No matter how good sandbox games turn out, there’s always at least one tiny niggle that we pick at. Grand Theft Auto IV felt a bit too serious, Just Cause 2 had a frankly pants narrative arc, but now, we might have a game that provides the perfect mixture for fans of sandbox gaming.
Sleeping Dogs follows Wei Shen, undercover cop in a bustling section of Hong Kong. To most people, Wei is a common thug, assaulting and robbing in the name of his gang. In reality, he’s employed by the Hong Kong police as an undercover investigator placed inside a gang to take the enemy down from the inside. It doesn’t sound like the most complex plot ever and you’d be right, but it works.
Sleeping Dogs plays a lot like a Grand Theft Auto game when between storyline missions where you’re placed into a massive three island city and left to your own devices. Whether that be merely heading for the next mission marker or taking in the city’s various sights, there’s actually a surprising amount to do. Whether the game is filled with side-quests and plenty of things to do remains to be seen, but the preview build did let us get a glimpse at some activities.
At times, Wei is able to pull up his phone and start extra missions that include things like finding cars or completing tasks for random folk you’ll find across the city. Car missions are simple enough – you find a car and deliver it. The less you smash it up on the way back, the more money you’ll be paid. Missions for random people vary dependent on the person but you get a good variety of objectives from simple escort missions to tougher cop chases.
Similarly to Grand Theft Auto, cop chases see you fleeing from police officers either on foot or by vehicle as you battle to get beyond your pursuer’s radar as shown on the mini-map in the corner of the screen. Unlike GTA’s fuzz however, the cops in Sleeping Dogs can be surprisingly intelligent and shaking them can prove to be a challenge. Annoyingly, they do suffer from being a little too good at their jobs sometimes as if you try to simply outrun them on a straight, it’s just not going to happen.
You’ll be happy to know that Sleeping Dogs offers a ridiculous amount to do in the way of collectables and bonus objectives. If collecting is your thing, there are near 400 different things to hunt down including clothing, health shrines, spy cameras, lockboxes, jade statues and apartment upgrades. Honestly, I’m not sure what good the apartment upgrades serve beyond aesthetic but if you’re a completionist, you’ll be going for a long time. We’ve all wanted an airconditioning unit for our digital Hong Kong flat though, right? I could do with one of them for my real flat currently…
Visually, Sleeping Dogs is surprisingly impressive looking if you keep your distance from things like store props or other small details. The characters including Wei Shen are intricately detailed and the animations in both cutscenes and the action are smooth and fluid. The audio is also impressive featuring strong voice acting from a number of well-known stars and the soundtrack is surprisingly varied. Sure, there are a lot of Chinese songs on the game’s radio station seeing as you’re in Hong Kong, but whilst browsing I did stumble upon Dream Theater’s On The Backs of Angels on a rock-centric station.
If I’m going to be a little picky with the game’s audio however, the voice acting does swap between Chinese and English at rates that seem a little unnatural. The characters also swear a lot in situations that don’t often call for it and it can border on overkill. Like I said though, it’s just being picky and shouldn’t ruin the enjoyment of an otherwise great looking game.
Sleeping Dogs is shaping up very nicely and at the time of writing, we’re only a few short weeks away from the final release so you’ve not long to wait if you’re interested. It’s a good amalgamation of games like Grand Theft Auto and Just Cause and has the perfect amount of authenticity in it without coming across pretentious in any way. Definitely one to watch.