Digital Spy

Search Digital Spy
1

Gaming Review

'Sleeping Dogs' review (Xbox 360): Hong Kong is your brutal playground

By
Released on Monday, Aug 13 2012

Sleeping Dogs screenshot

© Square Enix


Release Date: August 14 (US) / August 17 (Europe)
Platforms available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, OnLive
Developer: United Front Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Open-world action

Sleeping Dogs has largely slipped under the radar this year. As excitement mounts for more details on Rockstar's upcoming Grand Theft Auto V, Square Enix's open world crime title arrives with little fanfare. But despite fears that a turkey was therefore on the cards, Sleeping Dogs excels as a polished, engaging and brutal action epic - albeit a rather short one.

Sleeping Dogs appears at first look to be another Grand Theft Auto clone, but it's actually much more than that. Based in the third-person, the game gives you an entire open world city to explore, in this case a beautiful and vibrant recreation of Hong Kong. There is a mission-based main story backed up by various side quests. You can also waste some time buying food, harassing pedestrians, driving like a lunatic, doing karaoke or betting on a cockfight.

The game (developed by ModNation Racers studio United Front Games and originally called True Crime: Hong Kong until Activision got cold feet and ditched the project) has slipped into the open world trap at times of throwing up some cookie cutter missions. It is that rather predictable structure of 'go somewhere, something goes wrong and then it's up to you to cause a bullet-ridden massacre that seemingly has little impact on the world'.

But even though there are derivative elements to Sleeping Dogs, the game is thankfully never defined by them. The distinctive sense of presentation of Hong Kong and the brutal Chinese criminal underworld that blights the city is admirable. The variety of content and the excellent combat system then keep you gripped over the campaign.

Sleeping Dogs screenshot

© Square Enix

Sleeping Dogs screenshot

© Square Enix



With a nod to the excellent 2002 Hong Kong crime-thriller Infernal Affairs (which formed the basis of Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winner The Departed), the story puts players into the shoes of Wei Shen, a Chinese-American police officer ordered to jump head first into the vicious life of Hong Kong's Triad gangs.

Shen is tasked with infiltrating the Sun On Yee, a rather on-the-nose reference to real-life alleged Triad gang the Sun Yee On. But what the game is really about is the stress and strain on an undercover agent caught between two sides of an ongoing war. This means that players essentially engage in two storylines, one featuring police activity and the other criminal.

As Shen falls deeper into the spider's web of the Sun On Yee, and goes even further to win the favour of the "red pole" lieutenants towards getting in front of the 'Dragon', his actions increasingly come into conflict with his police responsibilities.

Unlike Infernal Affairs, the story does not have a criminal and policeman criss-crossing undercover roles, but it deals with the same issues of honour, identity and moral corruption. After all, just how long can one man live in both worlds at the same time before something cracks?

Whilst not of the same standard as the movie (although, it is arguably better than The Departed in my opinion), the narrative rumbles along pretty nicely and the voice acting is decent, backed up by some reasonably interesting characters. The moral compass is a bit skewed at times, as it seems strange that you can mow down citizens like squirrels in a car without obvious recourse; but hey, this is an open world game..


One of the greatest aspects about Sleeping Dogs is its combat, which is easily among the best systems seen so far in an open world game. Working similarly to Rocksteady's Batman games, the system gives you the tools to take on multiple foes at one time and crucially feel like a martial arts master.

You click the trigger down to move into a multi-target lock on, and then it's about using counter strikes and picking your shots carefully. Hammering the action buttons is not wise in Sleeping Dogs as the enemies will just block and then counter themselves. Instead you must let them make their move (denoted by them glowing red) and then capitalise.

There are lots of different moves to unlock in the upgrades menu and by visiting the local martial arts centre. The counter action feels slow to register at times, frustratingly so, but when everything comes together the combat is fluid, brutal and immensely satisfying - particularly with the takedowns. It is also a really nice touch to see enemies running away scared after you have given their colleagues a good pasting.

Alongside the hand-to-hand combat, Sleeping Dogs also features decent gun combat across a range of weapons, although it is a touch too forgiving. The driving is solid and the different vehicles all handle differently. While driving, Shen can also fire out of the window or even leap onto another vehicle to carjack on the go. Just like GTA, the radio can be switched between stations, ranging from hip-hop to Warp Records' electronica.

'Sleeping Dogs' screenshot

© Square Enix

Sleeping Dogs screenshot

© Square Enix



All activities in the game earn the player XP, although this is indexed to actions related to three areas; Triad XP, Police XP and Face XP. Pleasing the Triads builds your standing with the crime gang and improves related skills and equipment, with the same true for the cops. Face XP measures your overall standing in the city and this can impact how non-playing characters react to you; also the case for the clothes you buy and wear.

Alongside the many combat sequences and set pieces, the campaign is peppered with little mini-games and challenges, such as surveillance and hacking, that keep things interesting. It should be noted, though, that this game certainly deserves its 18 rating; the opening scene involves someone being attacked with a meat cleaver and the tone never really lets up from there. This is Hong Kong at its best and certainly very worse.

A slight, nagging issue with Sleeping Dogs is its length. You will probably power through the campaign in around 14 hours, which for an open world title is a bit behind the pack. There is also no multiplayer available, which is a touch disappointing considering GTA IV showed how this could work in the sandbox environment.

But Sleeping Dogs has to rank as one the pleasant surprises of this year. While the campaign is relatively short, there is loads to do and the missions, story and presentation come together to make a pretty solid package. And you always have the option to jump in a car, flick on the radio and cruise around Hong Kong looking for trouble, before it finds you.

You May Like

Comments

Loading...