Sleeping Dogs Review
Full disclosure: I have not played a True Crime game before, but I have extensively played every Grand Theft Auto game other than GTA IV, which I only played for a few hours.
For those who don’t know Sleeping Dogs’ dirty little secret, the game was initially in development under the title True Crime: Hong Kong, a sequel and reboot of a short-lived series that petered out when the second installment was met with mixed reviews and relatively low sales numbers. Activision canceled True Crime: Hong Kong in 2011, but Square Enix swooped in to save the game, acquiring its publishing rights and rebranding it Sleeping Dogs.
Given that Activision had little faith in the game’s ability to be a commercial success after investing heavily into its development, did Square Enix make the right move in saving this puppy from the kennel, or should the developer have just let — you know it’s coming — sleeping dogs lie?
Platforms: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: United Front Games, Square Enix London Studios
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: August 14, 2012
In a nutshell, Sleeping Dogs is Grand Theft Auto: Hong Kong, a sandbox game that drops you in an open-world city and lets you run amok, with carjacking, violence and vandalism on the menu. There are some key differences, however, and the first ties into the game’s story and themes.
Sleeping Dogs is a crime drama, telling the story of police officer Wei Shen who goes deep undercover to infiltrate the Triads in an effort to take down one of their societies. Wei is a lost soul — born and raised in Hong Kong, he moved to the United States after personal tragedy and became a cop, only to one day have a mission send him back. Caught between the life he made in Los Angeles and his old life in Hong Kong, Wei no longer knows where home truly is.
Throughout the course of the game, Wei struggles with his obligations as a police officer as he forges friendships with members of the Triad, who come to accept him into the family as one of their own. Sleeping Dogs touches on the themes of brotherhood, betrayal, loyalty, revenge, and duty, and executes its storyline with finesse. While the plot won’t be winning any academy awards, it can easily be translated into a Hollywood blockbuster.
The characters drive the story and succeed in being more than just cookie-cutter gangsters; we sympathize with hard-boiled crime lord who has been softened by love and is engaged to be married, or the fledgling mobster that is rethinking his chosen life path after his first act of manslaughter. We feel the weight on Wei’s conscience, knowing he has to betray these people. The characterization is aided by voice acting that ranges from good to exceptional, with celebrity talent lent by the likes of Lucy Liu, Emma Stone, and the legendary James Hong.
While some can argue that the game’s main story, which weighs in at a dozen hours, is on the short side, plot elements progress at a fast pace, and a lot happens in those twelve hours. The climax of the story doesn’t hit as hard as it could have, and the denouement isn’t as satisfying as I would have liked it to be, but the plot remains engaging throughout — engaging enough to keep me away from just driving around aimlessly like a maniac.
Apart from the carjacking and driving aspect — which even allows you to leap from one moving vehicle onto another for an “action hijack” — Sleeping Dogs is packed to the brim with game systems: street races, Rock Band-esque karaoke singing, free running, martial arts combat, fight clubs, cover-based shooting with action-movie maneuvers, gambling on cockfights, and a number of faux-investigative mini-games to triangulate cell phone calls, plant bugs in vents, pick locks, and hack security systems.
The martial arts combat system is a whole game of its own, simple enough to appease the button-masher, but with enough depth to take some time to master, allowing for a variety of situational attacks, counters, and takedowns, all executed with cinematic flair. Fatality maneuvers let you interact with objects in the environment — generally by ramming your foe’s head into them somehow — and are just one more spice added to flavor the game.