Overcoming the obstacles
It is generally not a good sign when a game is plagued by problems before it is even released, and Sleeping Dogs certainly had more than its fair share of ups and downs. The game was originally announced back in 2009 as a brand new IP, then it was changed to a re-boot of the True Crime franchise, then switched to a non-reboot entry into the said franchise, then cancelled altogether, before finally being picked up and released by Square Enix as the Sleeping Dogs that we see on shelves today. Of course, while many titles are crippled by problems such as these, some games are able to rise above the trials and tribulations of a difficult path to release. Luckily, United Front Games’ Sleeping Dogs is well worth the wait.
A story to set it all in motion
It is an unfortunate, but perhaps apt, truth that any crime-related open world game will be compared against the giant that is the Grand Theft Auto franchise. However, to label this title as just another clone is to rob Sleeping Dogs of the many things that it does better than the franchise that popularized its genre. One of these things is the general tone and atmosphere that the game is able to build through the twenty hours that it’ll take you to complete to game. All of this starts out with the story. Players will step into the shoes of Wei Shen, an undercover cop in Hong Kong, who is embedding himself deep into the Triad gang in order to rise through their ranks and take them out from the inside. However, the deeper in he gets, the more the line is blurred between an undercover cop and a criminal.
At its core, the story seems like something that’s probably been done in a hundred Chinese B-movies. It’s a little cheesy, and not very original, but it works because Sleeping Dogs knows that it’s a little cheesy. More than that, it knows that in this type of game it has to be a little cheesy in order to save itself from caving under its own seriousness, a problem that has plagued many a game. Sleeping Dogs finds a middle ground by presenting very real conflicts and commentary, while at the same time framing it inside of a story that lends itself to being over-the-top. It creates a better and more digestible flow between gameplay and narrative.
Visually... not impressive
At first glance it becomes clear that Sleeping Dogs isn’t going to win any awards for raw graphical prowess. The animations aren’t anything to write home about either. However, like the House of Usher, the game comes together to be something more than the sum of its parts. Despite the relative lack of polygons and fancy textures, the city is still a stunning place to run around. Numerous times i found myself stopping to stare at the skyline – which would normally lead to my untimely death.
Combat and cars
Speaking of death, combat and action in Sleeping Dogs is broken down into three main areas, each with their own pluses and minuses. The one you’ll be spending the most time with, and having the most fun with, is hand-to-hand combat. This is another facet of the game that seems to be straight out of a kung-fu crime movie. It’s too over-the-top to be realistic, but it’s not so insane as to take the player out of the game. It finds a Goldilocks level of absurdity that fits perfectly in with the tone the game sets.
Normal punches can be thrown for sure, but there is something (perhaps too) satisfying about using whatever objects are around you to make your opponent curse his birth. Even if there isn’t anything of note around, a good forehead slam into a sharp corner or hard slam against a wall will more than suffice. The only real problem that I have in this system – that truly is a great deal of fun to use – is that there are some transition animations sorely missing. Various clips will too often jump to each other instantly, which takes me out of the action just as quickly. It does not ruin the experience, but it is unfortunate nonetheless.
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.