Steam sales may quite possibly be the best thing to ever happen. There are so many games that a gamer would never experience if not available at a lower price in a timely manner. Sleeping Dogs had gotten a lot of good press, but with the onslaught of good games released throughout 2012, it was hard to justify the money or the time to devote to the game. Then there was a Steam sale. A game that was only at the edges of my radar became a no brainer at fifteen dollars, and it was incredibly fortuitous that I did purchase the game at that price point, because Sleeping Dogs is a title that is worth paying full retail for.
Sleeping Dogs is a Grand Theft Auto-style game, so much as Othello and Taller Than A Dwarf are both plays. It is an open world, there are cars, and lots to do. The most startling thing about Sleeping Dogs is how well it draws you into its universe with an incredibly compelling story. The plot bears a large similarity to many Hong Kong crime movies like Hard Boiled, Infernal Affairs, and the American remake, The Departed. You play Wei Shen, a police officer on a deep undercover mission, with the goal of taking down the Triads. Along the way, the player wonders if Wei will remain loyal to organized crime, or if he will fulfill his mission of bringing down organized crime.
Though the story is rather generic, and the setting for numerous movies, it does manage to stand apart from the rest through the use of some spectacular writing, and strong voice acting. Each character that Wei encounters has strong motivations and a purpose that the player can easily discern. More than with many other games in recent history, Sleeping Dogs manages to make the player care about the NPCs in this world, even if they are some lowly triad soldiers. Take that, and combine it with a cast that includes Edison Chen, Lucy Liu, and Emma Stone – it’s going to be a good time.
Gameplay is equally entertaining. The developers have managed to give the player a living, breathing Hong Kong. Each neighborhood has a distinct feel about it, and there is never a lack of something to do. The most interesting aspect of the gameplay is how there are three separate experience branches that the player will go down. During each mission, Wei will earn Triad experience points when he hurts rival gang members or other “bad” things, while he starts with a set number of police experience points, which then gets subtracted from as he does things, such as running over pedestrians with a car, or killing bystanders. It is important to note here that these two pools of experience points do not represent a zero-sum game. Finally, there is face, which is increased by performing sidequests in each area. All three branches unlock new abilities.
The time a player will spend as a part of the Hong Kong organized crime scene is satisfying. The people encountered are memorable and well fleshed out, and overall, the shortcomings of the game are pronounced because everything else is just so well done. Combat can be repetitive, and even more so if the player is in an area where they cannot use environmental attacks, such as pushing someone’s head into a handy nearby table saw, much to their compatriots’ dismay. In addition to that, some of the characters in the game aren’t fully fleshed out. For example, Wei can go on dates with women, but only two. Dates, that is. It is quite disconcerting to meet a new character, go on a date mission with them twice, and never interact with them ever again, or even find out what happens to them, and again, it is quite noticeable when all of the other relationships get so developed.
By the time this review is published, you should be able to pick up the title new at $30. It’s not often that a great crime story like this is told in ANY sort of media, not just a video game. If open world action adventure games are your thing, you’ll really enjoy Sleeping Dogs. If you like crime movies such as The Departed and Heat, you’ll really enjoy Sleeping Dogs. If you… you get the point. A title like this with competent gameplay and a GREAT narrative is one that needs experiencing. I enjoyed Sleeping Dogs and so will you.
Sleeping Dogs is available on PC, X360 and PS3