Release Date: August 14, 2012
Systems: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: United Front Games
Metacrtic Score: 83 (PS3)
“Sleeping Dogs” sits comfortably between what we know to expect in an open world game and the foreign. Things like world navigation and mission structure will be familiar to anyone who has ever played a game in the “GTA” franchise, but a focus on hand to hand combat and more serious tone to the games story may seem odd to citizens of “Los Santos” or “Steelport” and have them wondering when the “satire” is going to kick in. The real question is, however, does this balancing act of ideas work?
I beat “Sleeping Dogs” a few days a go, and since then this review has basically been on hold as I looked for a way to talk about the story. “Sleeping Dog”’s story pulls off an almost impossible task of being bloated and over long while also feeling rushed and unfinished. In order to express this completely I am going to end up spoiling the end of the game, so here’s they spoiler warning.
You play as Detective Wei Shen, a Chines immigrant who has returned to his native Hong Kong to help the local police to take down the Sun On Yee Triad. Almost instantly the “overlong yet rushed” feeling sets in. As it always it in a a game like this, Wei Shen isn’t immanently accepted into the triad. And as a few people begin to get arrested suspension starts to turn towards Wei Shen. How is this settled? Wei Shen has to kill someone. That’s it. After you kill someone there is really only one time the idea that Wei Shen could be a mole, and that’s settled in a cut scene. This is a part if the story that developer “United Front Games” knew they had to deal with, but it seemed like they just wanted to get it over with. If this was the only time this happened it would be forgivable, but it’s not. Through out the game idea’s and plot lines are introduced and this finished with almost no reason or connectivity. For example, after getting in to the Sun On Yee you find that two of the local leaders are at war with each other. Your main job in the beginning is too cause as many problem for “Dog eyes” (the rival leader) as you can to prove the superiority of your group. Dog eyes is dealt with near the middle of the game, but it has nothing to do with the initial hostility. Then, for seemingly no reason, I go on to helping a movie/singers agent with one of his clients. Sure, it ties back in to the Triad, but upon starting the next story mission, I had no idea who these people were or why I was dealing with them. Then, when the game ends, it all seems for naught. Your cover is blown, the triad is still standing; nothing is really accomplished or gained. Sure, a few higher ups are either dead or in jail, but these kinds of institutions don’t just crumble when leaders are gone.
While for the most part I did find the story to be disappointing, it would be unfair to not mention the things that it does right: presentation. The overall story feels like a huge missed opportunity, but the moment to moment experience of the is one of the best i’ve seen in this kind of game. This is partially due to decent scripting and stunner voice work. Everyone in the main cast sounds fantastic. And the mix of chines and english works wonders when it comes to creating an engaging experience (side note: give yourself 100 cool points of that made you think of “firefly”). I may have ultimately not cared about Wei Shen’s journey, but it was a fun ride.
For the most part this plays just like every other open world game you’ve ever played. Mission icons pop up on your map, you chose witch one you want to do then drive to where ever the mission start is, watch a cut scene, start the mission. There are a few things here that elevate the game play to a point that it surpasses, in my opinion, many of the games competitors.
The first is the focus on hand to hand combat. If you are a big fighting game fan, there might not be a lot here for you, but I found the combat system to work really well. It’s kind of a mix between Rocksteady’s “Batman: Arkham” series mixed with 2006’s Bully. The combo’s are all pulled off with one button, using a mix of presses and holds on the square button. When enemies turn red you can preform a counter move with a press of the triangle button. It took me about an hour to get the hang of it, but after that there was a flow to combat that almost always left a feeling of satisfaction when I could get through a flight without getting hit. However, it did suffer from the same issue the “Arkham” series does in that enemies wont gang up on you. So even when there are five or so people wanting to cave you head in, they will wait patiently as you tackle one of there friends to the ground and beat them senseless.
Things take a turn for the worse when gun are introduced. On normal difficulty the game leans a bit too much on the easy side, and with guns it’s almost impossible to lose. The few times I died it was only because of something stupid I did (like standing out of cover). Another issue I had, although this may be in the realm of “nit picking”, is that it was too hard to get head shots. However, shooting while driving isn’t as frustrating as it is in most open world games. Not only does it give you complete control over aiming, but it also slows down time so you can aim, shoot and readjust your view so you can keep driving. That time to readjust is a god send sometimes, as in tight spaces the camera go’s a bit crazy.
With all that said the real question is: what is there to do out side of combat? Open world games live and die by there side activity, so what is there to do here? There are jade statues that can be traded for combat upgrades, random pedestrians to help and gambling and races. Those races turned out to be a surprise highlight of the game for me. Not only do I normally hate racing in games, but the driving in most games isn’t something I tend to care about very much. Here, so long as there is some space for the camera to work properly the driving is tight and responsive. Unlike games like “GTA 5” the cares don’t feel like a few hundred pounds of dead weight. Sure it’s not as “realistic”, but it is more fun, and that’s a trade off I will always happily accept. In fact, the driving is so much fun that one of my favorite side activity’s was driving as fast as I could and seeing how long I could go without crashing. Yeah, you read that right: the driving was so much fun, I tried not to crash.
As Wei Shen is also a cop, there are multi-stage investigations. These rage from Missing persons to homicide investigations to drug busts. However, these suffer from one minor issue: some of the mini games seem out of place. Like, hacking a camera from a drug bust. Yeah, that is a good idea, but why am I guessing Numbers in order to do it? And again, these are fun, but they suffer from being to easy most of the time.
Game Play: 3/5
I’ve already talked about how good the voice acting is, but that’s not the part of the sound department that I like the most. Yes, this may just be my personal opinion, but 100% of games can be improved by adding some good heavy metal. And with the amount of time I spent rocking out to Machine Head and Opeth, I think this is proof of that fact. I may have only listened to one of the radio stations, but there was more music I liked in that one station than some other games have all together. If you’re not a huge metal fan…first of all, why not?…there are a few good songs one some of the other stations, but none that I liked as much as Roadrunners station.
With that out of the way the rest of the sounds rage from passable to great. The cars all sound great, but none of the guns sound as good as they could.
Ocerall score: 2.6/5
Who’s this game for:
This is for people who want to play something a little out of the norm. This is for people who are tired of crappy “satire” from people who don’t really seem to under stand what satire is. This is for people who want something a little more serious that other sandbox games, but not so glum as most every game that came out this generation.