Version reviewed: PC
So this Games Dump blog of mine is moving kinda slowly, but that was always the intention. It is planned as a side blog to The Film Dump so I could make and post gaming related content somewhere. On The Film Dump I have a rule that I review every film I see. That rule is pretty much the same here. Basically I plan to write a review for every game I play through to completion, be they new, old or very very short. Provided I’ve finished the main game and experienced enough of the surrounding content to feel as though I can write a complete review I will be doing one. This is really the way reviews should be done. I felt compelled to do this after I read one blogger’s review here on WordPress where he passed judgement on a game and towards the end mentioned that he and only played 45 minutes of it. Unless you’re playing Minesweeper I really doubt you could have played the game enough to judge it. Also you should be aware that, just like on The Film Dump, I don’t provide scores. Read the review if you want to know what I think. Anyway, my first review is for Square-Enix’s Sleeping Dogs. Click the jump for the review!
Sleeping Dogs has a bit of an interesting history behind it. See the game was originally conceived as the third in the True Crime game series. A series that was a decent if not great Grand Theft Auto style free roaming crime-em-up. At some point the person at Activision that decided to ditch Brutal Legend came to the conclusion that True Crime : Hong Kong – as it was known then – wasn’t going to be the money spinner they had hoped it would be and because, I assume, the devs refused to put the words “Call Of Duty” in the title their game was dumped. Some time later Square-Enix popped their heads into United Fronts office and was a pretty damn cool looking Hong Kong cinema style action game with an emphasis on martial arts and threw a big wad of cash at them to get this game finished. And thus Sleeping Dogs was born.
Sleeping Dogs story is pretty much the film Infernal Affairs crossed with a John Woo movie. It revolves around an undercover cop of questionable mental stability named Wei Shen (Voiced by Will Yun Lee who’s playing the Silver Samurai in The Wolverine next year) who finds his loyalties to the police tested as his ties as a youth to the Sun On Yee triads pull him further into the crime world. What makes this story interesting is that it’s actually, for the most part, scripted and acted out well by the cast with includes Tom Wilkinson as Wei’s superior Officer Pendrue along with Lucy Liu, Emma Stone and even Mortal Kombat the movie’s Robin Shou. As the game’s story moves along Wei finds himself taking issue with the orders given to him by Pendrue and questions where he truly belongs in a Hong Kong he’s been away from for many years. The plot really kicks into high gear around halfway through after a wedding scene takes a very harsh turn for the worse. It’s not as well crafted as the story in say Catherine or even GTA4 but it’s also not as bloated as the latter and manages to not outstay it’s welcome. It will probably take the normal gamer around 15-20 hours to work through the story but there’s plenty to do after that.
Gameplay involves pretty much what you’d expect from this style of game. You get missions, perform the task at hand and then spend a disproportionate amount of time dicking about in the city to see just how much carnage you can cause. Sleeping Dogs never strays too far from reality when it comes to the escapades you can partake in. It’s not got planes or tanks like GTA and certainly doesn’t have a level where you’re turned into a toilet. It also has a lot less emphasis on gunplay which, honestly, is very refreshing. See in Hong Kong guns aren’t that easy to come by as they are quite illegal and so there aren’t loads just lying around. When you get a gun it is, in essence, a power-up. Often you’ll receive a gun either from a specific mission or from one of the many lockboxes hidden around the city. The shooting is pretty standard involving the current videogame obsession of chest high walls and hiding from enemies like a wuss. You do get to do cool slow-mo slides over tables whilst shooting multiple enemies though which is always cool. Mostly the combat is focused on the hand to hand variety. Much like Arkham City the game concentrates on reducing all fisticuffs to one main attack button and one counter button. You have grab moves which can allow for some of the games most brutal attacks but largely this is very similar to Arkham City’s. Except minus the subtle rhythm action game nuances. The combat is solid and doesn’t really get old thanks to a steady stream of new moves and the previously mentioned grab executions done by dragging enemies at high speed into various bits of the scenery.
At first the driving mechanics can feel a little stiff thanks to the lack being able to make small adjustments to your vehicles movements but to be fair it never really hinders a thing as the game’s roads are clearly designed to be taken at full pelt. One cool feature you unlock a little into the game involves the ability to call a valet to drop you off a vehicle from your garage. This eliminates those irritating moments where you need a car but the roads are suddenly empty. Taking a leaf out of Just Cause 2’s book you can jump from one vehicle to another to perform an action hijack. If you’ve played Just Cause 2 you even get a Rico Rodriguez costume which allows you to perform the hijacks from further away. This is done by holding down the A button on an Xbox pad to open the door and when close enough to another car you tap the button to leap. Now I didn’t use the skill too often but opening the car door can lead to some fun ways to knock over pedestrians.
Littered throughout the games fictionalised version of Hong Kong is a multitude of collectable items. These range from the previously mentioned lock boxes that can contain money, clothes or guns, to 11 jade statues that allow you to learn a new move each. To add to that there’s hundreds of clothing options available to buy from stores and a few more secluded vendors that will sell you upgrades for your apartment. One piece of DLC released for £1.99 on Steam will even add red envelopes around the city each containing 50,000HK dollars but it’s usefulness is limited as the game pretty much throws money at you every second. Hell if you drive through a parking meter you receive a random amount of small change much like the pickpocketing mechanic in Saints Row the third but at a much higher speed. Once you’ve finished the game you’ll be able to head out into the city on a free roaming quest to reach that 100% complete rating. It’s a task that may take some time as you’ll still have mini missions to complete along the way along with all the collectables.
There is a levelling system of sorts in the game, well three actually, that will allow you to gain new skills. The first two work based on how you completed missions. One is a rating with the police and one is a rating with the Triads. Basically don’t kill innocents and damage public property to net more police xp and be brutal to other criminals to boost your Triad rating. As these level you gain new skills and power-ups which you can choose off from a basic tree. The third levelling talent is your face rating which basically entails how good your are to Wei’s friends and the community. Help people out of sticky situations and you’ll gain face which will unlock bonuses on a linear skill tree and allow you to get away with wearing the games more dapper threads such as a Bruce Lee style yellow jumpsuit.
The game looks stunning on PC, especially with the free high res texture pack released at launch. You’ll need a semi-beast of a machine to run it at full specs but it’s worth the effort. It really is a leap over the console versions, especially the slightly graphically weak PS3 port. The lighting and rain effects especially make a night-time scene in Hong Kong look stunningly beautiful. There is a bug I found with you changing certain graphical settings in game leading to the road vanishing in a small area but drive away and it’s soon returned. As with all games like this one of the key components for immersion is the radio stations. There’s quite a variety here but may I suggest ignoring Kerrang radio because it’s depressing to hear what they’ve become. First time I switched to the Kerrang channel I saw Miles Kane come up and instantly died a little inside. Sagittarius is where it’s at with it’s mix of classic US and Brit rock. There’s also a few cool Chinese themed stations featuring some amazing hip-hop and a Ninja Tune radio station which is quite a joy at times.
Overall Sleeping Dogs makes you wonder if Activision have any idea what they’re making outside of Call Of Duty these days. The game is excellent fun and whilst it has a few generic elements to it the story is well crafted and the game is really well polished. That could be down to it’s extended development time which should hopefully tell publishers that if a game is worth it give it extra time. Sleeping Dogs has been selling quite well so far topping the UK charts for 2 weeks in a row at the time of writing this and is in the top ten on Steam. Square has struggled to stay relevant in recent years, largely thanks to the lacklustre productions coming from their Japanese departments, but Sleeping Dogs looks like it’ll be a great success and I could honestly go for more after this. The game certainly leaves the story in a spot where you could easily take Wei for another run around Hong Kong.