Grizzly Game Review: Sleeping Dogs

Summer is a quiet time for video gamers. With triple-A titles such as Call of Duty and Dishonored not being released until fall, there really isn’t a reason to get excited about summer if you’re a gamer. Of course we have Darksiders 2 which came out earlier this week, but that’s pretty much it.

Or is it?

Sleeping Dogs was also released on Tuesday for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. The game, once went by the name of True Crime: Hong Kong, was under United Front Games’ development before it was dropped by Activision. The publisher of the infamous Call of Duty  franchise decided that doing something different and switching things up are not part of their repertoire, and thus gave up on the title after pooling in a couple of years’ worth of resources and time. Six months after the game’s cancellation, Square Enix purchased the publishing rights to the game. And a year later, the game was released.

So, does the game make you put your dogs to sleep? Wait, that’s a horrible attempt on a pun, like “I’m gonna perform seppuku to express my shame” level of horrible. It doesn’t even make sense. What’s wrong with me?

How about this:
So, will you be playing Sleeping Dogs for a long time? Or will you be watching sleeping dogs online instead?

That’s much better.

Story

The game puts you in the shoes of Wei Shen, a detective working for San Francisco Police Department. He was seconded (or “lent”) to the Hong Kong police to help investigate a triad known as Sun On Yee. Wei was born and raised in Hong Kong for most of his childhood, and has some connections to triad members in the city. These factors make him a seemingly perfect candidate for undercover work in the gang. So, Wei is assigned a handler and his journey on the fine line between black and white begins.

Yea, we have all heard that story before.

Plot-wise, the game is fairly predictable. The characters range from the good-guy-who-turns-out-to-be-the-big-bad to the asshole-who-turns-out-to-be-cool-cat. You know, the usual stuff. Of course, there are also the dialogues practically made out of cheese:

Handler: I’m shutting the operation down because you can’t handle the stress
Wei: You can’t do it now! They see me as one of them. We’re so close!
Handler: That’s what I’m worried about – you’re one of them.

Obviously, we also have the melodramatic sequences in which the protagonist is not sure of his identity. You know, sound bites of characters from both sides of the law playing in the protagonist’s mind as he drives in the rain to confront a major antagonist and sad music about being lost or something like that playing in the background. It’s pretty much a basic requisite for any form of entertainment that involves police working undercover.

Despite of the story’s predictability and cringe-worthiness, I find it, strangely, enjoyable (though not by any means good). How the journey unfolds feels right, and most of the characters are fairly likable. Characters complement each other very well even though they’re molded straight from the cookie cutters of movies or TV shows dealing with Asian gangs. In this case, they picked the right cookie cutters and baked good cookies. They’re nothing mind-blowing, but they are very solid. The story flows well and is satisfying. Like a well-made sponge cake, it is nothing to be excited about, but you’ll eat it. It’s relatively bland compared to other cakes, but at the very least, it will meet your expectations since there aren’t too many things that could go wrong in a sponge cake. In non-food-analogy terms, the game tells an average story. Since the story is pretty easy to execute, and the writers delivered a solid performance, there aren’t too many flaws to be found in the end product. Your low expectations are easily met.

I still don’t understand the title though. Just thinking about it is wrinkling my brain.

(Note: Per TV Tropes. the title is based on the proverb “Let sleeping dogs lie”. It should be interpreted as “leave something alone as it may cause trouble”.  I still don’t get it though. Does that mean the protagonist should have left his past alone? Whatever. I’m done with this.)

7 grizzly paws out of 10.

Gameplay

Throughout the game, you will be completing around 30+ story missions. There aren’t too many varieties among missions. Most of them feature the player getting from point A to point B in a car, kick some asses, chase someone down on foot, and maybe pick up a gun and shoot some people. They’re fun, but not revolutionary. Early story missions introduced side quests. More on that later.

As far gameplay mechanics go, they are pretty well-done. The cars feel grippy, and are fun to drive. The devs did a great job in creating the sense of speed. Driving down the highway has never been more satisfying. Cars have different handlings. You can tell the difference between driving a van and a coupe. I did not like the motorcycles though. Their handling is not agile enough for me to pick them over cars. You can hop from one car to another as you drive, performing a mid-air high jack of sorts. Personally, I didn’t care for this feature. The cars you purchase from merchants are much faster than civilian cars anyways.

The shooting mechanics are so-so. They’re just there because open world games set in modern times need guns. You have a reticle and you shoot people. There are pistols, submachine guns, assault rifles, shotguns and grenade launchers.  That’s pretty much it. They don’t feel all that different. You can get into slow motion if you hit X (on the PS3 controller) as you vault over cover. That’s generally how I eliminate the baddies. Bullet time is somewhat over-powering if you ask me. A skilled player can take out quite a number of hostiles in one use.

The fighting mechanics, however, are other-worldly. Picture Batman: Arkham Asylum’s system on steroids.  Unlike Arkham Asylum, you can grapple your enemies in this game, and you need to hit a different button to counter enemy attacks. You can’t chain up insane combos in this game like you can in Batman, but I would take the melee combat system in this title over the other. Why? The combat in Sleeping Dogs is very fluid and much more brutal. You have the usual melee weapons as well. Most importantly, you can use the environment to your advantage. Grappling your enemy and hauling his ass into the spinning blades of a fan cannot be more satisfying. Or drop a car engine on him if you feel like it. Hell, you can throw him off a building if given a chance. It has the hands down most awesome hand-to-hand combat in open world games.

The parkour style on-foot chases are decent. Basically, you hold down the X button to run, and when the screen prompts you to vault or climb, hit the X button. It’s not Assassin’s creed though, since you can only climb low walls. It’s not like you can get to the top of a 10-storey building by just climbing up the side of said-building.  The pursuits are fun due to the diversity in environments. Running through the crowded night market of Hong Kong chasing after a gangster is pretty mesmerizing.

When it comes to side quests, the game offers a decent amount of those. Obviously, there are the usual street races, which are fun because they’re short and the driving mechanics are great. There are also the random encounters, which are diverse in objectives, though most of them follow a similar structure – the usual get to a certain point, do some stuff, and get paid. You may also pursue a romance if you so desire. Romantic interests appear as contacts on your phone after certain missions. You can invite them out for a date. Afterwards, you’ll receive some sort of reward. Most of them reveal the locations of hidden items on the map. These relationships are incredibly shallow since you won’t be able to contact them anymore after that one date (and in some cases, not see them ever again throughout the story). I have no idea why the devs were bothered enough to include this feature.

Speaking of hidden items, there are different types of those. There are health shrines, which boost 10% of your health for every five you find. You can also look for lock boxes, which grant you a generous sum of cash, or clothing items, or even a firearm. You are also asked to keep an eye out for security cameras. These cameras are located all across town and you’re asked to hack them on location. Hacking them will lead to potential drug busts. There are also statues which you can keep an eye out for during missions. These statues, when brought back to the wushu academy, can give you new fighting abilities. The rewards are immediate and adequate enough for you to actively seek out for them.

The critics are in love with the leveling up. To me, it just seems like a no-brainer. You have the cop XP and the thug XP. The former requires you to drive carefully throughout missions and not harm innocent civilians. The latter asks for you to be brutal towards your foes. (Perform an environment attack for example.) They do not contradict each other. There is the face meter as well, which keeps track of your progress on side missions. The more side missions you complete, the more you progress on your face meter. For each level of face you gain, you will unlock perks such as reduced prices of clothes and cars.

Customization options are limited to clothes. Wearing different sets grant you different perks as well. Some increase your XP and some reduce the price of cars. You can also purchase cars from merchants. They are generally faster than the generic civilian transport. Either case, there is nothing too special about them.

Powerups are available in food stalls. Different types of food grant you different temporary abilities. Consuming a can of energy drink will enhance your melee damage whereas eating a bowl of curry fishballs will increase your rate of health regeneration. They are readily available at all times, even during missions.

In conclusion, the gameplay is fine. It will last you somewhere over 20 hours. There is nothing innovative, but there are also little wrongdoings. The game is just fun to play. The complaint will be the devs were playing it a little too safe.

7.5 grizzly paws out of 10.

Presentation

Presentation is where this title shines. Having spent the first 16 years of my life in Hong Kong (which is a shit hole if you ask me), I am glad to report that Sleeping Dogs is a fairly accurate portrayal of Hong Kong. The game covered only one of three major areas of Hong Kong and only four of eighteen districts. Despite of these shortcomings, you can clearly tell the devs did their research. There is a balanced mix of eastern and western architectures across the city. Each district has a distinct feel to it and is a good representation of its real life counterpart. The narrow roads on the slopes of Central and the neon lights in North Point brought me a sense of nostalgia. Certainly, street vendors selling food do not happen anymore and the back alleys are much cleaner in reality, but there is no complaint from me. As a matter of fact, their inclusion gives the city an early-90’s feel, when nasty alleys and food carts were everywhere.

Complementing the city’s sights are the sounds. There are many interesting dialogues going on between pedestrians and they are surprisingly good reflections of the current Hong Kong culture. Some of the swear words / phrases are surprisingly explicit (which is a plus in my book). Well, I’m sure most of you don’t understand Cantonese, so this may not be a point of interest to you. Either case, I must applaud the devs for putting in all that hard work in making the city feel authentic.

I must also compliment the voice acting in Sleeping Dogs. The devs somehow managed to involve big time Hollywood actors in the project. Names such as James Hong, Will Yun Lee, Lucy Liu, Tom Wilkinson, Kelly Hu, and even our beloved Emma Stone appear on the credits.  They did a fantastic job in giving lives to the characters they were playing. Sadly, the devs have underused many of these talents. Most of them appeared in no more than a couple of missions only to be ditched and forgotten. For any Emma Stone fans out there, she appeared in only two missions and her character was never mentioned again. Anyways, I must also give credit to the rest of the cast – the ones voicing the nobodies on the streets. They were responsible for making the in-game city alive.

When it comes to soundtrack, the game covered a good number of genres. From Canto pop to Chinese oldies to American hip hop, they have it all. Don’t ask me if I like the Chinese tracks in the game. I listen to English music exclusively. Modern day Canto pop consists of incredibly one-dimensional love songs only. Anyways, the soundtrack doesn’t blow fishes out of water. It’s solid, but it’s also nothing special.

9 grizzly paws out of 10.

With that said…

The game is good. It is nicely executed but lacks in innovation. Without a doubt, it’s much better than its predecessor, True Crime: New York.

7.5 grizzly high fives out of 10

I don’t do round-ups.

Should you buy it?

Not now. As good as the game is, it is not on the level where Square Enix can command 60 bucks. Grand Theft Auto IV was perfection in presentation and Saints Row The Third was creativity at its finest. Certainly, the presentation of Sleeping Dogs is almost on a phenomenal level, but it is not enough to overcome the shortcomings in gameplay.

It’s a good, clean punch but not a knock out.

Rent the game or wait till a price drop (to somewhere under 40 bucks).

One thought on “Grizzly Game Review: Sleeping Dogs”

  1. I think you’re selling the game short. I’m only about 5 hours in at this point, so maybe the honeymoon phase just hasn’t worn off yet, but there are some things I really love about Sleeping Dogs:

    The Cop/Triad XP meter is the first innovation in this type of open-world game that actually gives you the incentive to follow the rules of the road and/or law during a mission, as opposed to GTA, which allows you to treat the city like a bowling lane for your car until you arbitrarily do something the game deems ‘unlawful’.

    Also, you forgot to mention that the whole game is modeled after Hong Kong action films, and it does a pretty great job of making you feel like a Chinese movie star. The hand-to-hand-to-foot-chase-to-car-chase missions are pretty neat in that respect – The mission structure feels a lot more deliberate than the majority of GTA’s.

    Lastly, I can’t really vouch for this because I’ve played so little of the game at this point, but like I said, I’m 5 hours in and I haven’t seen a gun once so far. I love that this game has provided hours of entertainment without leaning on gunplay as the focal point of gameplay. Hopefully that doesn’t change too drastically as the story moves forward, because guns are a crutch that video games can stand to move away from (Not from a political, gun-safety standpoint, just as a tired convention).

    Overall I think this is far better than the supernatural cop bullshit from the True Crime series.

    Like

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