Sleeping Dogs was one of last year’s most underrated games. Born from the ashes of the True Crime series it was developed by United Front and published by Square Enix in the summer of 2012 after Activision axed it and is one of the best open world, GTA inspired games to have come out in years. Much of its appeal come from two main things. First off, you are a cop not a crook, something that this genre desperately needs to do more and secondly the driving mechanics are racing game worthy.
Most games to take inspiration from Grand Theft Auto share the fact that you are usually a nutcase criminal and also have fairly crappy driving mechanics. By allowing you to be a cop Sleeping Dogs opens up the mission types on offer to include both criminal and cop activities which immediately gives the game an edge in the variety department. The fact that it uses excellent driving mechanics means its one of the few games in this genre, a genre built around driving from point to point, that isn't insanely frustrating. Racing cars and bikes has never been more fun and the use of slow motion in car shooting, ramming and drifting is implemented in this game better than it is in any other game I have ever played. The driving really is that good.
As for the aforementioned cop missions well, they are pretty damn superb. The bulk of the police missions involve drug busts, you clear out an area, hack the CCTV, head to your computer in your apartment to view the footage, have the key suspect arrested and then go bust the big guys. It’s done in a way that makes you feel like a badass undercover cop and it makes for a fun break from the more criminally minded missions you do working for the Triads.
The game’s story centers around Wei Chen, a cop recently returned to Hong Kong from America who is sent undercover in one of the Triads to bring them down from the inside. This particular Triad was responsible for the deaths of most of his family members so there is constant tension between Wei and the police due to their fear that he will turn his job into a vendetta. The story is passable and doesn't feature huge plot holes, the problem is its one you’ve heard a thousand times before. It has every cliche you would expect from an undercover cop drama so you almost always know what is going to happen next. You know he’ll come close to being discovered but will get away with it and you know his actions will blur the lines between good and evil. This isn't interesting when its been done so many times. It executes these cliches well, the presentation, structure, script and voice acting are all top quality, they are all just tired. It doesn't take away from the superb gameplay but it is a real shame because you get the sense that if the story wasn't so cheesy this game could have gone from being great to being a genre defining masterpiece. Still, at least the game is fun to play.
Gameplay centers around driving, fighting and sneaking. The driving, as I've said, is faultless and it can be fun to just drive around and get caught up in car chases for hours on end. The sneaking usually involves tailing a drug dealer or gang member to a meeting and photographing them before having them arrested if you’re on a police missions or taking them down if you’re on a Triad mission. A lot of the missions are standard for the genre but the fighting style serves to freshen them up. Rather than emphasising gunplay this game makes extensive use of melee combat. The fighting system is lifted straight from the Batman Arkham series but adds in the use on environmental take downs, such as slamming a car door on your opponents skull or ramming their face into a fan. This combat system is fairly unique for this genre and the combat feels responsive and impactful, when you punch a guy in the face you really feel it. If you want to use a gun you can do it, you can take out a cop or armed gang member and go on a shooting spree and you'll find that the game plays pretty well as a cover based third person shooter. The only thing is gunfights usually end badly for you so I’d stick to fists and knives as often as possible.
One of the cool things about the general gameplay is that, if you are playing online, the game informs you of things like your friends’ killstreaks so the game constantly provides you with challenges to complete while playing through. This adds a great competitive edge to the game and is definitely something that more games should do. Added to this is the list of collectibles to be found in the world and side missions to take part in. There are more than enough collectibles to keep item hunters happy and can take a fair while to track down and the side missions vary from Karaoke to racing to killing.
The gameplay also makes use of light RPG mechanics. As you complete tasks you earn points which can unlock new moves, you also change your Face which effects how the people of Hong Kong react to you (either they treat you like a cop or a criminal essentially) and there are statues to collect which teach you new fighting skills. This means that the world of Hong Kong constantly changes because you can become more feared, more powerful and just generally cause a whole lot more chaos as the game progresses.
This superb gameplay is complimented by a convincingly written script and stellar voice acting but these only serve to make the poor story even more frustrating. The talent on display here is all too apparent, why not make use of it by giving it a decent story to tell? Fortunately the graphics don't disappoint, the game world is always bustling, with back alley markets, busy main roads, and fluid combat. The game also boasts some of the best explosions and fire graphics that I have ever seen. This game is a treat to look at and, thanks to the great voice acting and varied radio list, its a treat to listen to.
Sleeping Dogs is one of the best open world games to have come out in this generation and although it is flawed by an insanely cliched story the gameplay and production values more than make it a worthwhile purchase. Its been revealed recently that the game didn't sell quite as well as Square Enix had hoped it could which is a shame because I get the feeling that a sequel could have served to be a truly jaw dropping experience. Never mind though, we’ll all just have to make do with this gem of a game.