Spoilers for Sleeping Dogs
I’ll be the first one to admit that I am bit late to the party on this one.
Sleeping Dogs was the epitome of a “sleeper” game. It came out the same week as Darksiders II, and there wasn’t much buzz going into the game’s release. Yet, as the reviews came through, the narrative seemed to change. Garnering solid scores across the board (7’s, 8’s, and 9’s), Sleeping Dogs was no longer living under the shadow of its torrid past as a True Crime successor. It had become the open-world underdog; a great game that sold based on word of mouth of those that had experienced its fullness of its created Hong Kong. It was a “cinderella story” for the games industry. It sold well enough at retail; but it wasn’t until it came up on Playstation Plus that I finally got around to playing it.
I should have played it sooner.
Sleeping Dogs starts off similarly to moves like the original Fast and Furious; you are an undercover cop sent into the triads to attempt to bring them down without getting too deep. Yet, it is from that starting point that the developers made a point to have the player start caring about those you are trying to bring down. I laughed as I began the game, thinking, “I’m not going to go ‘native.’ It’s hero boy to the rescue.” Yet, the further I played through, the more I began to question my motivations. When a rival triad gang murders my boss at his wedding, after I had taken his fiancee around town to pick up her things the day before; my first thought wasn’t, “what will the HKPD need to do,” but rather, “get me the biggest gun you can find.” This is a giant credit to the game’s writing staff and speaks to the strong narrative that they were creating. There are tons of moments like this peppered throughout the game; moments of just gut, emotional reactions. This is especially true as you near the end of the game; as it climaxes towards its inevitable conclusion.
Mechanically, the game is quite sound. The driving is better than GTA, and the overlay they use on the world to tell you where to go is incredibly helpful. The cars and bikes handle well, and the game captures that feeling of drifting through the city streets perfectly. Where Sleeping Dogs really shines is in its melee combat. Though not as strong as the Arkham games (the new gold standard), Sleeping Dogs’ combat is still quite stellar. It takes combines the rhythmic and timing based attacks of Batman, and adds in an almost fighting game style combo system. These different button combinations have your character string different attacks and finishers together to great effect. It becomes more about managing the group and spacing, than about comboing a single enemy. Unfortunately, the lock on system isn’t that effective and sometimes button inputs aren’t that responsive; which makes the giant multi-man brawls you fight late game all the more difficult. The gunplay is exactly what you would expect in an open world action game. It’s perfectly average; but they do give you a bullet time feature that you can use when you hop over cover. It’s fun the first time; but when you get good enough to clear out a room of ten+ enemies with one jump, it looses its luster.
After completing the game, it is not surprising to see why everyone liked Sleeping Dogs. It gave players an interesting story, solid gameplay, and a place that was both foreign and familiar at the same time. Sleeping Dogs is better than the sum of its parts; and is worth the play through if you have the time. Hong Kong is large and vibrant; with street races, criminal activity, karaoke and much more flowing through its busy streets. It was an exciting place to tell a story, and I hope that there are more to tell here. If only I could remember to drive on the left side of the road…..