Sleeping Dogs is a sprawling open world, sandbox ‘cop ‘em up’ that takes place amid the neon lit underbelly of downtown Hong Kong and places gamers into kung-fu shoes of sociopathic police officer, Wei Shen.
Sleeping Dogs is also a game that plays exactly as I anticipated it would weeks before I even had the shining disc in my clutches. Unfortunately the only fresh thing brought to this table, is the cranium of the latest bad guy, remorselessly pummelled into the rapidly splintering piece of dining furniture by our very own Mr. Shen.
It’s a game that treads a very well worn path through the sandbox genre. There are minimal new ideas and very little you won’t have seen elsewhere, but that’s not to say you won’t enjoy them all the same. Movement through the world whether on foot or in vehicle, fight scenes, cut scenes, plot lines, mobile phones, it all bangs away on the déjà vu bells like a tipsy vicar with his foot caught in the church tower ropes.
DING!!! GTA…….DONG!!! Mafia II…….DING!!! Batman Arkham Asylum……..DONG!!! Saints Row…
It’s a shame Sleeping Dogs itself doesn’t appear to have a trick of its own. If it had we may have been dealing with a masterpiece here. As it is, we’re still dealing with some pretty top notch gameplay. It’s a game that prefers to pay homage to a handful of sandbox greats and combat professionals rather than cutting a fresh route, but pleasingly it works a treat. A knuckle bruising, skull cracking, full throttle treat at that!
The storyline is nice and solid, if a tad clichéd. We enter the double life of Wei Shen, a cop fresh back from America, tasked with infiltrating the triad gang that runs his old stomping ground. Shen has been hand picked for the job due to already seemingly having an affinity with the lawless criminals running Hong Kong, and it’s fair to say that it seems the lines are often blurred for our hero as he goes about his daily routine and frequently crosses the thin blue line between duty and criminality. As a story it’s nothing we haven’t seen on the big screen numerous times. Cop goes undercover and begins to question his own loyalties, but thanks to some quality acting work and nicely developed characters and relationships the story never drags its feet.
So the story gets the nod but how’s the gameplay?
Prepare for some more good news folks as Sleeping Dogs is very, very well executed. Again there will be little to surprise, if you’ve sampled any of the other similar games out there then you know what to expect. The driving sections are smooth, if maybe a tad twitchy. There’s a nice selection of radio stations to skip through as you motor along enhancing the experience immeasurably as tends to be the case. Moving around Hong Kong is equally straight forward. Jog along from area to area, hold A to sprint, bump into far too many pedestrians, jog again.
Now fighting on the other hand is leaps above GTA as it follows the blueprint mapped out by the Batman Arkham games. Combos can be fluidly strung together to obliterate rooms full of enemies, the counter button, utilised when an enemy flashes red, works brilliantly and makes brawling an absolute pleasure. Vital when there’s so much of it, at times it seems like you are basically jogging from one fight to the next. Enemies can also be grabbed and despatched via use of the environment, headfirst into spinning fans, slammed into electricity boxes, thrown from tall buildings, the choices are endless and undoubtedly bring a grin to the lips of Wei Shen.
You see Shen loves to inflict pain and misery upon….well, pretty much anyone that gets in his way. Sometimes you can’t help but think, ‘was that really necessary?’ This usually happens after the chaos of the street fight has left three dead, four critical and one sobbing in the corner, and Wei Shen, police officer dusting himself off and strolling away. It slightly kills the realism as well when after committing multiple murder Shen is dealt a nasty slap on the wrist by his commanding officer and sent on his merry way. But hey, I suppose it is supposed to be a little far fetched and reality isn’t always the way to go. Take it from someone that’s still on happy pills after the pit of despair known as Heavy rain left its mark.
Gunplay, while not having the same degree of polish and slickness that its melee counterpart does, still works pretty well. Find cover, aim, fire. It’s an over the shoulder affair with a snippet of Max Payne-esque slow-mo for good measure. As you can see, pretty much everything in the game points to some other game.
The chase sequences that pop up along the way, one right at the start in fact, slightly miss the mark. These almost feel like you’re on rails and simply pressing A at opportune moments to leap over fences or bust through doors, visually these sections look far better than they play.
Graphically the game manages to be a bit hit and miss. The backdrop of the beautifully lit city, ramshackle markets and towering skyscrapers look quite sublime, whereas the character models, particularly during close up cut scenes look decidedly dated. L.A Noire set a new benchmark for delivering depth through facial expression, sadly Sleeping Dogs never even gets close. It’s a shame when the acting is so good but there you go, it is what it is and what it is doesn’t quite cut it.
Wei Shen can do all the usual stuff we expect of our sandbox heroes these days. Jump into a variety of vehicles, buy a wardrobe of suitably streetwise attire and equip and arsenal that would make Rambo blush. Navigation is an easy affair as well, think GTA and, well, yep just think GTA.
All in all I can honestly say that you don’t have to read a review to know pretty much exactly what you’ll be getting with Sleeping Dogs. If you’ve played even a portion of any of the above mentioned games then you’ve played Sleeping Dogs. But, when the action delivered is on a par with that of GTA and Saints Row should we really complain? I say no! Consider this akin to discovering a new view upon a well worn route, you know where you’re going and you recognise the landmarks but here’s a new angle to look at them from.
The adventures of Wei Shen are a dynamite packed rollercoaster ride through the dark side of Hong Kong. Shen himself is one of the darkest things out there. But at the same time, if you embrace the madness, you will find his life a high octane, high kicking, high point of the gaming calendar. And when that’s the case who needs originality?