This game has had a troubled past. It was originally planned as an installment in the True Crime series, then Activision dropped it because they couldn’t see it being successful enough to compete with the other sandbox action games like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row. Square Enix was quick to pick it up and throw some money at it, rebrand it as Sleeping Dogs, and toss it ever so gently into gamers’ open arms. If you’re not a fan of crazy car chases, slo-mo gunfights, and Arkham City-esque bone-snapping combat, this game might not tickle your fancy. However, if those things sound utterly delicious, then I highly suggest reading on.
When it comes to sandbox games, I prefer the ones that don’t only allow, but encourage being a total ass. This is why I’ve taken such a liking to the Saints Row series, because its set the bar for crazy astronomically high. This is also why I’ve never been particularly fond of the Grand Theft Auto series, because I don’t want to play a game that’s like real life. I live in real life every goddamned day. The last thing I want to do is play a game that’s tries to be as realistic as possible. Do I want to go bowling with my cousin? I hate bowling. Do I want to go on a virtual date then watch as the character I’m controlling gets lucky while I get to enjoy the beautifully rendered exterior of an apartment complex?
The answer to that question is a resounding no.
Thankfully, Sleeping Dogs is set in a place I’ll never visit–in this case Hong Kong–and it lets me do things I’d never do in real life (i.e. run for more than thirty seconds at a time and shoot the tires out of speeding cars to watch them crash).
Side note: I’ve had my suspicions for some time, but this game has confirmed that I am a total dick. To give you an idea of how much of a jerk I am, literally every time I see a guy relieving himself on a wall, and this activity is surprisingly popular among the citizens of Hong Kong, I immediately have to drop everything I’m doing so I can run up behind him and execute a flawless spinning jump kick so he lands face first, possibly with a broken spine, in a puddle of his own shame urine.
You play as Wei Shen, an undercover cop tasked with infiltrating the Sun On Yee Triad. Over the course of the game’s satisfyingly meaty campaign you’ll find yourself straddling that grey line between being a good cop and bad cop. The missions are divided into ones for the police force, and include planting bugs, tracing calls, and assisting with drug busts. Completing these missions increases your cop experience, which improve your gun skills and aptitude for running fools off the road in your million dollar sports car.
If I have one major complaint about this game it would be the gunfights. Honestly, I think this game would be better without them. It’s not that they aren’t fun, because they are, and guns are never too prevalent in the game. The problem is, the melee combat is so incredible, that shooting people just can’t compare to the immense satisfaction of watching the light go out in a goon’s eyes as he watches you slam his friend’s face into a fire hydrant. Sleeping Dogs also suffers from what I like to call Nathan Drake Syndrome, in that he’s a cop, and he’s supposed to be a pretty decent guy who, like Batman, doesn’t actually commit murder. For the first six-ish hours you’re doing just that–beating down goons with your repertoire of badass Kung fu moves, then all of a sudden you get yourself a gun and you’re actually killing people. He’s a cop, right? So when Wei starts pumping dozens of people full of lead, it made it a little harder to look at him as a decent guy.
Completing missions for the Sun On Yee tend to have you taking out rival gangs and singing a lot of Karaoke. As you complete the Triad missions you’ll be able to learn new unarmed combat moves as well as unlock new “cribs” across the city. One of the many things this game does well is the hand-to-hand combat, because it’s satisfyingly brutal and takes a page (or two) out of Arkham City’s book in that you can chain combos and counter enemy attacks. You start off with a decent arsenal of martial arts moves that include some basic strikes, grapples, counters, and a fondness for grabbing a crowbar and going all Gordon Freeman on a guy. You’ll also come across several stolen jade statues that you can return to your former master to learn new techniques for ruining the lives of any unsuspecting goons that are unfortunate enough to get in your way.
Like any good open world action game, there’s plenty here for you to do. If you feel the need to do a little gambling, you can join in on the many cockfights scattered about the city, or you can use all the money you’ve accumulated to buy a nice car and participate in an illegal street race. Sadly, there’s an overall lack of customization that will probably leave many gamers used to being able to customize almost everything about their game a little disappointed. Each car comes with 3-4 paint jobs, but that’s where the customization ends there, and throughout the course of the game I only found a new bed to purchase for my first crib. The others come decked out in the swankiest of decors, but I would’ve liked to have been able to customize my homes.
Customizing Wei brings with it a few more options; you can buy clothes and accessories from the many shops sprinkled about the city, and many of the items bring with them a small bonus (like extra XP) if you wear a full set. For those of you who like to strangle every breath of life out of the games you play, there are plenty of items hidden around the city for you to search out. There are lockboxes that can contain money and/or new apparel, shrines that increase your maximum health, and the aforementioned jade statues.
One of my favorite things about Sleeping Dogs is the cast of characters, because they’re realistic and genuinely interesting. Sleeping Dogs is supported by a fantastic cast that includes the voices of Will Yun Lee (Bionic Woman), Edison Chen (Internal Affairs), Kelly Hu (X-Men 2), Tom Wilkinson (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man), and Lucy Liu (Kill Bill). The mass murdering dozens of gangsters aside, there’s also a great story to be had here.
For many open world games, an attention to detail is sometimes sacrificed because of the scale of the world you’re able to explore. Sleeping Dogs doesn’t struggle with this, in fact, the attention to detail is actually damn impressive. It’s not on GTA’s level, but it looks just as good, if not better, than the Saints Row series. Hong Kong feels alive, its people roam about like they would in real life. There are people meditating on the beach, when it rains they whip out their umbrellas, etc. It’s the little things that really make a game look and feel believable, and it’s obvious the team at United Front Games know this.
It’s rare that gamers get not one, but two fantastic open-world action games at the same time (the other being Darksiders II, which released alongside Sleeping Dogs, and you can look forward to my review of that game soon), so choosing which one to get can be a tough decision. Should you choose to take a trip to the seedy underbelly of Hong Kong, you can look forward to kicking mountains of gangster ass, intense car chases, cockfights, and absolutely no bowling.
The Final Word: Sleeping Dogs is a fantastic sandbox action game that lets you break bones and look like a total badass while you do it. What’s not to like about that?
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Sleeping Dogs, which was provided by the publisher.