In all honestly, when I first heard of Sleeping Dogs, it didn’t appeal to me. It appeared to be nothing more than another bland open-world Grand Theft Auto-type game. I thought I was sick of stealing cars and driving around completing repetitive missions. But when the game was released last August I noticed it did get a lot of positive praise, so I figured I might as well check it out eventually. I just recently decided this should be the next thing to play from my backlog, and it was a good choice.
Before this game started, it spent time in development hell as it originally was going to be True Crime: Hong Kong. [Editor’s Fun Fact: Sleeping Dogs actually started as a wholly unique title and only picked up the True Crime moniker because Activision thought it would sell better under a franchise banner. – LF] But after True Crime: New York City didn’t meet sales expectations, Activision pulled the plug to focus its resources on other projects. Lucky for us, Square Enix swooped in to save the project. But although Square Enix liked the game itself, the publisher didn’t want to pay for the True Crime name. Sleeping Dogs was born.
This game is fun, a lot of goddamn fun. Much more fun than it has any right to be. I was completely burnt out on this style of game before Sleeping Dogs renewed my faith. The gameplay felt a lot like Grand Theft Auto in concept, except without all the awkwardness. The gunplay was fun overall and found an exciting way to incorporate bullet time. The driving was just arcadey enough to make it really fun, and all the races were great. I had more fun racing cars in this game than in many of the actual racing games I’ve played in the past few years. There was even boat racing; there isn’t a lot of boat racing in games and I consider this game the top boat racer out there. One of the best features added to the driving was the ability to jump off of your car onto other people’s cars and steal them. This allowed for very exciting chase sequences that made you feel like a badass every time.
Perhaps the thing that surprised me the most was how good the hand-to-hand combat was. Usually melee combat in these games is just awful, but Sleeping Dogs fixed that. The combat is a lot like in the Batman: Arkham games, except more bloody and brutal. This was especially noticeable since I started this game immediately after finishing Batman: Arkham Asylum. It is almost the same combat; most of your actions are even mapped to the same buttons by default, the biggest difference being the brutal, bloody environmental kills. Sick of fighting an enemy? Just grapple him and throw him into that table saw. I bet that’ll get rid of him quickly.
They even put in the effort to make a good story. It wasn’t a great story, but interesting enough to make me actually want to walk into those waypoints. You control Wei Shen, an undercover cop infiltrating the Triad to bring them down from the inside. This leads to you having a wide variety of missions. Your Triad boss may make you go assassinate someone, then in next mission you may be sneaking around taking pictures of drug deals so the cops can prosecute someone. Every mission also gives you cop points and Triad points that you use to level up and get different upgrades. It was interesting trying to get balance these two skill trees. Killing civilians under any circumstances cost you major cop points, while killing enemies gives you a lot of Triad points. Having a cop level and a Triad level is a cool idea, but it should have went further. No matter how good or bad your actions are, it doesn’t affect the story, just how you level up. I could literally be in a mission and lose all my cop points from driving on the sidewalk, plowing through pedestrians, and there are no consequences from your superiors.
On top of the story, there is a variety of different side missions you can do and these all raise your “face level,” which is essentially how much respect you have on the street. Some of these are just random tasks for townsfolk or Triad members such as roughing up a guy who owes someone money or delivering various items. But you can also do a variety of other things as well to increase your face level like participating in races, beating people up in martial arts clubs, singing karaoke and even betting on cock fights. There is a lot to keep you busy in this big fictional city.
Overall, I’m very glad I decided to play this game. It was legitimately a lot of fun. Sleeping Dogs has single-handedly given me hope for these sort of games. If Grand Theft Auto V can play more like this and less like previous games in that series, you can sign me up. But until then, I have some races to win and cock fights to bet on in Hong Kong.