At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Richard Pilot Xbox 360 Square Enix United Front Games 1
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
None. PS3, PC Click here to buy Sleeping Dogs.

Sleeping Dogs review

"You have a license to kill, not to break the traffic laws." It's one of my favourite lines from the 1997 film, "Tomorrow Never Dies" and while its an odd quote to start this review with, it's oddly fitting. Amongst all the gang violence, gunplay and takedowns Sleeping Dogs also manages to deliver a message of road safety. Well maybe I'm exaggerating here but in a game where you have to juggle making an impression with the local thugs and keeping the peace, finding that balance between the two in order to satisfy both sides can be tricky and is at the heart of the game's story. How far will you go to take down the gangs? Are others also as dedicated as you?

Despite what my opening paragraph might lead you to believe, Sleeping Dogs start off a little more seriously as it opens at night time in the docks of Hong Kong, where a deal is about to go down. It wouldn't be an opening scene if something didn't go wrong and just one “guard in the wrong place” later, and things go south quickly. The game transitions from cut-scenes to foot chases along the narrow and heavily populated wharf. Foot chases are a common and exciting mechanic that players will see many times over the course of the game; its one of Sleeping Dogs' defining pieces of gameplay. You get to weave, dodge, or if you're feeling mean, bash your way through the crowded streets or wherever you happen to find yourself. Along the way, many obstacles will block your path, like tables, counters, walls or even gaps between buildings How does an gap block?. Hitting the A button when you're close to these will fling you over or up the relevant object. This allows for some exciting sequences as you scale up walls, jump over restaurant counters or vault across buildings, all in the name of catching up with your target. Getting back to the opening sequence, as you race across wooden gangplanks, you almost catch up with your target, only to find him being arrested by the cops. Spotting an opening, you take it, escaping down through a window on the first floor, but just when you think you're high and dry, you're caught in the police's net. This is not a good start, but at least you happen to meet an old friend with a few low-level acquaintances in the lock up before being dragged away for interrogation. It's here we learn that this was all part of the plan. You play as Wei Shen an undercover cop who has just got back from an assignment in the US and has been recruited by the police force (or more specifically recruited by a tough superintendent) and is looking to take the triads down.

Guns!

Guns!

The game's storyline follows on from these moments with you making a connection with the gang, namely your friend Jackie, and working your way up the criminal ladder, helping the police take down suspects as you go. From the get-go, after being introduced to the first boss, Winston, you're constantly trying to prove yourself with the bosses, keen to show you're not the cop some of them suspect you to be. This means getting your hands a little dirty and one of the cornerstones of the game's story is how far someone would go to take down these vicious criminals. Its a tough subject matter and Sleeping Dogs deals with it well. Wei himself has demons of his own, his sister having succumbed to drugs and gang violence, and this provides the character with plenty enough reason to want to take the gang down by any means necessary. He'll also meet a few characters who'll go to extreme lengths to catch their mark, these moments holding up a mirror to Wei's own character flaws. Needlessly to say, these moments give him pause for thought and a few restless nights. The game follows Wei as he's weaves his way up the crime ladder, facing events that see him in positions of power, making decisions that you wouldn't have thought at the start of the game. He gets to meet the various higher-ups of the crime family, but what he does when he meets them, we'll leave you to find out.

Suffice to say that Sleeping Dogs has an interesting tale to tell, and it does so very well. Being set in Hong Kong means that the game has a lot of eastern influences, both in the story and its gameplay (We'll get to the latter in a moment). The story has plenty references to trust and honour, the strongest of which comes from an old dojo instructor. Characters primarily talk in English, although like the recent Assassin's Creed games, they'll occasionally switch back to their native tongue. This is the story's one weak point with the non-English lines sounding as if they were spoken by a completely different voice actor. Perhaps you could forgive my lack of Cantonese if this turns out not to be the case, but often the tone in which these lines are spoken, appears to be at odds with the accompanying English. Maybe I'm nitpicking here, because it's the only blemish in the story and the characters that inhabit the world of Sleeping Dogs. Despite the Chinese clichés that the game finds itself in, it doesn't feel over used or for lack of a better word, too cheesy. Instead, Sleeping Dogs maintains the balance, providing a Chinese twist on what has typically been a genre plagued by cities based on the US and it never feels like its over playing its hand, instead being a fresh take on a somewhat stagnant genre.

Cars!

Cars!

Being an open world game, the Grand Theft Auto comparisons are hard to ignore, but Sleeping Dogs is able to set itself apart, primarily due to its Asian influences. In addition to the UI, these influences crop up in a few places, such as the shrines that you visit in order to unlock health upgrades but core to Sleeping Dogs, is the game's combat system, which has clearly taken inspiration from Kung-Fu movies. Combat is therefore heavily melee based, it's telling that you don't even get a pistol until about a third of the way through the story and even then, there's no dealers who are openly offering to sell you Uzis and 44 Magnums. You'll therefore do most of your fighting with your fists (and your feet). Second to the foot chases we mentioned at the very beginning, this is another Sleeping Dogs staple and its own that it does exceptionally well, fighting is enjoyable and easy to pull off. There are a selection of light and heavy attack combos all designed to punch, kick and incapacitate the thugs that you come across. This system is also well designed and manages to pull off the tricky balance of difficulty verses accessibility. You really do feel a sense of accomplishment when you manage to successfully take down a gang of ten people. Most fights in Sleeping Dogs are layered, meaning you often take on a few members at a time before reinforcement comes up or you head to the next room, and while this room sweep approach may feel a little too structured, it serves the action well, often allowing you to stumble upon new environmental kills (there are a few nasty ones ranging from sticking your opponent's head into a spinning fan, to throwing him into an open furnace). These are intentionally gruesome, causing others in the fight to winch or step away, adding to your face meter (used to fuel fast health regain or more powerful attacks mid fight). Starting off with a robust collection of moves, more are unlocked over the course of the game, either by the levelling system or by helping out your childhood dojo master. These moves ensure that combat never feels stale, with fresher moves in your arsenal often helping out in a critical moment (such as the disarm moves that you learn in the first few dojo unlocks). When you do eventually get a gun to play with, the tables are turned once more. Whilst the typical “snap to cover” and “blind fire” are present, Sleeping Dogs is much more interesting when you decide to take a leap of faith so to speak and vault over cover, this automatically kicks slow motion into gear slowing things down as you slide off or jump over whatever you were cowering behind, and lets you pick off enemies with ease. This even lasts momentarily as you land on the other side. Vaulting over an obstacle with an enemy on the other side also means you can knock them to the ground and take their weapon. All these moments can all be chained together allowing you to vault from counter to counter taking everyone down in slow motion goodness and while this is not particularly novel, it makes an interesting addition to what would otherwise be a generic cover based shooting segment. These moments also feature in-car chases, enabling you to take down and chase cars as you drive down city streets. Amusingly, taking down the tyres of a pursuit vehicle will send it flipping into the air, which results in several chases where you leave a trail of destruction in the form of flipped cars in your wake.

So in the context of a mission, how do these elements hold up? Sleeping Dogs has a typical GTA air about it so there's a fair amount of content that won't surprise. There's shooting, gunplay, car chases as well as tailing something without raising their alarm, camera-phone surveillance and street racing. While most of these missions are what you'd expect from this game, a few missions do stand out. Most of these involve Sleeping Dogs' more unique aspects such as the street chases or Kung-Fu action, but there's also a few that see you utilise police resources. One mission has you tracking down an informant by using a GPS tracker then narrowing the suspect pool down using cellphone coverage. There's also the opportunity to help the police with their cases, by gaining information that only someone undercover could gain. Again, these introduce a few novel concepts such as hacking into devices or using surveillance cameras to track suspects.

Vending Machines!

Vending Machines!

Each mission will usually end up unlocking something for you, whether that's a new contact on your phone, the locations of unlockables in the area or, more importantly, points on the level system. Each mission sees you gaining points for both the cops and the criminals. Your criminal meter involves taking down groups of thugs with combos, counters and take downs. The more varied the amount of moves you use, the higher your score. The police meter is slightly different, you start out with a full meter (of three shields) and every time you cause damage or endanger the public (by running them over for example), you lose points. Annoyingly, there doesn't seem to be a way of earning points back in this system so as soon as you clip another vehicle, you’ve lost one shield already. Its an interesting concept though, trying to balance the public safety (and your driving skills) against trying to take down the getaway car. It would be nice to see this having a bigger impact as your rating ultimately only determines the speed at which you upgrade, characters (police or criminal) never mention how reckless or safe you've been and is a little bit of a missed opportunity. It addition to these two meters, there's also the aforementioned dojo master who lets you unlock new moves and a face meter of respect that you earn through helping out various people in the city. These serve as interesting distractions from your main mission. Other features include a social aspect that has you completing various stat related achievements through the city, such as driving the longest cleanly (obeying the traffic laws) or making the longest jump on a bike and a multitude of other things. The idea is to constantly revisit these to try and beat your previous score but there was never an incentive for me to do so. I played this title pre-release so perhaps getting friends involved in this might have changed my enthusiasm levels but seems unlikely. Wei Shen has a way with the ladies and you will meet a handful of them throughout your journey. What I originally thought was a copycat of GTA IV's girlfriend mechanic actually turned out to be an interesting way to introduce you to some of the game's less central mechanics such as the dojo, camera hacking and even a few games of Karaoke.

Overall then, Sleeping Dogs is an exciting adventure from start to finish that has a gritty story to tell, its tale of keeping both sides happy is analogous to its gameplay. Should it tip the scales and go for something outside the norm for a game of this type or should it play it safe and stick to the tried and tested formulae. While the tropes and mission structure that it uses may not be the most original, it more than makes up for it in its hard hitting story and exciting take on melee combat, street chase and levelling systems. I haven't even talked about the game's graphics yet, which during the daytime can look anywhere between average and interesting but goes into overdrive once the sun sets and neon lights are lit up everywhere, the game world looks incredibly. I would definitely recommend Sleeping Dogs to anyone looking for a fresh change of pace in this genre (particularly if you're looking to satisfy that GTA itch) or if you simply want a compelling cop story set in an interesting backdrop.

Ratings

Overall Sleeping Dogs is an exciting open world adventure that charts Wei Shen's exploits as he attempts to infiltrate a powerful criminal organisation. It asks a few poignant questions and whilst it might cop out on a few of those answers it does provide an interesting ride all the same, with a few improvements on some tried and tested gameplay. 9/10

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