Reviewing Sleeping Dogs is a bit tough. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes this game so compelling. Sure it’s a GTA rip-off. Sure it’s not as graphically pleasing as other sandbox games. Sure it’s a little buggy at times. But a well-written story, solid game mechanics and great voice acting more than compensate for the flaws. And beyond all that—the game’s just plain fun.
Basically it's GTA clone, but set in Hong Kong. Not to belittle GTA as they essentially created the genre, I find this game a lot more engaging. I think part of that comes from the exotic setting. Although GTA bases their games in different cities (well, versions of cities), it’s still America, and it’s still our culture. Being immersed in the Hong Kong culture makes the sandbox experience feel fresh again. (That’s why I think the next GTA game should take place in the future! And be set on the moon! Rockstar, I know you’re reading this! Listen to me!!!!)
But I digress. As I mentioned before, the gameplay mechanics are a lot of fun. Hand-to-hand combat is similar to the Batman games in that it heavily relies on counters. But unlike Batman, you can murderize people in a variety of hilarious ways! When you grab ahold of an opponent, some environmental structures will glow red. Drag them over there, hit a button and watch the gruesome fun. Grinding up faces in air-conditioner fans, shattering fish aquariums with people’s heads, throwing dudes in vats of electric eels!!! The list goes on!
Racing and car driving play a huge part of the game. Luckily cornering is ridiculously easy. The amount of control you have sliding around corners is great. It makes both racing and losing the cops so much easier. Also you can hit a button to ram into other cars on the sides of you. It’s a fun game mechanic. Cops are giving you the blues? Slam them into an oncoming double-decker bus and that’s that!
Gunplay is decent. It’s the basic cover-based system many games have adopted today, but with a slight John Woo twist. When leaping over your cover, if you hit the L button, you’ll go into bullet time temporarily, allowing you to take down multiple foes at once. Car-based gunplay is a blast, however. Hold the left bumper down, and you’ll go into slow-mo. Shoot the tires out of cars chasing you and they’ll blow up and flip over in the most satisfying way. Motorcycles are even funnier, because as the bike explodes, the dude will fly off his bike and into oncoming signs or other objects.
There’s a lot of chasing and running bits in the game. The free-running mechanics are also really fun. Jump over objects, scale walls, scramble over fences all while dodging people in busy Hong Kong alleys. Timing is everything, though. If you hit the A button late, you’ll clumsily go over your obstruction and lose valuable time chasing your opponent, or escaping.
You’ll need to master all these mechanics to get through the numerous missions in the game. And the missions are quite varied and often humorous. Like driving a lady’s old beater into the bay to collect insurance money. Or chasing down a cake deliveryman, trying to save the cake for your bosses wedding. Or breaking into a superstitious rivals’ house to break their belongings to convince them their house is haunted. There’s a lot of fun stuff in this game beyond just beating up or shooting people, which is also fun.
While gameplay is the most important element in a game, if you don’t have a good story and characters, you’re just playing Frogger. But if you have the rare combination of great gameplay and story—you’ve got magic. And the story in Sleeping Dogs is excellent. This the closest you’ll ever get to living out a classic 90’s Hong Kong action flick. It’s the classic tale of an undercover cop infiltrating the Triads and getting caught between worlds. The gangsters are gritty and power hungry; the cops tough and determined. Yet on both sides, you’ll find sympathetic characters. You even get two systems of XP: Police and Triad. Completing missions for either side results in that XP that will unlock new Police or Triad abilities.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredible soundtrack. To me music is one of the best parts of games, and this soundtrack will introduce you to many amazing new bands and cool Chinese music. There’s rap, remixes, and just a lot of stuff I would have never heard if I didn’t play this.
On top of all this, the creators of this game have a solid understanding of both Hong Kong and Chinese culture. I have a ton of Chinese friends, I’ve been to China and Hong Kong, I walk through Chinatown everyday on the way to work, and I can tell you, these guys know their business. You can’t fake this level of authenticity. The accents aren’t offensive, the dialogue is peppered with Cantonese and it’s all voice-acted by a very talented cast including the great James Hong.
It’s amazing to think Activision scrapped this game! It’s a good thing Square Enix stepped in and saved it. Hopefully, it will sell well enough to warrant a sequel and spawn a franchise. I’d love to see what these guys would come up with next.
Hint: Practice your martial arts! Your enemies will get trickier over time.
by Urian Brown