Sleeping Dogs is a game that probably shouldn’t exist. A new studio called United Front Games was working on an open world action game that Activision thought looked profitable. So they decided to turn it into the third True Crime game, assuming that would make it more successful, even though the second True Crime game did not sell that well. Then, in 2011, Activision decided the game, which it was calling True Crime: Hong Kong, wasn’t good enough and straight up cancelled it – despite it being virtually finished. In a fortunate turn of events, Square Enix bought the game, renamed it Sleeping Dogs, and put it out about a year later. It’s a somewhat typical industry story, with a very atypical ending. But is Sleeping Dogs good enough to be so blessed?
Imagine Grand Theft Auto set in Hong Kong with the hand-to-hand combat from Arkham Asylum or Assassin’s Creed II. That’s Sleeping Dogs, a game that draws inspiration from a bunch of great games, but brings very little innovation to the table. The story is not as good as Grand Theft Auto IV‘s and the combat is not as fun and Arkham City, but everything is executed well enough that the sum is greater than the individual parts.
Wei Shen is back in Hong Kong after living to San Francisco for many years. After getting busted and thrown into jail, he meets up with his old friend Jackie, who invites him to get involved in his triad, the Son On Yee. Wei takes him up on the offer, but not before meeting with someone else – his boss from Interpol. That’s right, he’s an undercover cop, working to infiltrate and hopefully bring down the whole gang. But, like all undercover cops, as time goes on, Wei becomes conflicted, and his rise in the triad begins to make it hard to tell which side he is really on. Not an amazing story, but a fun enough one, with some solid characters and enough nods to Hong Kong cinema that I can get behind it.
The cast is also worth talking about, I guess. It was a big part of the advertising. The biggest names are Emma Stone, Lucy Liu and Tom Wilkinson. Emma Stone and Lucy Liu both play potential girlfriends, and only show up in a couple brief side missions. Tom Wilkinson plays your Interpol boss, so you see him a few times over the course of the game, but don’t spend that much time with him, because of the whole undercover thing. Of course James Hong is in here too, Hong-ing it up. There are a few other recognizable actors, and generally the performances are strong. The voice of Wei will be playing Silver Samurai in the new Wolverine movie.
When you’re not going though the story, of course there’s plenty to do. There are people looking for help, races to win, dates to go on, and drug dealers to bust, to name a few. Plus, there are tons of collectibles, some of which help you level up a bunch of different meters: one for being a cop, one for being a thug, one for being a martial artist, one for helping people, and one for visiting shrines. Each of them gives you bonuses as you go, and its worth it to work on all of them.
You’ll spend a lot of time fighting and driving, and Sleeping Dogs does it better than most open world games. Driving feels fairly loose, but its pretty fun, especially because its Hong Kong, with its cramped roads and bright neon lights everywhere. Hand-to-hand combat relies on counters, you’ll often be fighting large groups on enemies who attack you one at a time, because they’re dumb. But there’s also a combo system and environmental obstacles which can be used for devastating finishers. For a cop, I sure did slam a lot of people’s heads with car doors. There’s gunplay too, which isn’t as good, since apparently no open world game can have great gun combat.
I’ve never been to Hong Kong, but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot bigger than what’s in this game. But what is lost in sheer size is made up for in variety, and beauty. I played this game on PC, and at least there, it looked damn good. With all the lights, on a rainy day with wet pavement, I’d say this is one of the best looking games this year. And as far a size is concerned, the world is plenty big enough, I still found myself taking taxis because my next objective was too far away for me to want to drive, especially toward the end of the story. Speaking of objectives, pressing down the left stick lets you choose between destinations on the fly. This is good, more games should do this.
For a game that Activision called “just not good enough,” Sleeping Dogs seems pretty good. I mean, it’s not Saints Row The Third, but it’s a totally solid experience, with a few moments of greatness. In fact, if the goofiness of Saints Row was too much for you, I’d definitely say this is the game that could hold you over until GTA V comes out next year. So good on your Square Enix, for keeping the dream alive.