Remember back when Activision canned United Front Studios' True Crime Hong Kong and then Square Enix picked it up and released a game that's currently got an 83 average on Metacritic. Man, those were crazy times.
When I think about all the cash Activision sunk into that True Crime title. All that E3 promotion money, that lavish concert that featured a song and dance number centered around the game? I guess it was just all a bit too much to handle. Pity, they could have had a pretty big hit on their hands.
Though now that I think on it, I probably would have ignored Sleeping Dogs completely if it were still a True Crime game, so there's that.
The reviewers certainly seem to like it. Let's see if they remember the time Activision passed on this.
Sleeping Dogs has been through a heap of concept and name changes throughout its development, but the Vancouver-based firm United Front Games has finally unleashed its latest creation.
It's worlds apart from the developer's first game Modnation Racers, but Sleeping Dogs isn't completely unfamiliar. From its narrative to gameplay features, Sleeping Dogs is an amalgamation of other people's good ideas. It's not inspiring, it's inspired.
You play as Wei Shen, a Hong Kong native who has returned after spending some time in the States. Driven by a desire to avenge his sister's death, he accepts a dangerous assignment to infiltrate the Sun On Yee triad and help take them down from the inside. Starting out on the lowest rungs of the criminal ladder, he rapidly climbs up through the ranks, behaving in ways that sometimes make his triad cohorts suspect he's a cop and sometimes make his police superiors think he's getting too attached to his brothers in crime. It's a typical tale of an undercover cop possibly getting in too deep, and the story doesn't have any surprises in store for you. But solid voice acting and writing that convincingly blends English and Cantonese make it a narrative that's more than capable of supporting the gameplay, providing context for many a dramatic mission and building up to a cathartic climax that's bloody enough to be taken right out of one of John Woo's Hong Kong action films.
The Sixth Axis
The progress through the reasonably timed story missions is relatively linear – there's no portions of the game in which you must choose between several mission-givers – but there is a lot to do besides chasing through the story. Sleeping Dogs has all the usual things you'd expect to see in an open world crime game. The mix of side mission types is varied and ranges from the usual pick up and drop off types, chase evasion and participation in minor crimes to the standard car theft to order and the more prominently positioned police case files you can follow up with.
There is plenty to upgrade during the course of the game too, from returning stolen statues to trade for martial arts lessons to respect increases with the Triads and the HKPD leading to skill upgrades, you don't have a great deal of branching options but each upgrade does give you very discernible benefits. You'll gain more points with the Triads for brutality and variation in combat and the HKPD will respect you more for not damaging public property or harming civilians.
At its heart, Sleeping Dogs does many of the things its top echelon competition in the genre already does pretty well, but where the game really shines is in the handful of things it does decidedly better. Hand-to-hand combat, for instance, is button-mashy and simple – almost Arkham City-like — but works really well and makes Grand Theft Auto IV look subpar and archaic by comparison. This is good, as you'll be relying on hand-to-hand combat with the occasional weapon thrown in – such as a kitchen knife, a pipe or a nightstick – for a majority of the game. Likewise, Sleeping Dog's driving mechanics are immaculate, outclassing its closest competition as United Front Games invokes some of the spirit that made it so successful with ModNation Racers. In other words, expect to be surprised by how much better Sleeping Dogs does certain things than games you'd, at first glance, think completely outshine it.
Sleeping Dogs boasts dozens of unlicensed cars, bikes, and boats, but don't worry, they're similar enough to the real thing that you can tell what's what without much work. The vehicles handle incredibly well, featuring sharp controls and fun evasion mechanics used during police chases. The Police chases never last long, as two hits with the vehicle ram attack and they're down for the count. If you happen to have a gun on you while you're in a car, you can smash out the window and hang out the side of the car shooting enemy vehicles in slow motion. It doesn't matter how many times I do this, it still manages to be fun every time.
It's honestly a lot to take in, but Sleeping Dogs' story serves as the perfect wrapper for the wealth of game mechanics, offering up memorable characters and moving tale of vengeance, betrayal, and conflicting loyalties. And it's all thoughtfully tied into a three-pronged advancement system, a wealth of unlockables, and a series of intense minigames that all cleverly converge to deliver a cinema-quality plotline that just happens to feature a videogame shell.
Unlike some of gaming's more movie-minded adventures, Sleeping Dogs' gripping narrative doesn't detract from the action in the slightest, leaving us with one of the more playable, personable police quests of the modern era. It may not be as crass or flashy as some of its competitors, but Sleeping Dogs has a surprising amount of soul for a game of this ilk, offering a refreshing take on what's possible from an open-world action title-and more depth than you can shake a tire iron at. Not bad for a game that almost didn't make it out of the gate after Activision pulled the plug, eh?
So while Sleeping Dogs is a very capable open-world game, I loved it even more for having a complex storyline that made me feel every ounce of emotion Wei felt. I was Wei Shen. And life is a mess. But if anyone can handle it, it's me.