Review - Sleeping Dogs

Posted on August 15, 2012 - 3:00pm

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Sleeping Dogs had a tormented development. From switching developers to being out-right cancelled, it was Square Enix that saw value in the title and brought it back from development hell. They were right to do so. Sleeping Dogs takes the best bits of familiar elements and puts them into one, well thought-out game.

Sleeping Dogs was once a True Crime game, and the heritage shows. You play as Wei Shen, an undercover officer working his way to bust some of the biggest members of the Chinese gang The Triads. It's an open world game, allowing you to explore, drive, take on missions, and use earned cash for some customization options.

The biggest draw into Sleeping Dogs is the hand-to-hand combat. It uses a mix of light and heavy attacks, grapples, and counters. Some enemies are immune to certain maneuvers, such as larger enemies that cannot be grabbed, and others must be countered to attack effectively. The use of strikes and countering is very reminiscent of the recent Batman games, although not quite as smooth. What makes the combat in Sleeping Dogs stand out is using environmental finishers. You can slam enemy heads into walls, slam a security gate on top of them, or toss them into a dumpster to quickly take them out. It becomes something to look forward to, as when combat starts up, the first thing you do is look for things to smash enemies into and walk away with the slyest smirk on your face.

The other action setpieces consist of driving, shooting, and chase sequences. To quickly sum up each of them, they're all okay. Driving is competent, although the camera gets uncooperative at times when going in reverse. Being able to shunt, shoot, and hijack while driving keeps those sequences from becoming too standard. Shooting uses basic cover mechanics and is uninspired, which does work well, but enemies take a staggering amount of bullets before they keel over. The chase sequences are the most unique, but also the least enjoyable. It involves chasing, or running away from, someone and double-tapping the sprint button to vault over objects or run up a a wall. 

While these other action segments may not be the most invigorating, they offer up a good deal of variety. It helps pace the game, and some can come out of no where. Street races are easily found. Talking to a stranger on the street can quickly lead to a mugging and fisticuffs, or being robbed and turning into a chase. It keeps you on your toes in a great way.

The open world element is well done, in a sense. The city of Hong Kong is large, but it is not a sandbox. You can go to many places to find random missions from strangers on the street, locate hidden lockboxes for extra cash and costumes, or discover dozens of health shrines to permanently increase your health. A few minigames like karaoke or planting tracking bugs gives a drop of something fresh at the right moments. But more often than not, I found myself using the in-game cellphone to quickly move on to the next story based mission. Thankfully, the cellphone is done very well and never feels intrusive. 

The customization options is one of Sleeping Dogs' better features. You can earn upgrades through five different trees through different actions. Fighting well and taking out rivals gets you Triad points to improve your melee attacks. Doing drug busts and making sure not to injure innocents or destroy property gets you Cop Points, which can be used for things like improved disarms or faster lockpicking. Hidden jade statues all over the city get you new moves, and helping people in distress ups your "face" meter, which allows you to buy fancier clothes, faster cars, and better furniture for your pad. 

The game isn't without its hitches, though. The story is your pretty standard undercover cop plot. Sometimes he goes too far but he does what he has to get results, he's getting too attached, etcetera etcetera. It's not awful by any means, but hardly surprising at any turn. It is well performed at least, with a slew of celebrity voice actors providing themselves for the main characters. Some of the stereotypical Chinese actions can get grating.

The games graphics hit and miss rather frequently. Playing through the world, everything looks great. Days are bright and sunny, and nights are neon-hued. The shake cam effect while driving fast really hones in the feeling of adrenaline. During cutscenes though, the problems stick out. The framerate gets subpar during almost every cutscene, and the camera closeups reveal stiff facial animations and poor lipsynching. The textures get very blurry at times, but this is limited to the console versions. PC users get a much better texture and graphical package.

Sleeping Dogs gets a lot of open world elements done right. Driving is done well, shooting is competent enough to not get irritating, and the hand to hand combat is great. The multi-faceted leveling system is a highlight that deserves praise. The open world doesn't offer a whole lot of "mess around" mentality, but the pacing is great for the first playthrough.

For how rocky its development has been, Sleeping Dogs comes out strong. It's certainly worth the look from anyone, and I imagine a lot of people are going to be pleasantly surprised with what they see. 

8 / 10 

(8s are great games that have something holding it back from excellence, or some features aren't as polished. The game is still extremely worthy of playing, but it may not be the most impressive.)

Jared Knabenbauer is the Reviews Editor, Hard News host, and a host of our weekly video podcast, "SideScrollers". He has also produced several notable ScrewAttack shows, including Newsroom, Nametags and Control Issues. He specializes in RPGs, and has a great fondness for Dungeons & Dragons. A comedian at heart, he is one serious gamer.

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