Combat and cars (cntd.)
The second pillar in the triumvirate of action is automobile operation and combat, and most of the time it’s fantastic fun. This section of the game falls squarely into the ‘completely unrealistic’ side of the bar the game balances, but it’s all the better for it. Cars in Sleeping Dogs are definitely the birth child of arcade racers that allow for incredibly tight turns and fast acceleration, and it really couldn’t have been any other way. The streets of Hong Kong are tight and busy, and whipping through them at breakneck speeds while driving, shooting or even jumping from one car to another (which is just as awesome as it should be) never stops being fun. Well, almost never. On occasion, the camera will become just as much an antagonist as the people you’re shooting at, causing you to crash and have to re-start. I know a degree of funky camera operation is almost to be expected in a tight-roaded arcade racing segment, but just as with the hand-to-hand combat problems described above, it is an unfortunate fault that stops the whole picture from completely coming together.
Last comes the shooting. One might think that shooting would be at the forefront of a game like this, but it really isn’t. The core mechanic isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Enemies get behind cover. They pop out of cover to shoot at you. When they do this, or when you can move to get a better angle on them, you shoot back. There isn’t anything wrong with the gunplay, but there isn’t anything particularly right about it either. It simply is. Luckily, straightforward shooting missions aren’t common for most of the game. Unfortunately, when they do become a bit more prevalent is towards the end, and they make up some of the dullest missions to be played. It isn’t rare for a large open-word game like GTA or Saints Row to have uninspired shooting mechanics, but this would have been a great place for Sleeping Dogs to send a message that it’s truly ready to be the next top dog.
Throughout all of this running and driving and shooting and punching, you’ll earn experience in three areas that all act to develop Shen. Cop, Triad and Face experience are all gained by doing different things, and unlock new abilities to be used in the game. The experience system balances well with the game’s style and promotes fun at the same time. While on missions, in order to maximise points in each area, the player must do a few things. First, Cop points are gained by your ability to avoid harming civilians and private property. This is a sharp stab to the genre’s penchant for getting into a mission and making everything explode. However, to make sure that the player is still brutal and crazy at the right time, Triad points are awarded for how plain mean you can be to your enemy. The more blood and broken bones the better. Last is Face, which is a bit different, but a cool idea. Face reflects how the citizens view you. If you’re a jerk who ignores the people you won’t get many face points, but if you help people out through various tasks you’ll see the EXP flow in like the river of your good intentions.
Greater than the sum of its parts
Overall, Sleeping Dogs is a lot better game than I think most people would ever have thought a year ago. While not perfect, the game does a lot right, and it does it differently enough to make it stand out from the crowd. Whether it’s the interesting setting, the cheesy-cool plot and characters, or the visceral combat, there’s something for anyone with even meagre interest in the genre. Here’s to hoping that this franchise can move forward more smoothly than it got to this point, as I would love to see more of what this universe has to offer.
An interesting setting, a tone that strikes the right balance between corny and genuine, brutal melee combat, fun vehicle driving and combat.
Some shaky animations, graphics that leave something to be desired, occasional camera problems, uninspired gunplay, and some streaks of dull missions towards the game’s end.