- Strong, enjoyable action
- Plenty to do
- Looks fantastic in places
- Online stat comparison is strangely addictive
- Story can be clichéd and predictable
- Some visuals aren’t so good when looked at close up
Sleeping Dogs is more enjoyable to play than Grand Theft Auto IV. Why would I open this review on such a brash statement? Well, GTA IV is the game most people will bring up when looking at Sleeping Dogs and to ignore the similarities would be insane. What Sleeping Dogs ultimately turned out to be is a Grand Theft Auto title that gets more right than the most recent GTA title actually did. It features everything you’d expect from a sandbox action title but also tries a fair bit of its own.
You play as Hong Kong detective Wei Shen, fresh back from a stint in the United States, placed undercover in the Sun On Yee Triad gang. Since Wei last popped by to say hello to his old friends, they’ve become local Triad leaders and now Wei uses them as leverage in taking down the Sun On Yee from the inside. It’s a messy job and someone has to do it.
The plot that Sleeping Dogs presents is perhaps its weakest element. It’s still strong enough to stand on its own but it does feel a little clichéd at times and some parts are far more predictable than they should be. It also starts to border on daft when you remember that Wei is supposed to be an undercover cop yet can happily bounce around the sizeable city murdering whoever takes his fancy without so much more than a tap on the wrist and a small fine. Sure, we’re kind of made to overlook these things in the name of video games but it is a little silly.
Sleeping Dogs is a third-person action title but rather than overload you with weaponry and ammunition, you’ll often find yourself using your bare hands rather than a gun and this is one of the areas in which the game really shines. When you come across enemies, you’ll often have to attack using a number of martial arts moves, all modelled on real techniques that the guys at United Front Games have researched. Whilst the combat isn’t exactly complex, it never feels simple or ineffective and when you connect with stronger moves and finishing blows, it does have a certain satisfaction to it.
Saying the above, you do gain access to new moves and techniques that Wei can perform as you play. For completing missions, doing well in combat, performing favours and collecting hidden statues, you can boost a number of experience point bars. Level up and you’ll be able to pick an ability that Wei will then be able to use. Some abilities are purely combat related including moves such as a grim leg break that momentarily shocks nearby enemies when used. Others give you access to things outside of combat that will help you progress through the game. One of the first and most useful tools you’ll find yourself unlocking is the ability to break into any parked car without setting off the alarm. If you’re keen on avoiding the police, it can be a lifesaver.
Staying in collectible territory for the time being, if you’re one for gathering all manner of trinkets and items, Sleeping Dogs will be right up your street. Across the game’s four sprawling Hong Kong islands, you’ll find hundreds of things to pick up which thankfully serve you more than just a number increase on an obsolete part of the menus. Praying at Health Shrines will boost Wei’s health and opening lockboxes with reward you with money, clothing and occasionally weapons. Clothing stores also offer you the chance to dress Wei up in new threads, sets of which will boost specific stats like EXP gain.
Outside of the main game, there are multiple sidequests and objectives to complete including police cases, favours for random people and street racing. If you want to go even further, you can also do things like sing karaoke and bet on cockfights. It doesn’t offer quite as much as early GTA games maybe, but there’s enough to keep you going.
Visually, Sleeping Dogs can be stunning to look at but at the same time, it has a few flaws. Whilst envrionments look fantastic and looming cityscapes look as impressive as they should, smaller things like facial animation can be a letdown. The same can be said for the audio. Whilst most of the main cast do their job well and there’s a nice, varied soundtrack across the game’s radio station, supporting cast members sound like they went to the Just Cause school of voice acting. It’s entertaining, but very, very bad.
It’s also worth mentioning that Sleeping Dogs lacks any real online component beyond stat comparison. No multiplayer of any sort but you’ll be able to see who’s done the longest wheelie or got the highest score in a mission. It’s better than nothing.
If there’s one definitive thing that can be taken away from Sleeping Dogs, it’s that Activision were insane to give up on the game when it was still known as True Crime Hong Kong. It lacks some of the finesse games like Grand Theft Auto possess but when you compare the might of Rockstar to the might of United Front Games, the latter has done a fantastic job. Hopefully this won’t be the last we see of detective Wei Shen and with this success under their belt, it will be interesting to see what the development team come up with next. Don’t pass up on Sleeping Dogs, it’s the best new IP (sorta) in a long time.