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I’ve been reluctant to actually write a game review for several reasons, mainly because I seldom play games all the way through. On top of that, I have the attention span of a gold fish and if a game becomes too repetitive or simply becomes uninteresting I’m not likely to finish it. Compounding this, I’ve become reluctant to purchase any new games following the utter disappointment that was Street Fighter X Tekken. But after hearing BobbyBeatle sing the praises of Sleeping Dogs my curiosity was piqued to say the least.
I had heard a little bit about Sleeping Dogs a while back but by the time it was released I had already forgotten all about it. BobbyBeatle’s enthusiasm brought Sleeping Dogs back to the forefront and soon won me over. Before long, I knew I had to play this game. I still wasn’t willing to risk getting burned with another lackluster game so I decided to rent it on RedBox. I figured I would play it for a few hours and see what it was all about. So around 11PM I popped in Sleeping Dogs and started playing. I was gripped by the story almost immediately. The game’s protagonist, Wei Shen, is damn witty and cocky as all hell. How could I not love it? Once I had my first taste of combat, codified by smashing a fellow Triad member with a roundhouse kick to the face, I was completely hooked. The next time I looked up at the clock it was nearly 5AM. Not since Uncharted 2 have I been so completely captivated by a game. It’s a rarity when every aspect of a game meshes together to create a perfect storm.
Sleeping Dogs is unique in that, rather than have you simply play as a police officer or a criminal, Sleeping Dogs instead deploys you into Hong Kong’s criminal underworld as an undercover cop. Your mission is to infiltrate the notorious Triad, the Sun On Yee and bring them down from the inside. Obviously, nothing is ever that straight forward and there are plenty of twists and turns along the way to keep you guessing. You constantly find yourself in situations where your being an undercover cop can make a predicament that much more tense or thrilling.
Playing as an undercover cop helped to influence my initial approach of the game. I refrained from driving erratically, assaulting innocent people, or stealing cars. All of which are actions which you’re penalized for. Ironically, as I delved further into the game, driving Wei Shen deeper into the Sun On Yee, I found myself less and less concerned that I was wreaking havoc across Hong Kong. I had become fixated on the Triad missions and was less interested in doing police work. I wanted to look out for Jackie, Shen’s loyal childhood friend, and see where the story would take him. I wanted to track down Sifu Kwok’s stolen statues and learn more techniques. I especially wanted Wei Shen to have his revenge against the game’s antagonist, “Dog Eyes”, for what he did to Shen’s sister.
While Sleeping Dogs follows a linear narrative, it has several RPG elements woven in. There are 3 different kinds of experience points which are directly influenced by your actions; Police, Triad, and Face. Earning these experience points are pretty straight forward. When you complete a mission that leads to the arrest of a criminal you gain Police XP. On the other hand, when you, for instance, throw an enemy into a furnace you gain Triad XP. Face XP is pretty interesting: It serves as a measurement of your reputation(ie: clout/recognition) in general. Earning XP in any of these areas allows you to unlock new techniques and abilities.
While Sleeping Dogs doesn’t have an online component it does feature online stats and leaderboards. I was pretty meh about this when I first heard about it but when I unexpectedly saw BobbyBeatle’s stats for various records pop up on my screen it sparked a competitiveness that would not have surfaced otherwise.
From start to finish, Sleeping Dogs kept me wanting more. If I wasn’t playing Sleeping Dogs, I was thinking about playing Sleeping Dogs. What makes the game so compelling lies within the characters who drive the story. Wei Shen joins a short list of video game characters that are not only interesting, but they actually manage to make you care about them. There are layers beneath Shen’s brash attitude which you uncover as the game progresses. While I would have loved to have learned more about his past, you still gain a sound understanding of who Shen Wei is.
Even the supporting cast are quite compelling; from your dickhead boss, Police Superintendent Thomas Pendrew, to your friend Jackie. Even Amanda Cartwright, who you meet briefly, is compelling enough that you want to know more about her. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that she’s voiced by Emma Stone. That is to say that the voice acting is top notch, which really helps the characters come to life. Kelly Hu and Lucy Liu are also among the actresses who lend their pipes to Sleeping Dogs.
It’s inevitable that Sleeping Dogs will be compared to GTA since the Grand Theft Auto franchise has effectively owned the sandbox genre since GTA III. That said, I can honestly say that what I found lacking in GTA IV, Sleeping Dogs delivered in spades. To be fair, I never beat GTA IV. I couldn’t. I found the missions boring and repetitive and the slow moving story never held my attention long enough for me to play through the entire game. I mention this to acknowledge that I’m sure I missed out on plenty of the great things about GTAIV. But where GTAIV attempts to persuade you to play through the entirety of the game, Sleeping Dogs grabs you by the balls and doesn’t let go until the very last drop of your enemy’s blood is spilled and the credits have rolled.
Sleeping Dogs has style for days. Its over-the-top action is a beautiful marriage of John Woo and Jackie Chan style Hong Kong action flicks. Add Tony Jaa’s cringe worthy, bone-crushing mayhem to the mix and you have an insane threesome of brutality and unforgiving violence. The icing on the cake for the hand-to-hand combat are the environmental attacks. You can beat enemies with pay phones, throw them through windows, or slice off their face with a buzz saw, to name a few. The Punisher would be proud. My personal fav was impaling an enemy on a meat hook, after I slapped him in the face with a fish. I regret not telling him to “hang out” afterwards though.
Sleeping Dogs has tremendous depth and replay value. Where other sandbox games often have forgettable side missions which are hit and miss at best, Sleeping Dogs gives you exceptional incentives for completing them. Completing side missions, earns you Police, Triad or Face experience points depending on what kind of mission you’ve completed. As you upgrade your abilities and fighting techniques the fun factor of Sleeping Dogs rises exponentially. I spent hours doing side missions to gain Face XP just so that I could wear the “Mr. Black” suit I had discovered but couldn’t wear until my Face level reached 4. I even jeopardized life and limb in order to snag one of Kwok’s missing statues so that I could learn to snap a knee cap or execute a double leg take down.
Speaking of which, no sandbox game, GTA or otherwise, can hold a candle to the fighting in Sleeping Dogs. Even if the story was dull and lackluster, which it is not, the game would still be worth playing to experience the fight mechanics alone. You start off with a basic skill set of kicks, punches and throws. As you unlock new moves your arsenal grows and becomes that much more effective. Moves like the Charge Knee Stun and the Leg Sweep become essential when you face tough opponents, while moves like the Leg Breaker and the Arm Breaker are guilty pleasures. What really makes the fighting so exciting and so much fun is not the offense but the defense. You cannot block in this game. And you don’t need to. Similar to Arkham Asylum, you’re able to counter your opponent’s attacks. You know they’re attacking you when they’re highlighted in red. The counter system allows you to deliver astonishingly brutal attacks. Once you’ve mastered countering you’re essentially unstoppable in hand-to-hand combat.
While the fighting mechanics are intuitive it takes a little bit of practice to become truly adept. If you get complacent and attempt to button mash your way to victory you’ll find yourself quickly defeated. Battles which pit you against multiple opponents, some of which are armed or have a grappling fighting style, force you to vary your attack and be mindful of your vulnerabilities. I lost several fights early on because I got overzealous and did not adapt to the fighting styles of my opponents. That is, until Sifu BobbyBeatle and I ran the gauntlet on all of the fight clubs in the game. After that, I was flawless in every other hand-to-hand combat situation. I revisited challenges, which were once incredibly difficult, and served up piping hot ass whippings with ease.
Throughout the course of Sleeping Dogs you’ll find yourself having to pick locks, hack computers, triangulate cell phone positions and crack safes. Doing so in the form of mini games. The mini games, which are seamlessly integrated into the game play, are very intuitive and just challenging enough to be fun without being annoying and frustrating. There are also several other activities available such as poker, cock fighting, karaoke and the aforementioned fight clubs to keep you busy. Even after finishing the game there’s still much that I haven’t done. I’ve only played poker once, as part of a mission, and I’ve yet to try any of the cock fighting.
There are numerous Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the game. A couple of my favorites are the various alternate outfits. You can wear Bruce Lee’s trademark yellow jump suit or Tony Jaa’s Ong Bak outfit. It’s said that clothes make the man and Sleeping Dogs is no exception. NPC’s react to what you wear and what you drive as well. While Sleeping Dogs is a very brutal, bloody and violent game, it’s not without a sense of humor. Although it’s sometimes a dark sense of humor.
Whether you’re popping a wheelie on a motorcycle or power sliding through a tight turn, the driving in Sleeping Dogs is FUN! Unlike GTA where you’re always one miscalculation away from disaster, Sleeping Dogs is much more forgiving. The slightest bump while riding a motorcycle doesn’t eject you into the air, nor does playing bumper cars with a luxury sedan cause your car to burst into flames and explode. This bit of leeway allows you to spend more time enjoying all of the crazy things you can do, like hijacking a car from a motorcycle, rather than paying off hospital bills.
In addition to the fighting and various mini games, there’s a racing element to Sleeping Dogs as well. I don’t like racing games. I especially don’t like racing games nestled into other games. Despite that, I really enjoy the racing in Sleeping Dogs. I enjoy it in large part because I can actually win the races, but also because it includes an important aspect of the only racing game I actually like, Road Rash! That aspect is being able to ram the other racers, taking them completely out of the race, allowing you to cruise to the finish line. You can ram police cars as well, making escaping the police pretty damn easy.
If you’re looking for a GTA IV clone, look elsewhere! You can’t spend all day watching television programs in Sleeping Dogs nor can you have sex with hookers. But not only do you not need to, you wouldn’t even have time to because you”ll be far too busy eating pork buns, singing karaoke, jump-kicking Triad gangsters and firing a .50 pistol whilst jumping through the air, in slow motion no less. I give Sleeping Dogs my highest recommendation of: Steal your Neighbors Kidneys and Buy this Game!
The “Where the’F-’ did my kidneys go?!” Prometheus