[It's late, I'm tired and I've just finished gutting a blog I was considering putting up. I decided against it because it was nothing I haven't said already, so I've decided to do something a little different: I'm migrating some of my favourite reviews from the old site I used to frequent, to the blogs here. This is one of the best reviews I ever did, and it's for a little game called Sleeping Dogs. I hope you enjoy it.]
Sleeping Dogs: Don’t Let This One Lie
Sleeping Dogs is the spiritual successor to the True Crimes series. That’s all you really need to know, other than it was in kind of a development Hell scenario for years. Eventually, Square Enix bought up the right to the game, but not the True Crime name, this Sleeping Dogs, a gritty undercover cop drama set in Hong Kong, was born. Without further stalling for word count and time, let us dig into this most unique of dishes: an open-world crime-based game whose plot and characters are both realistic and worthy of your interest.
The story follows Wei Shen, an undercover cop who has recently moved back from California in order to infiltrate the Triad and take them down from the inside. He must gain the trust of the Triad, work his way up the ladder and obtain enough evidence to take the criminal syndicate down once and for all. Wei’s morals are challenged, however, by his loyalties to his new brotherhood, who, despite being criminals, are honourable and, for want of a better term, good people. This is a pretty simple set up for a story, a kind of classic cop drama that every procedural cop show gets around to eventually. However, what really breaks this game off from the trope is how it handles Wei’s integration to the Triad and how it impacts his instincts as a cop. As the game progresses and Wei is forced to do more and more morally ambiguous or downright violent things, he begins to be haunted with nightmares of the events. As he connects with his fellow gang members, you can feel the game starting to show off a certain duality to Wei’s personality. On the one hand, he knows that when all is said and done, he is a cop, one of the good guys. Yet the allure of this lawless group with their own set of moral codes begins to seep into his ideology, leading him to more readily take an active role within the Triad. The game straddles the line between what is truly right, in this case the law, and what feels right, in many cases, defending those who take care of their own in a cutthroat world. It’s an interesting experience to see a character go through a moral crisis that genuinely disturbs them to their very core the more they experience, and in my mind, the story adds weight by showing Wei’s constant attitude changes, along with just how easily he seemingly fits into this world.
Gameplay is centred on a classic sandbox-orientated game style. There are, of course, the main missions that you do to progress the game’s storyline. There are also cop investigations that take place as the story continues too. Although this does seem linear, the game has a tendency to mix things up an impressive amount. The world has, within it, activities that help raise your ‘Face’ meter; this in turn allows you to wear new, more stylish clothing, and throughout the ten levels available, gives you upgrades to your fighting skills or bonuses to certain things in the world, such as buying vehicles, clothing and the like. There are fight clubs littered throughout the four islands of the game, each can be entered and emerging victorious grants you cash and Face. As missions commence you will also get Cop and Triad XP which then allows you to upgrade abilities that show up in their particular trees, such as new ways to disarm an enemy, or the ability to steal a parked car without setting off an alarm. A slight issue that I have with this is that the Cop shield meter - which fills to three in total - starts off full but then slowly lessens the more property damage you do, people you injure, or, believe it or not: how clumsy you are free running. Oh yes, another staple in Sleeping Dogs is the free-running mechanic, which is actually pretty good. You can scale, slide or mount obstacles by holding down the ‘A’ button, then pressing it again when you’re close enough to the object you wish to manoeuvre. The system is extremely slick, though in some chase scenes it tends to get a bit sticky, which can be frustrating. There are also some noticeable glitches involving some face-missions, which require that you stick to the perimeters the game silents creates, leading to failure if you approach them in any sort of innovative manner. You can also engage in hand-to-hand combat, as guns are not in great supply in Hong Kong, which is all sorts of fun.
The combat system is very Arkham City-esque; with the ‘Y’ button controlling counters, the ‘B’ controlling grabs and the ‘X’ button in charge of hitting things. There are a decent amount of initial moves which you can pull off with the right combos, using upgrades and finding Jade Zodiac Statues throughout the world can help you train and gain more powerful moves and combos. The statues can be handed into the martial arts club, where your sensei will teach you a new move, twelve in total, and allow you to take part in a training mode to get to grips with your new moves. You can also take part in races, which are fun if you’ve bought new, more powerful bikes or cars. You can explore the waters surrounding Hong Kong and the satellite islands too. Some of the vehicles, however, do require some getting used to, with each having different speeds, handling and tricks to getting the motions just right, as to not mold with an oncoming wall and/or other vehicle. Karaoke is also a big thing in Hong Kong, as you’ll find out when you go on a particular date...which are also pretty important. Dates with important women you meet during the course of the game are beneficial if you want to find all of the lockboxes, statues, health shrines and hack all of the spy cameras to engage in drug busts throughout the city. You also get access to new houses as you complete sections of the game, starting with a small, unpleasant apartment in the less well-off area, to penthouse apartments with massive TVs and other nice things. It may seem like I’m rambling here, but honestly, there’s so much to do within the game itself that it’ll last you for a very, very long time. For example, Face-related missions come up as favours on the map in yellow circles, each with their own quirky objectives. One could have a character ask you to be bad at karaoke to make him look better to a girl he’s on a date with, while another could be helping a guy escape enemy gang territory. For god’s sake, you can even hijack trucks full of money by jumping from you vehicle to the back of that truck...I mean, in the car, the ‘A’ button is only used for that! This game has everything you could ask for, and more, as I think I’ve made the point extremely clear now.
Graphically, the game doesn't shine so brightly; I mean, there’s a lot of sheen that reflects light, but not purposefully. The character models don’t look terrible, but you’ll be fighting the same guys over and over again because there’s only really four classes of enemies: normal, brawler, heavy and boss. The world itself is actually very well detailed though, with big buildings off in the distance, to insanely beautiful skylines and some pretty amazing Hong Kong architecture. Still, the game looks good, just not fantastic, but given the sheer scale of the world map itself, I can see why graphics had to take a hit, it’s just a pity that some character models look semi-rendered sometimes, and the lip syncing is visibly off at very obvious moments. Still, it’s well detailed for the scale of it, and it doesn’t ruin the enjoyment of the game, instead giving it a few quirks.
Sound wise, we’ve got a strong set of voice actors and some genuinely incredible oriental scores, mixed with a variety of radio stations, which gives the game some of the most impressive sound displays I’ve ever heard. Seriously, this is coming from the guy who plays Skyrim with the sound turned off, listening to music and/or podcasts in the background. Wei’s voice is an excellent blend of Asian and American, with other characters sounding exactly how you’d expect them to sound as residents of Hong Kong. There are some amazing voice actors at work here, giving it their absolute all when it comes to their performances. Even little moments where characters become bi-lingual with even a few words is an interesting take on communication, and really adds to the atmosphere and story that the game is putting forward. The music reflects every situation, it hits the notes required for every gut-wrenching scene, or quite reflective moment. It just works as a soundtrack to a game that is so unique in its intentions...the soundtrack is resonant because it complements the world it’s part of and you can’t really ask for better than that.
Overall, Sleeping Dogs is a spiritual successor in every way possible to the True Crimes games of old. This more than makes up for the development trouble the game was having, and in the end, it was worth every moment playing. The compelling story, amazing voice-cast, the music, the gameplay and the world itself make a perfect blend of rich, engaging entertainment. This is a must-have despite some graphical hiccups, some control issues and vehicle learning curves.
· Compelling and excellent storyline
· Wei’s moral issues are conveyed convincingly
· Voice acting is top-notch
· World is huge with plenty to do and plenty to explore
· Soundtrack is excellent
· Combat is slick and fun
· XP and upgrade systems mean something in the scheme of the game
· Collectibles galore
· Graphically decent but not amazing
· XP system for Cop upgrades leaves a lot to be desired
· Face-mission approaches require to-the-letter progression, or glitches commence
· Free-running, combat and driving can suffer due to some in-game input lag.
WTF? Moment: Mrs. Chu is one badass mother with a Cleaver. read