Sleeping Dogs – Game Analysis and Review
By Patrick Newman
Developers: United Front Games, Square Enix London Studios
Publishers: Square Enix, Namco Bandai Games
Director: Lee Singleton
Producers: Dan Sochan, Stephen Van Der Mescht, Jeff O’Connell
Designer: Mike Scupa
Writer: Jacob Krarup
Composer: Jeff Tymoschuk
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Cloud (OnLive)
Release Date: August 14, 2012
Genre: Action-adventure, open world
Sleeping Dogs, Square Enix’s open-world gangster saga set in a detailed, sprawling Hong Kong, is an exciting, violent rush that gets better every time you play it. The draw for most action fans will be the combat system, which borrows a lot from Rocksteady’s Arkham series in terms of martial arts featuring multiple attackers. Despite problems with the game’s third-person camera and some shortcomings in the graphics, it’s about the best time you could ever have playing a video game, and certainly on par with Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series.
The hero of Sleeping Dogs is undercover cop Wei Shen (Will Yun Lee), formerly of the San Francisco Police Department, who drives, shoots, punches and kicks his way towards rooting out the triad organization Sun On Yee. Though the city’s map is noticeably restricted from the scale we have come to expect from GTA, the environment and atmosphere of Hong Kong’s four districts are intricate and well-rendered. The NPC’s can also be delightful from an AI standpoint, their movement – especially in cutscenes – leaves a lot to be desired.
Though the story and characters are a ridiculous explosion of stereotypes and histrionics, the elements are effectively put in service of a top-notch series of action set-pieces set on land, sea, and air. The characters, voiced in both English and Chinese, are performed by award-winners like Robin Shou, Tom Wilkinson and Emma Stone, who each make some of the broad storytelling go down easier. At the core of Sleeping Dogs is a bond of brotherhood between the undercover cop and the triad who brings him into the organization, a Hong Kong movie trope that manages a surprisingly emotional payoff.
The length of the game lends to its epic feel, clocking at around 25 hours to explore Hong Kong’s underbelly to its margins. Typical of the sandbox gangster genre, Wei Shen shifts between factions to go on various violent shake-downs, executed with everything from pipes and meat cleavers (the better for Square Enix to earn their M rating), to a gallery of firearms and most entertainingly, a complex, “Freeflow” martial arts system that turns Wei Shen into an adversary that would make Van Damme jealous. The frequent fight sequences, reminiscent of the Arkham series, have a simplicity and brutality rarely done this well in third person action. The game may be long, but its ceaselessly exciting gameplay made Sleeping Dogs a breezy experience.
The duality between Wei Shen’s duty as a cop and his responsibilities to the triad is represented in Triad XP and Police XP, which rise or fall based on the player’s actions in the game. This makes every shot taken or bone snapped relevant to the game’s outcome, adding a layer of complexity to what is already a mostly excellent gangster story. Other RPG elements include Wei’s ability to buy clothes and vehicles, which also affect his reputation, or Face XP.
Sleeping Dogs never stops changing up its gameplay and offering the player interesting challenges, in the form of numerous non-story missions and mini-games (Singing “I Fought the Law” on karaoke was an immediate favorite of mine). Despite having an unresponsive camera system, draw distance issues and occasional glitches, the lion’s share of the game has been crafted masterfully. Its vision of Hong Kong, influenced by John Woo films and other pop, was a world that I was happy to return to every day. It is a standout not only for its genre, but for any game released this year.
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