I wasn’t very interested in Sleeping Dogs when it was released. I honestly thought it looked like a rather mediocre GTA clone. I tried the demo, but I wasn’t very impressed. However, when the game went on sale I decided to give it a shot having heard a lot of good things about it, and I’m pleased to say my initial assumptions were quite incorrect.
Sleeping Dogs is a GTA clone, but it’s a damn good one. And
whilst it may take a lot of inspiration from the GTA model, to simply
write it off as a clone does it a great disservice, because SD is a
game very much with its own identity, and it brings a lot of its own
good ideas to the table.
Sleeping Dogs sees you assume the role of the likeable protagonist
Wei Shen, returning to his old stomping grounds of Hong Kong. He’s
a police officer, now working undercover in order to infiltrate a
Triad organisation. The story is dark, gritty and down-to-earth,
although there are some moments of levity to balance out the
regularly brutal violence. The story is fairly well paced and
engaging, and features a variety of interesting characters on both
sides of the law (with good VA work throughout).
Like Wei Shen, the player finds themselves torn between their loyalty
to their assignment and their new Triad friends. The game largely
avoids any clichéd straight up ‘good’ or ‘bad’ guys. Oh,
there are a few and it’s certainly satisfying when they get their
comeuppance, but on the whole, the characters, even some of the more
unpleasant criminal elements, still draw you in, and you still feel
bad when something happens to them.
At one point in the story, a good friend of Wei’s is taken in by
the police. He’s a criminal but he’s not a ‘bad’ guy and you
share Wei’s frustration at this turn of events. The only negatives
I really have in regards to the story is that the ending is a little
abrupt and unsatisfying. Although it should be said, my
disappointment stems more from that fact that I was enjoying the game
so much I wanted more - and that’s always a good sign. I should
also note that the action segments can sometimes be a little OTT,
which somewhat jars with the overall serious tone of the story.
Like any good GTA clone, SD features a large sandbox city to play in.
The world is fairly large, but unfortunately not particularly
interesting to explore. There are a lot of enclosed roadways and
streets, which doesn’t give the greatest sense of freedom. There’s
no aerial travel, but there are plenty of cars and bikes and a small
selection of boats - although very little reason to use them outside
of a couple of missions.
The world is nicely detailed throughout,
with plenty of civilians reacting dynamically to your dangerous
driving, or just putting up an umbrella when it rains. Oh yeah, rain
- it looks gorgeous in the game, and is very atmospheric. Overall,
the game looks very good. I used the HD texture pack though, so I’m
not sure how it looks without it.
Driving is okay, although it took some getting used to, particularly
bikes, which I don’t think I ever felt handled right. They always
felt a little awkward and fiddly to control. There’s a decent
selection of music on a few radio stations, but nowhere near as good
as in GTA titles. The arrows in the road are a nice touch - guiding
you to your set destination without having to continually check the
mini-map. Police chases are very easy to elude, but given your status
as an undercover officer, it wouldn’t make much sense to spend so
much time fighting the police.
Combat! It’s good, but very easy. It reminded me a lot of Arkham
Asylum. It’s primarily melee based, featuring counters, combos and
throws. It doesn’t feel quite as fluid or responsive as in AA, but
it’s certainly enjoyable as you learn new combos, and environment
take-downs are always satisfying.
There are a few different enemy types, but nothing that really makes
you change up your tactics and it never really gets more difficult
either - the game just throws more guys at you at once. The gun based
combat feels a little sluggish, but it does the job, and it rarely
comes into play, at least until towards the end. It has a nice little
slow motion mechanic when vaunting over cover or shooting from
vehicles. There’s a level up/upgrade system which is okay, but
feels a little tacked on. Unlocks vary between good and ‘never
going to use’ and it could have been more fleshed out.
Apart from the main missions, side quests are plentiful but largely
repetitive affairs. There are dozens of collectibles to discover -
money, clothes and upgrade items. There’s plenty of cosmetic
customisation options, plus different temporary bonuses from
purchasable food which give you a small boost during missions. The
phone is nicely integrated (no annoying cousins bothering you to go
bowling) and I love the valet call, a nice little touch.
You can go on ‘dates’ in the game with certain characters, but
these are rather pointless and don’t tie in to the main plot or
really lead anywhere at all, which is a shame. On top of all of that,
there’s a ton of extra content and stuff to keep you busy -
karaoke, races, side jobs, ‘favours’, random events, fight clubs
Overall, SD is a great title. With a little more polish and fleshed
out features, it easily could have rated higher. But even so, SD is
well worth your time and investment. It may not excel in any
particular area, but it blends together some very solid, very
entertaining mechanics, and the complete package was extremely
engaging and enjoyable to play.