The original True Crime released when sandbox games were the popular thing to play. Grand Theft Auto III had just swept the nation, and True Crime: Streets of LA was the next big thing. It had a GPS-accurate representation of Los Angeles and random crimes to confront. The latter was the biggest reason I liked that game, and one of the reasons I was looking forward to United Front Games’ Sleeping Dogs (originally True Crime: Hong Kong, but Square-Enix didn’t buy the rights to the name, just the game). While I didn’t get those random police calls during my playtime, I did get a game that greatly surpasses its predecessors on every other level.
In Sleeping Dogs, you play undercover cop Wei Shen, whose objective is to infiltrate the Sun On Yee crime syndicate and help bring them down. It sounds like your typical movie plot, but being an interactive (and quite brutal) game puts more intensity into the overall story-arch. From beginning to end, I was enthralled with the story presented by Sleeping Dogs. I still found myself getting distracted from time to time by the various hidden objects and other random things to do in Hong Kong, but it wasn’t hard to focus on (and enjoy) the actual story missions Sleeping Dogs delivered.
What sets Sleeping Dogs apart from your general “cop in Hong Kong fighting the Triad” plot is the heavy emphasis on Wei’s emotions and his past conflicts with the feared crime organization. The constant tug-of-war between his police superiors and the Sun On Yee is the major focus of the game, as he’s told to do things he doesn’t want to do. At times, he appears to have grown attached to the underworld lifestyle he is forced to bring down, but all things considered, his motives are more than just personal.
One aspect of the presentation was my main complaint: the voice acting. Despite being of Asian descent, the characters sound far too American. I believe Wei is Asian-born, American-raised, but most of the rest of the characters just don’t sell their ethnicity. It falls on that fine line of breaking immersion, yet it doesn’t ruin the game.
The city of Hong Kong, however, is teeming with authenticity. Unlike the past True Crime games, Sleeping Dogs opted not to recreate the city of choice realistically. Instead, Hong Kong was tailored for the game. You’ll speed down cramped alleyways, run across low rooftops, and walk through crowded streets as you tackle what the game has to offer.
Much like your standard sandbox game, you have a myriad of things to do outside of dealing with the Sun On Yee. It should come as no surprise that there are packages hidden around (known as lock boxes) Hong Kong, random clusters of thugs to fight, health shrines to find, races to…uh… race and seemingly-random job offers from citizens. There’s more, mind you, but that list alone should tell you the amount of content involved.
Unlike sandbox games from an era past, Sleeping Dogs makes finding these hidden objects easier on you as you progress through the game. This could be seen as a problem to some who have endless time and enjoy scouring every last inch of the city. Thankfully, you can elect not to do the missions that make these objects appear on your mini-map. I certainly don’t have a hundred hours to sink into playing a game to find every last possible item and 100% the game, so I did some of these missions. Of course, this played against me as anytime I was on a story mission and got near a health shrine, I pulled over to pray.
A big element of Sleeping Dogs is something called “free running”. These are glorified chase sequences, where you hold X to run, quickly tap X to cross an obstacle, be it a wall or dumpster, and hope you don’t lose your target. They happen frequently, but are so well-designed that you don’t mind when one comes up. It reminds me of early Super Mario Bros. levels; hold B to run, tap A to jump. It’s these simplistic notions, coupled with the thrill of the chase, that make these segments enjoyable. I will admit, the premise of “hold X, release, tap and hold x” to work this mechanic sounds a bit unusual (and it is), but it works well for what it stands to achieve.
Car chases, especially involving those rare things called guns (more on that later), mirror this feeling of “more please?”. While driving, you can tap a button to ram in a specified direction. Another simplistic addition, but I couldn’t help randomly ramming every single motorcycle I drove by. Cop chases also never lasted long if I didn’t want them to, because a few rams and they were disabled. If a gun was involved, the chases in vehicles became even more interesting. Holding down a trigger would slow down time as Wei poked his head out of the window and opened fire. Watching tires pop, cars flip and general chaos ensue sadly didn’t happen as often as I wanted them too.
Instead of focusing on guns, Sleeping Dogs puts guns into a secondary role. Most of the scuffles will involve hand-to-hand combat. This is a great thing, too, because the combat in the game has a wonderful flow to it. While in the middle of smashing someones face, you can hit counter when an enemy is about to hit you (they are highlighted in red as they are about to attack) and you switch focus to said-attacker. The general feel of combat is top-notch, and some of the best in its genre. Grappling an opponent will also highlight spots in the environment. Taking your poor victim to one of these spots will initiate a brutal instant-kill. Everything about melee combat feels satisfying, so much that you forget you’ve played for hours and haven’t even seen a gun.
Guns do appear, obviously, but they are either strategically placed for missions, or have to be found in the environment. You can’t just run around loaded with a shotgun, assault rifle, pistol and baseball bat. The shooting itself stands on its own when pitted against similar games and I enjoyed using the weapons, though they were limited in use.
Sleeping Dogs brings an old franchise to a new generation, and does so with style. From brutal combat to a gripping story, Sleeping Dogs is better than its predecessors in every way and sets an example for how future sandbox games can define themselves in the genre.
- Great plot that had me hooked from the beginning.
- Excellent melee combat that’s intuitive and fun.
- Ramming motorcycles while on a car never gets old.
- A plethora of things to do outside of the main story.
- Voice acting is a little disappointing.
Note: This review is based on gameplay of the Playstation 3 version of the game with material received from the publisher. It is also available on X360 and PC.