Guest Author - James Shea
An open-world sandbox game in the vein of "Grand Theft Auto", "Sleeping Dogs" has a unique locale (Hong Kong) but not much new in the way of gameplay.
In "Sleeping Dogs", you take the role of Wei Shen, an undercover policeman working with the Hong Kong Police Department. Shen's role is to infiltrate the Triad in the city and look for ways to undermine them from within - a role that comes into conflict with his own personal loyalties and agendas. While initially it looks like this concept will have some gameplay relevance, it's essentially divided entirely from gameplay. While GTA cast you as a criminal and as such allowed you to do criminal things with impunity (stealing cars, killing innocent civilians, and so on), Sleeping Dogs has you play the role of an undercover policeman - and still doesn't punish you for doing those things.
Combat in the game, early on, is melee-only. The melee system is incredibly well-crafted and satisfying to use, with highly responsive controls and a wide variety of interesting environmental objects to make use of. This also gives it a bit more legitimacy story-wise: it makes more sense for an undercover policeman to be engaging in brawls and non-lethal fights than it does for them to be openly murdering people. However, about halfway through the game, guns start to show up, and then the game essentially turns into a cartoon. It takes about six shots to put someone down, and Wei himself can take a bit more. The gunplay itself is serviceable, but in a game that was previously immersive and well-paced, the guns just turn it into a goofy cartoon game.
The cars (and especially the motorcycles) handle well and give a good sensation of speed. There's more "actiony" things that can be done with cars compared to GTA - ramming, high-speed hijacks, and slow-mo shootings. One neat touch is that the roads are actually laid out around the left lane, as per Hong Kong's actual streets. This may be a big tough for an American driver to adapt to, but it's definitely a cool touch. If one doesn't wish to drive around, there are taxis available for hire, but (this is a big problem) there's no way to call for one or get one's attention. In essence you have to run up to a taxi stopped at a light and basically demand to be taken somewhere, which can be a bit ridiculous when you end up having to chase a taxi for blocks.
From a long-term perspective, the game has a lot of things to do. In between missions, Wei can engage in street races, go on dates, do tasks for people to raise his standing in the community, and so on. Wei can buy new clothes and new cars with the money earned from his tasks. Wei's main missions consist of both Police and Triad missions, but both essentially follow the same linear mission concept. Police missions have to do with solving murders, busting drug rings, and so on, while Triad missions are the more direct story-advancing ones. There's no choosing one or the other - you have to do both eventually, and it has no impact on the story which you favor.
The game looks really great, especially in the early areas. The distinctive modern architecture of Hong Kong is similar, but still notably different, from the architecture of American cities as depicted in other sandbox crime games. The atmosphere and effects are incredible - the rain effects are probably the best I've ever seen in a game, specifically in the way the pavement gets wet and reflects nearby lighting. Early on, when the game is relatively low-key, it's incredibly immersive - it was about four hours before I'd actually "killed" a person (in a car accident) and it felt jarring and real compared to most games. However, the introduction of guns regrettably destroyed that aspect of the game.
Overall, Sleeping Dogs is a good game that just doesn't go anywhere. The main story is okay, if a bit frustrating for its non-interactiveness (Wei will make choices that seem basically illogical just to continue the game, in essence), and the game looks and plays incredibly well, but the problem is that it just ends up feeling wasted in a lot of ways. Thinking about what they could have done with the premise if they'd just stuck with it is, itself, frustrating. Still, it's worth picking up for anyone who had fun with Grand Theft Auto 4 and wants something a bit different.
We purchased this game with our own funds in order to do this review.
Buy Sleeping Dogs from Amazon.com