When Activision decided to can the latest game in their moderately successful True Crime series, I was more than a little annoyed. I had played the previous games and found them to an enjoyable and mature takes on the open world crime game. So the loss of a Hong Kong based episode on current generation hardware was met with bitter disappointment from the fans of the originals. Luckily, Square Enix rode in and snapped the game and the development up and Sleeping Dogs was born.
Imagine you are in a John Woo movie… Ok now imagine you are in a good John Woo movie and not any of the ones featuring John Travolta. I am talking about Hard Boiled, A Better Tomorrow or The Killer. These classic slices of Hong Kong action always had theme of friendship and loyalty. From the triad member with the cop brother, who he tries to protect, to the deep undercover cop caught between being a triad and a policemen. Sleeping Dogs takes this narrative and throws you into the shoes of Wei Shen, An undercover cop working for a special task force of the Hong Kong PD. Wei has a history with the local triad gang from his childhood growing up with them. So as he gains favour within the Triad gang, his true loyalties are tested.
So the scene is set and the game launches you head first into the action. The first hour of the game will see you chase down a rival gangs dealer, protect local businesses from thugs and engage in a few car chases to settle you into the life of a Triad heavy. Hong Kong is beautifully realised and the city looks amazing at all times of day. From the neon streets and alleyways to the glistening skyscrapers, Hong Kong is beautiful to drive around.
What Sleeping Dogs does well is borrow rather than innovate. It has borrowed some of the best elements of some the best games of this generation and merges them into one big open world action game. The free running of Assassins Creed, the combat system of Batman: Arkham Asylum, Gears of War’s gunplay, Max Payne’s bullet time, Just Cause’s stunts and Burnout Paradise’s arcade handling. Mix it all together and it all works beautifully. Hand to Hand to combat is the star of the game. The simple one button attack, one button counter system works well mixed in with some vicious insta-kill environmental attacks, make for a very brutal and realistic looking combat experience. Wei can learn new attacks by collecting Jade Statues for the local Kung Fu academy and he can enhance his fighting abilities by earning Triad points during missions. These points are awarded for how much chaos and violence Wei can cause during any mission. Equally Wei can acquire new gun skills and abilities by amassing Cop points, won by careful driving not killing as many people in your missions.
In order to stop players earning lots of money and buying the best cars in the game, Sleeping Dogs introduces a Face system. Certain vehicles and clothing require you to be at certain face level before you can purchase them. Face (or respect, I suppose) can be earned by completing favours for people around the city. From ditching cars into the sea for the insurance money, to singing karaoke badly, so a guy can impress his date. Street Racing and competing in local Fight Clubs can also earn Face. Levelling up your face offers perks and bonuses like having your own personal car valet, who will deliver your favourite ride to any location.
By the time the game introduces guns, you are hijacking cars at high speed from jumping from one to another. Shooting wave upon wave of gang cars and motorbikes in glorious slow motion explosive goodness. The shooting mechanic is good, but it seems to be a stop gap before the next big martial arts punch up. Most of the gunplay takes place in well-structured set pieces, with very little open world shooting to be done.
The driving and handling is wonderful. With a selection of over 60 cars and motorbikes, from low end scooters to high end executive motors to be driven. Each vehicle feels different and performs in a different way. There is a feeling about hand braking off the street into an alleyway in a pimped up sports car and then bombing down the narrow passages with the Police given chase that brings a huge smile to my face.
Sleeping Dogs borrows from Hong Kong Cinema and popular games and the result is one of the best open world experiences of 2012. I wouldn’t be surprised if this hits quite a few game of the year lists come the end of the year. With extra content and single player DLC coming this month. Now is definitely not the time to let Sleeping Dogs lie.
Verdict: 9 out of 10