Release Date: August 13, 2012
Developer(s): United Front Games, Square Enix London Studios
Platform(s): PS3 / X360 / PC
Sleeping Dogs was once a game on the brink of nonexistence. What started out as an idea for a sequel to the True Crimes series became a completely new game that stands well alone. Sleeping Dogs is a highly polished game; it’s no secret that I enjoy graphics and detail and the game exploits the capabilities current gen consoles well. It’s also is an action game that incorporates RPG elements which adds a bit of spice to the experience. In addition, it offers an open ended world with plenty of extra activities to keep the player busy. And while the storyline is a predictable one, the characters feel alive and the acting is amazing. But for every good there is a bad and Sleeping Dogs’ flaws involve not too bright police AI, repetitive puzzles, and various technical issues that rear their ugly heads.
The game begins in the dead of night on the rooftop of an undisclosed location. A drug transaction between the main character, Wei Shen and a wanted drug dealer is in the works, but prior to the operation going smoothly, an anomaly shows up in the form of a security guard. Matters only get worse when said drug dealer decides to murder the security guard, prompting police officers (who just so happened to be on Wei Shen’s trail) to rouse from hiding. Eventually, Wei Shen is captured and it is revealed that he was undercover trying to accomplish his objective: toppling the Sun On Yee empire.
The story is what makes Sleeping Dogs stand out among the pack. Here we have been given a remodeled punk from the streets that is out for vengeance. While the story missions themselves are too straightforward and predictable, it wasn’t an issue for me in this case. However, some players may not be too keen on how easy is to see future events before they unravel. Even so, seeing Wei’s emotional struggles between staying true to his profession or loyal to his gang is delightful. There is a transformation from the beginning to the end as he seeks his vengeance against the Sun On Yee Triad. The drive remains, but the intentions for toppling the empire matures over time.
When it comes to acting, the performances are all pretty believable. The best acting in particular comes from Wei Shen’s childhood friend, Jackie. This man is that bubbly character that makes you smile. He is full of energy and brimming with optimism which makes you forget that he’s actually a menace to society. Sleeping Dogs also has villains that make you cringe in disdain, like the unsavory Dogeyes Lin. Which leads into the complexities of the villains within the game. It’s understood that the gangs are full of bad people, but the depth of certain key characters causes the player to empathize with their struggles. The developers give you enough glimpses into the lives of the recurring characters to feel both their triumphs and their failures.
Superb acting isn’t Sleeping Dogs’ only forte, the game is beautiful to look at as well. Every little detail is considered, from the smooth animation of the menus to the scenery and the characters themselves. This whole game is like a successful art project to me. The menus are stylized to have the same rugged feel as the game which is a nice touch. Also, the characters are realistic, their physical characteristics are noticeable and their movements are fluid and lifelike. Facial expressions are given special attention and really stand out when the characters are interacting with each other. Even the subtle expression of creasing brows is taken into account. Other details include clothes that become scuffed and dirty after battles. This effect will remain in effect until Wei Shen decides to take them off.
Upon first glance Sleeping Dogs seems like a simple button masher similar the beat em’ games from the 1990’s. However, once you throw in RPG components, the fighting (and the game) becomes a lot more complex. This is particularly important when it’s time to expand on Wei Shen’s fighting ability. Wei can learn abilities from three different skill trees; one from his Cop side and the other two from his Triad and Melee side. There is also a fourth skill tree called Face that doesn’t directly affect fighting, but offers unique advantages.
The first three skill trees give Wei Shen a direct advantage in battle. The Cop Skill Tree has abilities like disarming enemies or jacking vehicles without sounding alarms. The Triad tree focuses on damage bonuses and strike resistances, and the Meele tree deals with Wei Shen’s martial arts skills. The first two kinds of fighting abilities are purchased using points from leveling up your Cop bar and Triad bar. The third kind Wei Shen acquires by collecting statues throughout the city. These statues are scattered throughout the open ended world of Sleeping Dogs.
The Cop bar is filled by completing missions while not being a menace to society. Every street light uprooted, or citizen run over subtracts from your overall score. This prolongs the time it takes to level up. Your Triad bar levels up from pulling off fighting combos and from defeating your enemies by using the environment. Finally there is the Face bar which unlocks certain clothing and accessories for Wei. Fashion isn’t the only purpose these clothes/accessories serve. In Sleeping Dogs, completing clothing sets rewards the player with advantages in various ways, whether it is through leveling up faster or getting discounts on cars from thieves.
The overall system is surprisingly well structured and thoroughly developed. However, some of the abilities are barely noticeable, like the increased damage resistance you get by wearing certain clothes. What was noticed, of course, was the attire which granted faster level ups. Thanks to this RPG system, everything in the game serves a purpose and has more depth. Without it, players would have little reason to bother purchasing any of the optional accessories. These RPG elements also add more tactics to battles, which makes the game more interesting.
Different enemy types also make the battles more entertaining and challenging. These different types of enemies can counter Wei’s capabilities. For instance, there are fat enemies that can overpower Wei when he attempts to tackle them to the ground. Other opponents are martial artists themselves and are able to counter his high kicks and other moves. The enemies aren’t very intelligent, though, and only require you to separate them from their packs in order to win battles. There are also little puzzles like lock picking thrown into the mix to sustain interest during each mission, but they have little variation and become repetitive after a few appearances.
There were a few other issues with the game. Sleeping Dogs wanted to be as accurate as possible at playing cop. This is appreciated, but coupled with strange glitches and bugs it becomes a huge pain. Wei Shen would be staking out a potential suspect for long periods of time (almost 20 minutes) when suddenly the game would stop registering commands. Think of it like an online game when you’re lagging; you can still move but nothing you do affects the game. Eventually I had to restart the game and resume from my last checkpoint. Other instances involved the game freezing up after winning a close race. Lastly, I was a little disappointed with the police AI in the game. They’re just as dumb as the crooks, only a lot more passionate. I expected a more rigorous chase from when Wei Shen broke the law, but a few shoving of police cars or appropriate turns was enough to allow for my daring escape.
Regardless of its flaws Sleeping Dogs is still very fun, and the bulk of this enjoyment will come from all the extra goodies the open ended world has to offer. There are four main sectors in the city of Hong Kong and they’re connected through various roads and shortcuts. As the player completes story missions, additional side activities related to those missions become available in the world. Just to name one, Wei Shen can participate in car/motorcycle races which are divided by performance class. In order to unlock more difficult races, the player has to purchase the appropriate car/motorcycle for that class. In addition, there is an array of collectibles found in suitcases and health shrines scattered throughout the city. Lastly, there are optional objectives which appear randomly that Wei Shen can complete in order to increase his Face bar.
Sleeping Dogs is one of the few titles that bridges the gap between an open world game and an RPG. It offers exciting high speed chases, plenty of opportunities to abuse your police authority, and characters that are memorable and relatable. Also, preying on weak enemies scattered throughout the city is fun and can end up consuming much of your time. While I wasn’t fond of how quickly the puzzles became repetitive and the bugs, the RPG components and open world more than made up for it. Overall, the game was worth its weight in yuan and reminded me of classic titles like Shenmue. I’m curious to see where the developers will take this series in the future.
- Empathetic characters
- RPG components give the game plenty of depth
- Open world with a lot of side activities and collectibles
- Repetitive puzzles
- Game breaking bugs and freezing
- Poor AI for cops and criminals