Publishers: Square Enix, Namco Bandai Games (Aus)
Developers: United Front Games, Square Enix London Studios
Release Date: August 14, 2012(NA), August 16, 2012 (Aus), August 17, 2012 (EU), September 27, 2012 (JP)
System: PC, Xbox 360, PS3.
Version reviewed: PC
This review was written after about 36 hours of game time, having finished the main storyline but with only about 70% total completion rate.
Sleeping Dogs Review
The first time I knew Sleeping Dogs existed was through an advertisement on Steam, and when I saw the video showcasing the vibrant city of Hong Kong during some night car chase (or something like that, I can’t remember entirely), I knew I had to check out the game at some point. Then I learned that it was supposed to be the next installment in the True Crime franchise (of which I loved the first game), and I knew I was definitely getting it. Now that it’s out, did all my hype pay off? That’s a very rotund yes, thank you very much, and while I wasn’t often “blown away” by the game, I absolutely did have some great times.
Lots and lots of it. Sleeping Dogs’ Hong Kong is lush and vibrant, with primary colors and earth tones both assaulting your retinas. It looks beautiful on PC particularly because of the heavy use of ambient occlusion, which makes the lighting smooth and very easy on the eyes. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any problems with the game’s graphics occasionally; the highest level of ambient occlusion makes a strange dark haze hang on the center of the screen and some very noticeable scanlines to appear (both are issues mentioned on gaming forums and that I also experienced on my own computer), and the large number of NPCs and detailed roads and buildings in the game means the character models of second-rate NPCs suffers quite a bit. Main characters, however, do look pretty great, even thuogh their animations is nothing mindblowing.
So Sleeping Dogs looks great overall, but what about the music? Boy am I glad you asked: the music is fantastic, or at least the licensed “radio” music that you can listen to while driving is. To be perfectly blunt, it’s music for hard-assed music lovers: you got your bleeding-edge dubstep, right-off-the-oven instrumental or otherwise brilliantly produced Hip-Hop, the hardest death metal, “indie” Rock, the Funk and the Soul, the 80s classics, and even the 1880s and 1780s classics. In other words, you can have your Rustie, your Daedelus, your Bonobo, your Flying Lotus, your Charles Bradley, your Queen, and your Tchaikovsky all one right after the other as you drive from one drug bust to a street fight. In other words, it’s the kind of music that you’re either a huge fan of, or that you don’t know you’re a huge fan of yet.
Believe me, the first moment you find yourself helping a thug run away from the police to some mesmerizing indie electronica like you’re freaking Ryan Gosling or something, you’re going to become a fan.
Sleeping Dogs’ story is pretty decent for an open-world GTA-style game, and I don’t think I can say anything more meaningful than that. United Front Games and Square Enix certainly did a good job, but with the exception of a few meaningful conversations between protagonist Wei Shen and 2 or 3 other characters, I don’t think there was anything particularly memorable or inspiring. I believe it’s the kind of game that will get away with the excuse of “it’s just a videogame, what did you expect?”, which I certainly don’t share, but I cannot really complain about, either.
Like with every open-world game, there are times of ecstasy and times of tedium. While I’m glad to say Sleeping Dogs has many more of the first than of the latter, I have to note that the majority of the game sits somewhere in the middle-high ground.
There are many unique facets to this game. Sometimes you get into brutal fights with street thugs, where you will punch, kick, grab, disarm, counter-attack, and even stab your opponents; Other times it’s gun fights, with plenty of cover shooting and a decent dose of slow-mo action. You will very often be at the wheel, speeding toward your destination or just trying to shake some cops or thugs off; There will be a few instances where you will be on the passenger seat, shooting up your pursuers and perhaps popping their tires to see them vault incredibly through the air and explode unapologetically. Some times you will be chasing people through the streets and roofs of Hong Kong, making use of the game’s “free-run” system that is basically a less complex, less complete version of Assassin’s Creed’s free-running; You will also be the one running away now and then. The game’s missions mostly consist of different variations and combinations of these facets. An early mission, for example, would require you to chase then beat up some street thugs, while a later one will require you to beat up some thugs, acquire some guns to use in a firefight, chase the boss as he tries to escape by car or by boat, beat him up, escape by foot, and ultimately evade the police by car. Not necessarily in that order, of course.
Naturally, this means you can become too aware of the game’s workings, and perhaps think to youself “man, I hope I don’t have to chase that guy after beating up his goons?” followed by “ugh, I knew it”. This is probably a sign that it’s time for you to take break because you’ve been playing for over 6 hours straight now (full disclosure: I’m talking about myself). Additionally, you can just go try out some activity you haven’t paid much attention to in the game, such as Karaoke or gambling on a Cockfight. Rest assured, when you go back to the game’s habitual activities you will remember that, after all, they feel great and are a lot of fun.
And they are a lot of fun. When you are very focused on a single facet of the gameplay like a particular “event” that is highly challenging, you can feel the mechanics and systems really come together for a very solid experience. Get into a street fight and, after waves and waves of enemies, you will feel your skills and senses sharpening, allowing you to get into a full blown “Jackie Chan mode” where you will be disarming enemies, throwing them on the ground, knocking them down in groups, and generally behaving like a really ticked-off black belt. How about you find yourself a street race? You get into your fastest car, you let that dubstep rip (or that Math Rock, you dubstep-hating hipster!) and you dance with the road as you try to leave the other drivers in the dust.
In other words, sometimes Sleeping Dogs makes you feel like a badass from the movies, and that’s great.
Why the Developers Are Awesome
Because they have attempted to merge so many gameplay templates into a single open-world game. United Front Games have made a sandbox city and put in semi-realistic driving, brutal fist fights, cover-shooting, and free-running, and have attempted to blend these elements together into a seamless experience. They have succeeded for the most part, and with a lot of style to boot. In spite of being a relatively new studio (though one created from talented and experienced ex-employees of other respected development houses), United Front Games have proved themselves to be top notch with Sleeping Dogs.
Praise and Criticism – Sleeping Dogs
+ The soundtrack is incredible.
+ The gameplay is very diverse, something absolutely welcome in open-world games.
+ Some of the gameplay elements are greatly solid, particularly the hand-to-hand combat and the driving. Those two mechanics could be turned into a whole game as of themselves, for sure, and you can really enjoy the depth when completing their specific, most difficult challenges.
– A modicum of tedium may set in from time to time if the player is relentless about doing the game’s side missions and extra events.
– Screen Space Ambient Occlusion may not work correctly in its highest settings. I wish I had been able to play this game at its best, but that was not possible. There is also a very minor issue with the frame rate “chugging” some times (this is not a case of the frame rate dropping as a whole). The game still looks beautiful, however.
Having endured waves of thugs in a street fight, until they have whittled me down with their grapples, their knives, and their tire irons into having practically no health. Then, miraculously (and skillfully) countering every enemy attack, disarming them of every weapon, breaking their arms and legs until I enter “face mode”, whereupon my health recovers and I finish pummeling every single one of these nobodies.
If You Liked These Other Games, Then This Game is for You
True Crime (PS2, GC, Xbox) — Sleeping Dogs has many similar mechanics, yet they are refined and better implemented.
Just Cause 2 (Xbox, PS3, PC) — There is a huge amount of stuff to do in Sleeping Dogs, and the fun doesn’t often give way to tedium.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2, Xbox, PC) — There is a lot of customization to do in terms of cars and clothing in Sleeping Dogs, which is certainly less than in San Andreas.
Sleeping Dogs is at its worst when throwing multiple repetitive throwaway side missions, all of which involve some combination of shooting, punching, chasing, and driving, in predictable patterns.
Low Score: 7.5/10
The best parts of the game, however, are several: moments when the combat flows as smoothly as if it was choreographed by Jackie Chan himself; the “freedom of the road”, that is, driving at max speed on the highways of Hong Kong while blasting the game’s incredible soundtrack; when fully immersed in the game’s systems, casually going from a high-speed chase to karaoke session with a cute date, before going for a street race and finally beating two dozens of thugs at a fight club.
High Score: 9.0/10