When Activision sold off its in-progress True Crime game, it seemed there was little retail hope for the promising new addition to the long-standing series. Enter Square Enix: who decided to buy what was left of the title, give it a name change, and take it to the finish line. Few were entirely confident in the game’s success, but a strong showing at PAX East elicited hope that it would, in fact, turn out to be a complete and competent title. This feeling was reinforced at E3, and now, having put over 15 hours into this open-world adventure, I can assure you that Square Enix made the right move.
Sleeping Dogs throws its players into the bustling city of Hong Kong: a hotbed of organized crime, pushy street vendors, and scandalous night life. You take on the role of Wei Shen, an undercover cop recently returned from the States. Shen’s ultimate goal is to do some damage to take down the local Triad syndicate. Luckily for him, Shen happens to have a childhood friend who’s a rather incompetent henchman for one of the local bosses. His name is Jackie Ma, and he’s your ticket in.
Getting in, it turns out, is the easy part. As a martial artist, Wei Shen must occasionally toss his morals and training aside and get his hands dirty, using violence over rationale to fit in with the Triads. It gets even harder as you get to know the characters around you. Square Enix does a superb job of making the Triads into complex people, not just gangster stereotypes. As an undercover cop, the number one rule is not to get attached, an internal battle you have to face through the entirety of Sleeping Dogs. Decisions aren’t easy, which adds moral complexity to the various encounters throughout the game. The gangs emphasize trust and family, and you become part of that whether you like it or not.
Hong Kong isn’t like the States, which allows Sleeping Dogs’ moment-to-moment action to feel very different from most other crime titles. Weapons are hard to come by in Hong Kong, so you’ll instead be getting even by cutting off laundering schemes, damaging vehicles, robbing markets, and handing out some abuse. It’s a refreshing change in a genre that has grown stale over time from consistent gunfights.
Sleeping Dogs forces players to walk a tightrope of loyalty between the police and the gangs. Managing this balancing act is not an easy task. Shen must earn the trust of his fellow Triads, while convincing the cops that he’s still playing for their team.
The ranking system also balances out the two different sides. With each mission you earn experience towards your Cop or Triad rank depending on how you complete the objectives. The more you brutalize your enemies in unique and creative ways, the more your Triad rank increases. Your Cop rank, on the other hand, starts out with a maximum amount of experience, which decreases based on civilian kills and public property damage.
Completely separate from both of those is your Face rank. By completing side missions for anonymous civilians, you earn experience that grants you new abilities, bonuses, and outfits for your character.
The soundtrack is reminiscient of Grand Theft Auto IV due to its huge variety of stations, but it takes itself seriously and that’s where it shines. The car physics were built by members of the ModNation Racers team, but they aren’t quite as heavy in Sleeping Dogs. Though eventually this proves to be a good thing, tossing the lightweight vehicles don’t feel quite natural at first. The driving camera can also be a bit troublesome, especially when it comes to consistency. Even this, though, is easy to adjust to after a little playtime.
With a mix of Cantonese and English, the voice acting feels appropriately Chinese, without many of the disappointing downsides that typically come with a bilingual game. Sure, it’s still a little weird for someone to use one Cantonese word in an otherwise English sentence, but this title somehow gets away with it.
The graphics in Sleeping Dogs aren’t the most beautiful you’ll see on the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, but it is a top notch contender when played on the PC. The PC version runs at 1080p with 60 frames per second and doesn’t look back. After playing through the majority of the game on a console, watching a developer diary with the PC graphics left me stunned. The immersion takes a serious step up on the PC due to the refined graphics, and that’s definitely something to consider when making your purchase.
There is no true multiplayer in this open-world title, but there is an online social hub that allows you to earn medals for various actions and to post stats and times for missions. It’s a great feature if you have friends who play the game, but if you’re the only one in your friends list who owns it, it’s a largely forgettable feature. It does, however, add a pinch of replay value to the title.
To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into when I first popped in Sleeping Dogs, but I was pleasantly surprised with the final product. With fluid combat, immersive environments, and some of the best chase scenes (on foot and behind the wheel) that I’ve ever seen, it’s difficult for Sleeping Dogs not to win you over. It’s a rough ride at first, as the game quickly throws you into its vast open world, but you’ll soon grow comfortable with every winding path. Most importantly, you’ll have an insane amount of fun along the way.
Sleeping Dogs was developed by United Front Games, and published by SquareEnix. An Xbox 360 copy was provided for the purposes of review.