'Sleeping Dogs' is this year's sleeper hit
Published: Monday, October 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 1, 2012 22:10
Open-world sandbox games have consistently been one of the hottest styles of video games since “Grand Theft Auto III” defined the genre. They have taken us to the biggest cities in America, exotic island locales and even back in time to the old west. Square Enix’s latest offering, “Sleeping Dogs,” gives players yet another new world to explore: the gritty streets of Hong Kong.
“Sleeping Dogs” actually began its development as the third game in the “True Crime” series. Poor sales on “True Crime: New York City” caused publisher Activision to scrap development of the game. Fortunately, Square Enix bought the publishing rights and put a team of their best developers to work on what would eventually become “Sleeping Dogs.” What emerged was far better than something originally associated with the “True Crime” franchise has any right to be.
The game’s protagonist, Wei Shen, is a cop who is sent deep undercover to infiltrate and bring down the vicious Triads street gang. Despite being an excellent cop, this mission is personal for Wei, who is looking for revenge over the Triad’s role in his sister’s murder. In order to see his assignment through, Wei will have to earn the gang’s trust, while walking a fine line between his duties as an officer, a fledgling gangster and a vengeful brother.
The story is without a doubt the best aspect of “Sleeping Dogs.” The plot is expertly paced and surprisingly tense. Wei is locked in a dangerous situation, and one wrong move could mean a grisly death. With twists and turns abound, this is one story players will want to see through to the end.
While the story may be the highlight of “Sleeping Dogs,” the graphics are nothing short of amazing. The fictional version of Hong Kong presented in the game is absolutely massive and loaded with detail. Everything from the packed corner markets to the shopping districts make the city feel like one of the most authentic video game representations to date. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the characters’ facial animations, which often look stiff and awkward. The non-playable characters also have a tendency to act glitchy, such as repeatedly walking into walls, which hurts the overall immersion.
The majority of the gameplay consists of completing story missions to advance the plot. Wei starts as the low man on the Triad totem pole, and he must prove himself trustworthy to the paranoid and psychotic street gang. The missions eventually become more high-profile, forcing Wei to put his ethics aside to bring down the Triads.
In addition to the Triad missions, players must help the Hong Kong Police Department by taking part in various assignments. Wei can also take part in police stings by hacking into security cameras and using them to call in busts. There are also random citizens who can be helped throughout the city by completing various favors. All three types of missions offer different experience point rewards, which can be used to upgrade abilities such as silently breaking into vehicles and improving physical stats.
There is also plenty for Wei to do in Hong Kong during his down time. Karaoke bars, street races, shopping and even illegal cock fights are all waiting to be discovered throughout the city. There are a large number of collectables scattered all over Hong Kong. Players can find shrines that increase their overall health, lockboxes containing cash and clothing, and statues that can be redeemed for new fighting abilities.
Keeping with the gritty Asian cinema inspiration, “Sleeping Dogs” has a heavy focus on hard-hitting martial arts combat. The combat system is remarkably similar to the one found in “Batman Arkham City,” where players have the ability to counter incoming attacks. The system works quite well for this type of game, and while it is not as responsive or fluid as the system in “Arkham City,” it is still a refreshing change of pace from the typical gun crazy sandbox shooters.
“Sleeping Dogs” even manages to make driving around the city feel fresh and exciting. The vehicles feel responsive and tight, and racing and drifting at top speed down the narrow Hong Kong streets is pure fun. Players can hang from the driver’s side door, allowing them to quickly leap from one vehicle to another. This comes in quite handy when being chased down by the local authorities. There is also the ability to perform a well-timed collision with another vehicle, resulting in a satisfyingly over-the-top explosion.
Ultimately, “Sleeping Dogs” is the answer to the unasked question “What would happen if filmmaker John Woo and ‘Grand Theft Auto’ had a baby?” The game is a well-polished love letter to Asian cinema and a worthy addition to any gamer’s library.
“Sleeping Dogs” is available for PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
“Sleeping Dogs” receives 4 out of 5 stars.