It’s almost unbearable to think that there was a time when Sleeping Dogs almost ceased to exist. Fortunately Square Enix came to the rescue by offering to publish it. There is certainly no lack of similar video-games in the free roaming genre, but will United Front Games’ Asian effort end up being a treat from the East?
One of the best features in Sleeping Dogs is the rather impressive character models. It’s hard not to notice how facial expressions resemble appropriate reactions to different situations. The characters themselves are very detailed. There are literally hundreds of NPC walking around Hong Kong, and yet it is still difficult to find a few too many pedestrians that look the same.
It’s not just the way that people look and express themselves that stands out. Each individual has unique character traits and an individual life. It doesn’t take much to upset this delicate balance. Violently bump into someone or perform a questionable act, and people will panic. Oddly enough, this behaviour doesn’t last for long. It would have been interesting to see long lasting effects depending on how the character interacts with others. The same also applies to police officers who don’t seem to care much about the fact that there is someone frightening the locals.
Perhaps it’s due to the fact that they have been given orders not to take any offences committed by the main character seriously. Office Wei Shen leads a complicated life as an undercover cop, and that is clear from the very start when he strikes up an uneasy partnership with one of the local gang leaders. It’s always good to see a character that isn’t an action hero. At times, Wei is the perfect representation of what being a human being is like. He strives to end most confrontations relatively peacefully, but his journey takes him on a dark path. It’s during sleep that Wei comes face to face with the many moral consequences that slowly weight down his conscience.
It’s always interesting to see a video-game where any killing or negative actions has an effect on the character’s conscience. This is helped by the dialogue which stays true throughout the whole story. The way that the story is told is reminiscent of Hong Kong cinema. It’ almost as if an interactive version of such classics as Hard Boiled and Enter The Dragon. There are so many story twists that it becomes incredibly difficult to not play for hours.
Exploring the various areas in the city is a treat to the eyes, due to the different social classes. The player could end up exploring a dodgy market filled with lively streets sellers, or even end up in the posh business district. There is much to see in what is a fascinating vision of a diverse Hong Kong.
Potentially it could have been frustrating to navigate such a big city. Fortunately the guidance system is incredibly intuitive. Simply clicking the left stick will show a path on the map. There are even subtle arrows pointing the right direction when using a vehicle. This makes it nearly impossible to get lost during any mission.
Driving sections are also a pleasure to play through. These even involve ramming enemy vehicles at some points, or partake in illegal street races. It’s also the best way to get around town.
Combat is perhaps one of the toughest areas to get used to in Sleeping Dogs. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t come down to mashing a couple of buttons. It requires skill to know when to counter enemies and then attack them.
There are various types of enemies to deal with. Tougher gang members are introduced as the story progresses. Fortunately the character also earns upgrades such as combat skills. These are not there just for show. They will come in handy with some of the tougher fights. Specially some of the advanced combos Wei earns, whenever he finds another stolen statue collective. Collectibles actually have a purpose in Sleeping Dogs where they help the character improve.
This is helpful because making mistakes in fights is costly. It only takes a couple of hits before Wei is knocked unconscious. This is due to the limited health available at start, but there are plenty of upgraded to improve it.
Perhaps it’s to counter the difficulty spike, but there are some graphic finishing moves too. These range from dropping an enemy into a rubbish bin to forcing someone through a ventilation fan. It’s amusing to witness them and there are many to experience. However, it might feel cheap to instantly defeat half the enemies this way.
Guns are also introduced at a later stage. Fortunately they don’t ruin the challenging combat sections. If anything, using guns isn’t so terrible. The only downside is that the reticule colour makes it difficult to aim on a few occasions.
Life on the streets of Hong Kong isn’t just about fighting. Wei also gets to take part in some fantastic undercover activities. These typically consist of getting through fun mini-games. Such tasks include hacking CCTV cameras and bugging locations. It’s just a minor setback but these aren’t always properly explained to the player. Not that it’s particularly difficult to learn how to get through them.
All of this is presented via a less traditional interface. Most mission objectives don’t usually appear out of thin air. Wei has a mobile phone which is used to get new objectives from police colleagues and gang members. The level of detail that goes into ensuring the player feels like he is living through Wei is nothing short of impressive.
There is more to Sleeping Dogs than meets the eye. It’s not just the main missions that are worth playing. There is plenty of content to keep the player entertained for many hours. This mainly consists of helping people out and finding extras, such as clothes to wear. What matters though is that it all feels part of the experience – rather than content added just to make it last longer.
Anyone into online gaming is in for a treat with the Social Club section in Sleeping Dogs. This will let the player compares various statistics with friends and random players around the world. It’s all very interesting and should make for plenty of healthy competitive gaming.
The fantastic soundtrack helps to bring together all the various elements that make up Sleeping Dogs. There is a huge selection of music track to pick from. In fact, it’s a challenge to try and listen to everything that is on offer. It consists of a varied selection of Chinese music with such genres as club and pop covered.
Sleeping Dogs is a fascinating trip through the shadowy world of Chinese organised crime. This is an inspiration for any future free roaming game. Even though it contains gun fights, it’s nice to see a game that doesn’t heavily rely on them. The only crime here is that such a masterpiece like Sleeping Dogs might not have seen the light of day. Square Enix continues its successful integration in Western gaming, with this fantastic collaboration with United Front Games. Sleeping Dogs is a master class in how to engage the player in a living world that no avid gamer should miss out on.