Imagine Grand Theft Auto, but with much prettier lighting and weather effects, kung fu fighting and a less morally suspect protagonist, this is an easy way to sum up the game that once upon a time was cancelled and called True Crime: Hong Kong. Then Square Enix picked up the pieces and put out an open world crime game with a large emphasis on story and melee combat.
With a “definitive edition” coming to the PS4 and Xbox One some time in the near future, it seems fitting to look at the original “definitive edition”, the PC release. It’s a frankly beautiful game, especially when the sun goes down and the rain begins, thanks to the outstanding reflections and lights, these graphics blow more recent open world games out of the water. It also maintains a solid framerate even on weaker systems, when you tone down the more complex settings, and even then the game looks great.
Whilst Sleeping Dogs could be described as a “GTA-clone”, it does a number of things differently to the famous car stealing series, this is mostly seen in combat. As lampshaded in the shooting tutorial about a quatre of the way through the game when the instructor says “You may have noticed there aren’t very many firearms here in Hong Kong”. The vast majority of the combat is in the form of martial arts, in a very similar vein to the Batman Arkham series. You have an attack button, a grab button, and an all powerful counter button, whilst it lacks the gadgets that spice up the Arkham combat, there are melee weapons ranging from machetes to handbags and the protagonist Wei can perform different combos and environmental takedowns. All in all a very enjoyable if slightly basic combat system that clearly took a cue or two from the film The Raid (which is no bad thing). One very interesting twist to the melee combat is that it will change depending on your clothing, if for example you wear the wing-chun master outfit, one of your combos becomes the famous rapid punching in the face.
When it comes to shooting, which becomes a much more prominent system later in the game as the gangland situation in Hong Kong becomes much more heated. Similarly to the melee combat the mechanics are extremely well honed, albeit simple, much of the emphasis is on slow-mo vaulting and shooting (reminiscent of many John Woo films)which is hugely epic, and adds a quite tactical layer to the combat whilst shedding the typical cover based shooting which fills other titles in this genre. Overall the combat is a very versatile experience that’s only real issues are it’s simplicity and it’s ease, certainly in melee combat it is very difficult to lose a fight.
Most open world games need vehicles to get around the place, and Sleeping Dogs is no exception, there is a lot of driving, vehicles which range from tuk tuks to ultra fast sports cars, much like the combat system, the driving mechanics are basic but refined, cars handle well enough although some missions do ask you to perform very difficult manouvers with very ill suited vehicles, such as vans and buses. Then there is vehicular combat, which functions as most open world games such as this operate, your crosshair is the centre of your free aim whilst driving, this is a very common mechanic in later story missions and is surprisingly fun as shooting out tires will cause an opponents vehicle to flip and the world will go into slow motion, meaning you can create some awesome moments with the right level of accuracy.
The part of Sleeping Dogs which sets it apart from other games in its genre is the story, Wei Shen is an undercover cop going into the triad which is filled with his childhood friends, he has to balance his morality in order to stay undercover by being sufficiently violent and cruel, but not compromise himself to the point where he is too far gone. This morality affects gameplay as in missions, overly careless actions reduce your “cop score” and violent actions increase “triad score”, these scores level up your cop and triad levels, unlocking new abilities and combos. The system is a very interesting concept but feels a little too arbitrary, and you can easily max out both cop and triad scores, it would be far more interesting if they worked against one another. As the story goes, given the open world nature of the game, it’s excellent, the plot is both complex and believable, wih intriguing characters, Wei isn’t a cliche good guy, neither is he a true anti-hero, he variates between good and evil and this creates a fascinating plot point when it comes to his psychological stability. There are also a fair number of twists and every character feels unique, you truly have an emotional connection with them and some of the character deaths are surprisingly melancholic.
If there was something major to criticise about Sleeping Dog, it would be the side missions, once the main story is complete there are huge numbers of collectables to find and small missions to beat. Unfortunately none are really exciting or innovative so the world feels very empty once you reach the endgame as whilst the activities are a fun distraction from the main story, they don’t stand up too well on their own. That said, the story around 10 hours, which is well worth a replay, so value for money isn’t a huge problem.
Sleeping Dogs is a game you should play, every mechanic it implements is refined even if it lack complexity, and the story would be well worth the £15 it costs on Steam.
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