to know which ones you want to use to get somewhere quickly. Reactions to running, tripping, shooting and jumping are all very well done with a lot of work being put into this area. A lot of influence has been taken from Grand Theft Auto 4 and Square Enix/UFG have worked a lot of magic into the graphics.
At first, the game starts slowly as the story starts to role. You get to know the characters, who is who within the police/triad chains, your friends and your enemies. It does slightly frustrating but it does give you good experience and a footing for the mayhem which is to come. After about 25% of the game, things start to twist and turn and the story gets a lot more intense. You are thrown in at the deep end and there are lots of interesting twists in the story. From there on, you're gripped! I have this and 2 other games on the go at the minute (two AAA titles in FIFA and GTA5) but this keeps pulling me back and wanting to play more. The main missions and the side missions give you plenty to do in an enjoyable environment. The fighting also is very good. I will always compare free flow fighting to Batman games (as this is easily the best) but this comes quite close which is great. The hand to hand combat can be developed the further you get into the game and develop your skills (by ranking up and collecting items) as you grow within the Sun On Yee (the gang you're a part of). Another thing to not be overlooked is the music when you are in a car...all real songs and a good soundtrack.
The only problem you get it is some of the missions are quite samey. You drive, you fight, you shoot, repeat. Yes, you do this in the majority of games but the side missions are very similar. The story though does hold it all together and does drag you back into enjoying the game. You do get a bit of texture tearing and I have dropped through the map twice (once I opened a car door into a building and disappeared. The other, I had my head one sideways) but nothing too bad. The draw distance for open world is good but most of the scenery is quite close up.
So, all in all, there aren't that many negatives for the game.
Compared to similar games
The main comparison you will get is Grand Theft Auto. You do the same kind of things, the camera angles are very similar, the brutality is similar...but you're in Hong Kong! I think the developers try and take the best bits from such a good game and put their own twist on it. I think they hold their own and have created a very good game in their own right. They also have a very good menu system so you can check what you have done, what you need to do, how much is left and what you have unlocked.
Without telling you what happens in the game, I would highly recommend playing this game if you haven't. The controls are easy to get used to (but do get more complicated once you unlock abilities), the game is fun and the story is very good. A lot of influence would have been taken from old school Hong Kong triad films and brought up to date. I have been playing the game for around 16 hours now and have about 5-8 more to 100% completion and I am not bored yet...I'm 90% of the way through and think that is a shame as I have thoroughly enjoyed it. You can pick this game up for around £10 now.