Sleeping Dogs Review
Go undercover in the City of Lights.
Sleeping Dogs started life as a True Crime game but quickly took on a life of its own, taking the open world genre and mashing it together with a cop movie and a Kung Fu movie. Developer, United Front Games, knew that it was going to take more than just flashy hand-to-hand combat to distinguish Sleeping Dogs among the greats like GTA and Saints Row, but one could be forgiven for thinking this game was going to be that simple. Sleeping Dogs doesn’t stray far from the tried and tested formula, but it does what it does very well.
Sleeping Dogs follows the story of Wei Shen, a native of Hong Kong who is a current member of the San Francisco PD. Wei is on loan to the Hong Kong Police because of his familiarity with city, and his familiarity with members of a certain Triad. This Triad, the Sun On Yee, is one of the city’s largest and most well established street gangs and it’s Wei’s job to infiltrate their ranks. The problems that come with any undercover operation, like how to avoid committing serious crimes, are obvious to anyone who’s seen a movie or two but Sleeping Dogs embraces this aspect and even works it into how you progress.
Sleeping Dogs offers you a number of different ways to build up Wei’s skills and the first two you’ll encounter are Triad Experience and Cop Experience. During most missions you’ll earn experience in both areas, but the key to advancing is to keep a balance. Triad points are earned by defeating enemies, destroying their vehicles and the general sort of things you would expect a gang to be in on. Cop points, on the other hand, are kept in a pool that decreases as you commit unlawful acts like killing innocents or damaging property.
Since both experience paths allow you to unlock very different skills, your best bet is to be as smooth as possible when completing your missions. Punch out all the bad guys, but make sure not to run over any little old ladies as you make your getaway. Wei can also learn new Kung Fu moves by collecting jade statues and returning them to the Kung Fu school, where the master will teach him a new move in return.
The combat system in Sleeping Dogs can either be a button masher, or a calculated martial arts clinic for your enemies. You could probably get by in a lot of fights by just mashing the attack button but with a little timing you can turn brawls into a scene straight out of a Kung Fu movie. The kind where the hero takes on seven guys at once, from all directions, and environmental attacks, like slamming a guy’s head in a door, add just the right amount of flare. The gunplay, however, is fairly basic and never presents much of a challenge. Luckily Wei likes to use his fists more often.
Finally there is the Face progression tree. Face is how much respect others have for you and you can gain Face by completing side missions for the citizens of your neighborhood. Sure, the Triads extort money from the locals like any other gang but the citizens of Hong Kong expect to actually be protected when they pay protection money so the more you help them, the more respect, or Face, you’ll gain.
Progressing through the story in sleeping dogs will have you completing tasks for the Sun On Yee, throughout the open city of Hong Kong. United Front Games did a superb job of creating a city that is packed tightly with details while still feeling as alive as a city that truly never sleeps. During his romps through the city, Wei will often find some detail that he can feed back to the police to show that he’s still on their side. This leads us to the Cop missions, every so often Wei will have to take down some bad guys without blowing his cover. These missions often involve disguises, hacking security cameras and surveillance; a few elements you may not have been expecting to see in an open world action game.
The story is where Sleeping Dogs really shines, though it does jump ahead and over details sometimes, it delivers a compelling narrative that is far more that what I was expecting. You may have looked at Sleeping Dogs and thought, like me, that it would be fairly predictable; the undercover cop ends up blurring the line between cop and criminal. You’ve seen that a hundred times in the movies, but Sleeping Dogs covers that inevitability with grace and goes far deeper that you might expect.
There are no multiplayer modes in Sleeping Dogs.
Sleeping Dogs doesn’t try to revolutionize, or bring anything terribly original to, the open world action genre but it delivers on just about every element. Combat is fun, if you take the time to learn it and stay away from the guns. The city of Hong Kong is stunningly detailed and the story will keep you playing for just one more mission every time. Now, if only I could remember to stop driving on the wrong side of the road every time.