After Activision canceled True Crime: Hong Kong or as it was know earlier Black Lotus, Square Enix made a bold move and resurrected the title as Sleeping Dogs. Changing publishers doesn’t happen very often and in the case of Sleeping Dogs, I’m glad Square Enix rescued it. In this game you play as Detective Wei Shen, a Chinese-American police officer, who goes deep undercover to infiltrate the Sun On Yee triad. Wei Shen starts the game getting arrested as part of his cover and Jackie, a childhood friend, introduces him to a Red Pole, one of the Triad leaders.
Between extorting street venders, Wei Shen struggles with his role as a police officer and getting more involved with the gangsters. You’ll see Wei Shen get frustrated at his stuffy handler and look more distraught as the game progresses. While Sleeping Dogs is an open world game, the story is linear with missions – both police and triad ones – to drive the plot forward. It’s clear that United Front Games was influenced by Hong Kong police movies especially Infernal Affairs and Sleeping Dogs’ story is a proper homage to the genre. The fifteen hour core route is thrilling and United Front Games does a fantastic job humanizing the cast of characters, especially Jackie.
Part of what makes Sleeping Dogs work is how authentic the city feels. OK, North Point *doesn’t* really look like that in real life, but United Front Games did their homework. Take the Sun On Yee, it’s actually a play on Sun Yee On, a real life Triad group. They created four areas of Hong Kong that showcase the clash between East and West. Central has modern skyscrapers, Aberdeen has a slice of houseboat life, and North Point is illuminated with neon lights like Kowloon. Players can visit tourist hotspots like Victoria Peak and walkthrough busy night markets. The only thing missing is bargaining with street vendors. I’ve been to Hong Kong a few times and United Front Games did an excellent job adapting the feel of Hong Kong into a video game right down to the Cantonese voice acting you’ll hear when Wei Shen explores the city on foot. Unfortunately, the sound bytes from pedestrians don’t have subtitles so you might miss out on a few jokes and hearing people shouting "Do you know how to drive a car?"
The only downside about the city is there aren’t many buildings Wei Shen can enter. The world is fairly large world and it’s populated, but there are gaps of unused storefronts between each convenience store. When you go inside a Circle K clone there’s only one item to buy – a drink that temporarily buffs Wei Shen’s melee attacks. The main reason to explore Sleeping Dogs’ map isn’t to experience Hong Kong, it’s to find collectables. Health Shrines, security cameras to hack, lockboxes with money inside, and Jade statues are around every corner.
You can return Jade statues representing the Chinese zodiac to Wei Shen’s martial arts teacher. Sifu will teach you a new attack like a charging tackle or a double kick for each statue you bring back. Side missions like doing favors level up Wei Shen’s Face meter (not his literal face, his influence), which unlocks snazzier clothes and cars. The critical path is split into Triad missions like shaking down rival gangs and police missions where you bust fellow Triad members. Experience is also split between Police points for sticking to the law and Triad points for being brutal. While you can crash into lamp posts, you actually get a penalty for doing so during missions. Likewise, getting headshots and countering attacks boosts your Triad score. Police points can be used to powerup Wei Shen’s skills with firearms or driving. Triad points either boost melee attacks or your melee defense.
Most of the time Wei Shen fights with his hands (or frozen fish) and United Front Games designed a slick combat system. Just like the Batman: Arkham Asylum series, one button is for attack and another lets you counterattacks. Holding down the attack button changes Wei Shen’s combos. Moving the analog stick lets players quickly switch targets when fighting multiple enemies. Environmental kills like tossing thugs into dumpsters or pushing them or skewering them with swordfish adds a little spice to an already well polished system. In no time you’ll be rolling over enemies and retaliating with roundhouse kicks. Driving is just as fluid with responsive controls and a variety of cars to jack. But why take a car from the street when you can leap from a moving car onto another, perhaps better car? The action hijack system lets players do that and it looks pretty cool. Between the racing missions and hand to hand combat Sleeping Dogs makes players feel badass.
Sleeping Dogs also has shooting scenes called "gun fu," which you’ll see more of in the latter half of the game. If Wei Shen pops out of cover he can activate bullet time. Get a headshot and you can extend bullet time for a few more seconds. Sure, "gun fu" looks cool, but it also breaks the game a bit. You can slide back and forth from the same cover point and essentially get unlimited bullet time. Other times Wei Shen will have to drive and shoot. The controls are a little cumbersome (think Monster Hunter claw), but the explosive action scenes with cars flipping over when you target tires are pretty fun.
We received the Xbox 360 version of Sleeping Dogs and noticed a bunch of bugs, some of which forced me to reload from an earlier save point.
– While trying to view the security monitoring system in Wei Shen’s apartment he froze in place. I could move the camera, but couldn’t move him or complete the mission. Reload!
– On the second attempt, I couldn’t get the mission to activate. I took a breather and did another mission, which reactivated the surveillance mission.
– When I jumped out of a truck in another mission the camera froze and then Wei Shen got stuck in a wall. Reload!
– Police cars popped out of nowhere in a couple of missions.
The downside of an open world game is the amount of testing you need to do. The upside is there are a bunch of things for players to do like:
– Going on dates to increase your Face, but think twice if you try to date more than one girl.
– Racing missions with cars and bikes where you speed through alleys
– Sing Karaoke
– Suit up in faux hip hop wear for a triad experience point boost
– Investigate a serial killer
– Hijack armored trucks
– Boost cars for big cash rewards
– Apprehend drug dealers with a security camera mini-game
– Live on a houseboat
– Borrow a boat and drive around Hong Kong island (there are some neat secrets here!)
The combination of a believable and emotional storyline plus exciting hand to hand combat made Sleeping Dogs a blast to play, even if I had to reload my game a couple of times.