9.0

Sleeping Dogs review
Pork buns and guns

Summary:



John Woo presents Grand Theft Auto would probably be a more apt title; though a lot of Sleeping through the game, there's minimal Dogs and having come to the end I still have no idea what the name is actually referencing. The spiritual successor of the True Crime series and remnant of the Hong Kong title, Sleeping Dogs had a convoluted history and looked likely to never face the light of day. Instead, it struggled through (with a little help from Square-Enix) towards a fantastic viral campaign with exponential awareness and launched to be a underdog hit from a new IP. A little late to the party, this hit the Steam weekend sale for half-price and I whipped it up immediately, a little bit cautious of the keyboard controls. In two days I was finished.

The game starts you a skinny Chow Yun-Fat, undercover, on the chase: hold space to run, press it again early before an obstacle to clear it efficiently. I fumble and clumsily hit the barrier. Definitely sceptical of the controls. But the run goes on, and on. I'm suddenly aware that free-running is probably going to play a major part of this game and I didn't yet have a clue. It takes the simplicity of Assassin's Creed but adds another element of timing and skill into the mix, and in two hours I am a parkour king, beautifully hurdling market stalls and leaping from roof the ledge. This sequence is the first hint that this game is no one trick pony: it has ambition to do everything, and to do everything well.

Sleeping Dogs has no pretence: to achieve this vision it steals, and it steals a lot. Without entirely leaving Assassin's Creed, after hopping enough fences you're given the chance to fight as a bunch of thugs surround you. You know immediately what to do; the love-child of Altair and Batman of Arkhamverse fame, a red beam highlights the enemy as he goes to swing and instinctively you tap counter (in my case, the less instinctive right mouse-click) and he loses his arm. Needing to capitalise, tapping the left mouse I onslaught, finding out by holding it longer I unleash a heavy attack – in this case, a roundhouse kick to the face. The next opponent fancies his blocking abilities, so instead I grab him using F, and ram him head-first into the nearest vending machine, but this is nothing compared to late game's selection of environmental interactions, and there is a lot of them. There's a lot of different combos and special moves to unlock, and the combat always feels comfortable but beautiful to watch, though no easy task with different enemy types to have to fight.


It's definitely a skinny Chow Yun-Fat


Only much later in the game are guns introduced legitimately (incidentally straight after commenting that there aren't “many guns in Hong Kong. It's not like America”). Shift-to cover is a standard affair, with blind-fire and leaning, but the Max Payne influence shines through as slow-motion obstacle clearing is introduced. Jumping over something? Make sure you do it in slow-motion and clear the room before you hit the floor. Yes, it's cliché, but it's incredibly fun and works a hell of a lot better than Stranglehold ever did. Add in driving more align with Saints Row than
anything else, and you have the full package.

With the main basics down – running and fighting – the real game begins. The premise for the rest of the game is made immediately clear, and is equally as familiar as anyone who has played the original True Crime games and knows the basis of Grand Theft Auto. Starting from the bottom of the food chain, you need to work your way up the Triad tree with a little help of childhood friend. Your professional objective is to topple the organisation from within it, though a personal vendetta linking back to your sister's death forces your hand more than anything. What the game does well is sense of scale; compared to GTA4 where the game starts a near constant A-to-B courier service and most missions feel completely trivial, everything in Sleeping Dogs feels relevant. From the get-go you're a triad, and you're running things – it just ranges from running the Night Market to being the most notorious gangster in town. Wherever the game takes you, the design is beautiful and you're soon in love with the city, making the travelling a leisure experience, and the atmosphere is potent. The city is alive, and looks brilliant.


Detective Wei Shen darting through a vibrant Night Market


The game follows one major mission line, and these missions alone advance the plot. Though it borrows the GTA formula of working through different characters to deliver favours for, in the same context it never bombards you. You only ever have one quest-giver and it never meanders on a slow point – you get the job done, and move onto the next giver, and this faster paced linearity crafts a much more exciting journey through a wonderful cast of characters. It almost becomes a shame never really seeing some characters again, as I became really attached to Mrs Chu, Jackie, and others. It's no surprise, though, considering the voice actors: minor characters are voiced by Emma Stone and Lucy Liu amongst others, while Tom Wilkinson and Will Yun Lee lead the cast to fantastic performance, bringing a real level of quality to the dialogue.

Supplementing the story are many minigames and side missions, all (as well along with the main story) of influencing one of three experience bars: Police, Triad and Face. Mostly the minigames influence your Face (your general gangster notoriety), while completing the story missions rates you on both your Police and Triad performances: crash, hurt civilians and damage property and you lose Police rating, while defeating enemy triads in the most diverse way possible rewards you in Triad. Each chain has its own set of unlockable skills relevant to the job, but the problem I encountered was my wreckless driving and general inconsideration of others meant my Triad rank flew miles ahead of anything else.


Mrs Chu ready to administer justice, the Triad way


It's possible United Front noticed this in their playtesting though, and incorporated occasional forced Police missions, as well as a selection of side-missions where you're expected to shut down drug busts in the local area (because, after all, who cares about your cover?) These a more of a nuisance than anything, and really, all of the side content grates: sure, I never did try “*bleep* Fighting”, but when the story twists your hand into playing Karaoke (think: bad Guitar Hero) not once, but twice, you're a little sickened.

There's a few extras in the game like that feel like they should fill my time but never really had a chance. From the start you're introduced to purchasing, from energy drinks to food to clothes. I can confirm I did not spend money at any point of the game except the introduction; I never bought a new car or suit unless it was story based, nor the buff items. One additional feature that pique my interest was the dating elements (call me a loser), and following my second date with Emma Stone I expected good things – much more than unscripted bowling or pool. Alas, I never heard from her again, and she didn't turn back up in my contacts. Onto the next one. She disappears. Onto the next. The second returns and lambastes me for cheating. You end up dating four girls over the course of the game, and despite interesting personalities and directions, they all abruptly end before they even start, and I'm disappointed.


Street racing is another side mission to break up the story


Occasionally the game falls short of its ambition – to be the greatest homage to Hong Kong cinema there is – but it's rare. The plot is exciting and maintains an appropriate level of tension of a cop constantly on the edge of being uncovered, while constantly refreshing the gameplay as not to lose interest. As much as its over-done to consider something a GTA clone, this is definitely set in its structual mould, but actually impresses and escapes the conventions of how a game of its ilk is usually played. Sleeping Dogs is a fantastic game with some slinks to iron out.

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