Game: Sleeping Dogs
Developer(s): United Front Games, Square Enix London Studios
Publisher(s): Square Enix, Namco Bandai Games
Reviewed: September 2013
Game Type: Third-person shooter, action-adventure
I’ve grown to quite like the numerous GTA style clones that have sprung up over the years; those with the open world, driving around, and engaging in combat formats. Some have chosen to present things focussed heavily on the central story, but with very little in terms of side quests (Mafia 2), where others have gone down the silly do-anything-you-want route, but with a very loose central plot to hold it altogether (Saints Row). Both are successful solutions, and have a loyal following of fans, so how will Sleeping Dogs compare in the grand scheme of things? Well, if anything, Sleeping Dogs is very much balanced in-between those two aforementioned titles, and despite some early niggles with the controls on the PC version, which will be covered later, it really is a solid game providing a range of varied side quests in addition to a decent, if nothing out of the ordinary, central story.
Unlike most games based around fictional USA cities, Sleeping Dogs has headed east to Hong Kong, and along with the combat focus being put on hand-to-hand combat, it ends up feeling like a Jackie Chan movie mixed in with your standard GTA stuff. Without actually living in Hong Kong, but based upon basic observations, the game world does have some sort of grounding in reality, with locations such as Victoria Park included, although I doubt the scale of things is quite the same, despite the game area feeling quite large.
The central character to the story, and who you play as, is Wei Chen, an undercover cop trying to infiltrate the various Triad gangs around Hong Kong. The story takes you through a number of gang related activities, ultimately with the task of bringing down strength of the Triads, and by itself is decent enough to keep things flowing and maintain interest for the player. Wei, himself, seems like a decent enough chap, but along the way he’ll partake in some quite gory combat in his efforts to maintain his subterfuge. Most action games have shooting these days, and a lot aren’t exactly pretending that everything is a bed of roses, but the way this game goes about it is particularly gruesome, with some of the hand to hand battles producing some very bloody death animations.
Although guns play a part in the game, a lot of the combat is based around martial arts. Initially I had a hard time getting to grips with the numerous button-combos required for the various fancy moves you’ll need to fight off a group of enemies, but as you upgrade your character throughout the game, via it’s own form of an XP system, you’ll find that those battles get a little bit easier (although never simple). A lot of the time it can feel a bit like button-mashing, as if you are a normal person who plays a game in a number of settings, rather than in one go, you’ll probably forget the vast majority of combos that you’ll need to fight off the harder gangs. In the end, I made up for my lack of skill where possible by getting in a car and doing my best to run them over.
While the game is quite violent at times, apart from accidentally knocking pedestrians over, the direction of the violence is aimed at hardcore and nasty gang members, so at least the game isn’t directing your anger towards civilians as a game like GTA might do.
Combat isn’t the sole focus of the game, though, and thankfully the game has a number of mini-games, a lot of which relate to driving. The driving itself is a little bit wild, due to overly twitchy movements from vehicles, particularly motorcycles, but it is just about acceptable. As you progress through the game you’ll be able to take part in street races, and these come with all the hazards of racing on the street, with bollards and civilian cars to avoid, as well as your competitors. Once you finish one group of races, when you complete more of the story quests, you’ll unlock another batch of races. The cars get faster in each new category unlocked, but thankfully, the races stay about the same difficulty throughout. Some may require a few replays to finish, whereas others will be easy to do in one attempt.
Other driving activities include hijacking trucks, whereby you get as close as possible to the vehicle from behind, then jump onto it, making your way around the outside, then into the cockpit. From there, a police chase begins, and you’ll either have to bash the chasing cars off the road, or find enough back alleys or shortcuts to lose them, since a truck/lorry isn’t exactly speedy.
Some driving tasks are a little silly, such as following a marker through busy pedestrian-only areas, and having to dodge through people as best as you can, while keeping in distance of a marker that keeps popping up.
You’ll get a chance to go for big jumps if you find the right spot, and a nice long run-up with a really fast car helps achieve the biggest ones, and increases the fun factor. It may not be quest related per se, but you do get in-game achievements for bigger jumps.
While driving both motorbikes and cars is quite wild and entertaining, heading out on a boat is only mildly so. You do get the occasional chase, which you can fend off by shooting at the pursuers, and I did manage to launch my own boat in the air at one point, but due to the nature of open water, and the boats themselves, it’s never going to get your heart thumping in quite the same way.
As well as vehicular related tasks, Wei can also partake in a few parkour related mini-games, and these work in a similar way to the vehicle ones where you follow the markers as they appear, with the difference being you are jumping over obstacles and running. Wei is also involved in a number of on-foot chases too, which will often require good timing of the jumps to keep in range, and they nearly always end up with a scuffle at the end, either with just the person you are chasing, or in some cases, all their gang mates too. They aren’t by themselves anything amazing, but like most of the side-questy mini-games you can do, they are just something else to keep you occupied if you get bored of doing something else.
Heading back to the main story missions and other side-quests, from time to time you’ll have to hack devices or pick locks to progress. All the tasks, like picking a lock for example, are so simple they are simply a case of doing something to make it feel as though you are doing something, rather than providing any actual challenge. The lock-picking itself is an easier version of the one used in Mafia 2, and feels too simplified. You can also hack money boxes and security terminals, both of which require simply going through the motions of setting a particular number before moving on to the next bit. There are around four or five different alternatives, and while they don’t directly add anything of value to the game, they do in their own way add a little bit of variety.
Graphically, the game looks very beautiful due to the opulent use of colour in the city, from neon lights, to brightly coloured clothing, to enchanting sunset vistas, the game certainly make use of the full colour palette. Regarding textures, these look quite nice on characters, but the rest of the game world feels a little lower-resolution than it could have been, and has a bit of a washed-out blurry feel as a result. Admittedly, I didn’t download the optional (and fairly large) official PC texture pack, as I couldn’t see a huge amount of difference in the comparison shots I saw.
Looking at the characters themselves, the quest related ones seemed fairly well animated and have a high poly-count, but some of the civilians wandering around could have had a little more effort, mainly due to limited animation in certain poses, such as sitting, where some NPC’s (Non Player Characters) seem to have limbs angled in a very un-natural way. I understand though, that due to the high number of people on-screen at any time, to make the city look alive, the lack of general character quality is thus a compromise to keep performance in check. It’s not that they look bad, but they just don’t look all that good compared to the main characters.
Musically, the game of course has some oriental themes, but a lot of the music that you’ll find on the radios is very westernised indeed. That’s either a nod to the Western past of Hong Kong, or perhaps done so because most of the people buying the game will be from Europe or the Americas. It’d be nice if someone could mention the kind of music you will genuinely find on a Hong Kong radio station.
Relating to the music, there is a rather unusual mini-game choice for this type of game, as you get to ‘sing along’ to karaoke tunes at various bars and clubs in the city. It’s a relatively simple task of just using the movement keys to change to the right pitch of note when a highlighted bar appears on screen, but it’s another addition to the variety of the game, and can be mildly fun as well. One quest involved a patron asking me to sing out of tune, which I duly did to Aha’s “Take On Me”, the result was rather terrible singing, which made it rather fun.
I would go into the XP system a bit more, but it does seem a little complex to explain, and I never quite fully understood every aspect of it. Suffice to say, that completing missions and mini-games, as well as performing some of the crazy driving stunts, will make your face more well known, with this effectively being your XP pool. Every so often you can level up and select which skill you want to unlock from a pretty much linear tree of options, with a couple of different branches. These skills are compartmentalised into different areas, such as cop related skills and gang related skills, but they all work in pretty much the same way. By the end of the game, you should be able to have nearly everything maxed out. It doesn’t always make things easier, but the extra skills unlocked can give you more options, particularly for the martial-arts combat, where your random button pressing may eventually result in a successful combo!
One thing I must mention before I sum things up is the brief issue with controls at the beginning of the game, as it did initially cause a bit of frustration and frantic searching on forums for a fix. As the game finished its first cut-scene, I was thrust instantly into a chase sequence, with me playing the part of the proverbial hare being chased by the greyhound, in this case, the police. The problem was that I just couldn’t turn my character with the mouse, and I was left struggling to orientate myself with the keyboard movement keys, which was a hell of a lot more clumsy that using the more accurate mouse movement. At first I thought it was due to sloppy console porting, as the game had already forced me to use WASD rather than the arrows that I normally prefer (lets not get into that argument!), but thankfully I found that it was just a case of turning off a special feature that only works on certain expensive mice. Quite why they decided to make it on by default is beyond me, but luckily that was all it was, and I was happily on my way to struggling through the first fist-fight.
So then, Sleeping Dogs gives you a fair bit to do, and it remains entertaining and varied throughout, via a sometimes rather bizarre collection of mini-games and differences for basic tasks. It is a colourfully realised game world, that visits a place a bit different from the normal western cities, and has a solid central plot to keep things altogether. Like any game, it isn’t without flaws, and it certainly isn’t in the ‘best game ever’ category, but it is thoroughly enjoyable and easily recommendable to anyone who likes third person open-world action games. The only real question is which platform for you to get the game on, and hopefully we’ll have an additional insight into that in the future when ValkyrDeath samples the PS3 version.
+ Decent central plot/story
+ A variety of mini-games to keep things fresh
+ Plenty of vehicles to try, from a number of cars and motorbikes, to motorboats
+ Excellent usage of colour, which makes the city feel vibrant
+ Decent length of game (I spent 35 hours on it)
+ No performance issues
- Some minor default controller issues, which can be corrected
- Hand-to-hand combat can seem a little muddled due to so many combo moves that need remembering
- Vehicle handling can be very twitchy at times, but not un-driveable
- Non-major characters seemed a little poorly animated/modelled compared to the central characters.
- Texturing could be a little sharper without the need of a large patch
Arbitrary Final Score:
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So then, should the Dog be put to Sleep, or shall we let Sleeping Dogs lie? Let us know in the forum!