A few years ago, when E3 tried to be a smaller show than it is now, Activision held a “True Crime” demo behind closed doors. I was fortunate enough to check it out and I went in with zero expectations. At the time I was impressed with what I saw. The open world concept with true-to-life martial arts combat and some crazy driving sequences had me looking forward to the games eventual release. I must have been the only one impressed as Activision’s True Crime did not receive any post E3 buzz and the game was eventually cancelled. Fast forward to present day and True Crime has changed its name to “Sleeping Dogs” and Square Enix is handling the publishing duties. Developed by United Front Games out of Vancouver BC, Sleeping Dogs arrives with little hoopla or fan fare. This is unfortunate because over the past week I had the chance to really sink my teeth into the game and simply put I haven’t had this much fun playing an open world game since the days of Grand Theft Auto 4.
In Sleeping Dogs you take on the role of Wei Shen who is an undercover cop tasked with taking down one of Hong Kong’s most fearsome organized crime organizations. Your job is to infiltrate the gang and take them all down one by one. That is the story in a nutshell. Of course there is much more to it than that and the plot takes several twists and turns along the way, but Sleeping Dogs remains a classic story of an undercover cop trying to make his way throughout the ranks of a powerful criminal organization. Overall, I found the storyline incredibly intriguing and captivating. While the game places a great deal of emphasis on levelling up your character, thus taking you away from the games main storyline, I found myself itching to take on the next main mission so I could uncover more of the plot. The main character is easy to relate to as he struggles with his new reality where he is getting sucked in deeper and deeper into the criminal underworld. He starts to question his motives and in the end is forced to make some critical decisions. It is a compelling tale and one many of us have seen before in movies and TV shows; however, the way the story plays out and some of the games pivotal points will absolutely leave you with some lasting impressions.
Sleeping Dogs takes place in an imagined version of Hong Kong. It is, as I just mentioned, an open world game meaning there is a main storyline to go along with a great deal of side missions, finding collectibles and other objectives. It is an action packed game featuring plenty of variety. It is played in a third person view and plays out very much like Grand Theft Auto 4. You have the freedom to explore the world and proceed at whatever pace suits your gaming style. I found myself driving around for what seemed like hours looking for suitcases with loot and health shrines. While the game’s main missions are linear by nature almost every other aspect remains open.
One of the most satisfying, but at times very frustrating, aspects of Sleeping Dogs has to be the game’s combat system. There is no doubt Sleeping Dogs combat system is slick featuring unforgettable fighting sequences, which rivals even the best open world games already in the market. In fact, kicks and punches are very life-like and have an MMA style about them. The look of your main character delivering knee blows, elbows, round house kicks, spinning back kicks and even leg breaking jolts looks great. Not to mention, many of the games environments are used in combat. Whether it be throwing an enemy in a garbage bin or launching some gangster into a giant aquarium, Sleeping Dogs features some highly enjoyable and cinematic combat.
The only issue I had with the games combat system was the over-emphasis on counter strikes. Much like the Batman games, whenever an enemy turns red, this triggers you to tap the Y button so you can produce a counter strike. I found far too often I would have to wait for an enemy to turn red so that I could deliver a counter strike and finish him off. The sequences where you have to clear out room after room full of enemies can be frustrating if your character is not leveled up enough or does not have enough health accumulated. Not to mention, the enemy AI can be incredibly difficult as one series of kicks and punches will not immediately knock them out. You will knock them down but they will inevitably get back up. During one sequence in the game where you are tracking down “Benny” in a nightclub it must have taken me easily over an hour and a half to eventually track him down at which point I found myself repeatedly swarmed by enemies and after about 5 or 6 blows my character would die and I would then have to re-start a little ways back. My advice to all those picking up this game is to really take your time leveling up your character and ensuring you unlock a number of the available combos before you start taking on some of the more difficult missions which can even occur in the early part of the story.
In addition to the hand-to-hand combat, Sleeping Dogs also features some intense shoot outs. I found myself greatly enjoying these sequences. They are far more forgiving than the hand-to-hand combat sequences but equally, if not more, entertaining. Another surprisingly enjoyable aspect of the game is the driving component, which is similar to that of Grand Theft Auto 4, but in Sleeping Dogs it is much tighter and more polished. The cars feel great and the sense of speed is certainly there. There is a clear difference between all the vehicles and the individual handling of each one. A great deal of the game involves driving, whether it be high speed chase sequences, fetch quests, or simply driving from one part of the city to another. Needless to say, I was impressed with the driving physics and mechanics; yet I guess this comes as no surprise considering a good chunk of the development team were previously part of EA’s Need for Speed team.
In addition to the driving and various combat sequences, Sleeping Dogs also features some parkour style chases. You will be sprinting through tight alleys, leaping rooftops, hurdling fences and dodging pedestrians. These sequences occur a little more often in the side missions but are still frequent enough to make them noteworthy. It is this level of variety which makes Sleeping Dogs such a fantastic experience. You will be running errands for a crime boss, stealing an armoured truck, evading cops, driving around a gangster’s fiancée, hacking surveillance systems, orchestrating arrests from your apartments surveillance system, training in a Karate club, getting a massage (wink wink), purchasing food from vendors, purchasing cars or new clothes, etc. The list is endless in terms of what you can do in the game and I know I am omitting some things. Bottom line, from one turn to the next you never know what you are going to get into in Sleeping Dogs.
Sleeping Dogs boosts a fairly comprehensive XP levelling up system as well. It is a good little system as it allows you to choose how you want your main character to adapt and evolve as the game progresses. The game features three core XPs including: Face XP, Triad XP, and Cop XP. Face XP is earned every time you complete a favor, event, or street race, or do something impressive. The higher XP in this area gives you access to new modes and abilities and even discounts in stores. Triad XP is earned in combat by countering attacks and using the environment to finish enemies. Triad XP unlocks new combat moves and abilities such as improved strike damage. Cop XP is earned by solving cases and causing minimal harm to citizens, police officers and property. Cop XP is used to unlock new perks and abilities such as improved weapons abilities or new abilities in vehicle combat.
Sleeping Dogs is rated mature and for good reason as the level of violence can be a bit brutal and somewhat shocking at times. This only adds to the level of realism as let’s face it, gang life can be particularly brutal and I can only imagine how brutal it would be in Hong Kong. When drug debts are not paid people pay with their lives. I am not a gang expert by any means but it appears the values and brutality of gang life was accurately portrayed in the game.
There is no doubt Sleeping Dogs does take many ideas from previous games and uses them to their advantage. For instance, there is some ‘slo-mo’ Max Payne like sequences. Additionally the ability to shop for clothes and purchase cars is nothing new to the open world genre. The similarities can be striking at times; however, the setting, characters, storyline, variety and depth of gameplay, all end up making for a game that offers up a little bit more than its competitors do.
As far as the visuals are concerned, Sleeping Dogs is simply unbelievable. The level of detail that goes into this imagined open world of Hong Kong is unreal. Every market, street corner, harbour dock, and city skyscraper is meticulously meticulous. Not to mention, the world is massive. The highways that link each of the Hong Kong islands stretch for miles. The cities come to life and I was stunned with how fantastic the game’s environments look. Not to mention the game’s characters look sharp as well. Each gangster features a unique look and style with their own tattoo work. The game’s cut-scenes also look equally as stunning while he vehicles look “Need for Speed” quality and simply blow away what other vehicles look like in other open world action games.
In terms of the games sound, Sleeping Dogs is about as good as it gets and in many ways stands out as one of the best sounding games I have played in quite some time. The game features a stellar soundtrack putting your right in that Hong Kong gangster mood with Hip Hop, Electronica, Classical, Metal and ever some Pop Rock classics. Much like in Grand Theft Auto 4 when travelling in your ride you can turn to various radio stations and listen to whatever genre you like. All the tunes sound fantastic in 7.1 Surround Sound and I walked away humming many of the tunes even hours after I played the game. Much like the games soundtrack, the voice acting in the game is equally terrific. The characters come to life in the game and there is a level of authenticity unlike I have seen before in an open-world game of this ilk. Square Enix and United Front Games have enlisted the voice acting skills of top Hong Kong cinema and Hollywood talent, including Tom Wilkinson, Emma Stone, Lucy Liu, James Hong, James Liao, Byron Mann, Will Yun Lee, Edison Chen and Kelly Hu just to name a few. An impressive list indeed and the end result is believable dialogue and compelling voice work. The voice talent managed to draw me in and I found myself watching the game like I would a movie. Other in-game sound effects are also pretty good too. Punches, explosions, screeching wheels, doors slamming, chatter from Hong Kong’s citizens, and even tiny things such as an Air Conditioner buzzing in the background all sound great. It is this attention to detail is what makes Sleeping Dogs such a fantastic thrill ride.
While Sleeping Dogs does not have an online multiplayer component, the game does include a slick little social hub where you view your current standings. It is an online leaderboard of sorts where you can view the awards you have won, your best times for each race, your high scores for each mission and view a log of all the challenges issued to and from your friends. You can compare all your achievements with your friends too. While admittedly I did not spend much time here durig the time I was writing this review, I can absolutely see the appeal once the game is released.
Overall, Sleeping Dogs for the Xbox 360 is one of the more impressive open world action games I have played in recent memory. Fantastic visuals, top-notch sound and varied gameplay makes Sleeping Dogs a must own for gamers who enjoy such titles as Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row and Crackdown. The compelling story manages to suck you right in and the level of depth offered up in the game is impressive. Sleeping Dogs is easily the sleeper hit of the summer and a game many should be playing well into the winter.