Yes, I know. I suck for not playing and getting this game when it first came out last year. I blame my initial impressions with open world games. I never got into the Grand Theft Auto series and why people praise it to high heavens. I tried again with Red Dead Redemption since the theme is different, but alas, I still was not impressed by Rockstar. LA Noire came into the picture a few years ago and I played it until four to five cases, but never got to finish it even though it was loads better than the other games I tried previously. Thus ended my interest in sandbox games and I committed a capital sin by not giving Sleeping Dogs a once-over when it was released last year.
Then the PlayStation Plus freebie happened. I looked at the game (after being pimped to death in the Square Enix crazy sales a few months back which I also passed on), and said why not? It’s free anyway. Queued it, downloaded and played for an hour. One hour became two, then three. I realized I cannot put the controller down despite it being 1:00 AM already. To borrow Reggie’s infamous quote, “My body is ready” for open world games, finally.
To be honest, there is nothing hugely spectacular with Sleeping Dogs. It has the same formula as the Grand Theft Auto games, maybe a marriage of it and LA Noire even. I never got into the two games maybe because the themes are not so much to my liking. GTA lets me live a life of crime by working as a thug for local gangs or something, while in LA Noire I am a straight arrow cartoony looking cop. Sleeping Dogs let me enjoy the two sides of the coin at the same time by playing as Wei Shen, an undercover police officer trying to infiltrate the Sun on Yee, which is one of the more prominent triads in Hong Kong. A childhood friend named Jackie Ma assists you and vouches for you to get the trust of one of the “red poles” of Sun on Yee. You eventually become the right-hand man by doing the gang’s dirty work to earn their trust. On the side though, you provide vital information to the police to facilitate their undoing.
Above average story writing. Well, the story is not that unique as there are probably tens of Hong Kong movies centered around the theme of being an undercover cop trying to infiltrate a gang, but somehow this shallow plot works for the game. It gives a lot of room for doing a number of fun side missions but can still stay true to the linear plot . The dialogues are well-written; it is mostly in English but peppered with Cantonese phrases every now and then which really makes you feel the setting of the game. I also learned some cuss words and gang stuff in Cantonese, so yeeeeahhhh I feel like a tough guy.
Memorable characters. The characters are well-developed and have different motivations in their being in a gang. You will feel their indifference to you at the start when you are still a lowlife thug trying to move your way up in the triad, but will later warm up to you as you prove your loyalty and service to them. While playing as lead character Wei Shen, his back story develops through progressing in the game and is also supplemented by report files that you get as rewards in the game (you can read character profiles and reports through your mobile phone). You will also get to learn to love the gang members, even though they are ultimately bad people by being in the business, but the game gave them redeeming qualities and interesting personalities to make you want to root for them somehow.
Stellar voice acting. Sleeping Dogs has one of the best voice over works I have heard in a video game. This might be because they enlisted popular actors to do the voice work of the characters which really made them come to life. Wei Shen is voiced by Will Yun Lee, Jackie Ma by Edison Chen and Uncle Po by James Hong. Supporting characters include Emma Stone, Lucy Liu, Kelly Hu and a lot of celebrities. This is voice acting done right, video games people; there are lots to be learned from United Front Games.
Entertaining side missions. Normally I skip side missions in games especially if the game’s story is super interesting to cut into pieces, but the ones in Sleeping Dogs are equally entertaining. They range from infiltrating illegal racing circuits (so of course you get to drive around Hong Kong), doing drug busts (you are still a police officer after all), joining martial art fight clubs and well, karaoke with the ladies. See, there are tons of things to do and all of them are fun as hell.
The music is all parts awesome. Like Grand Theft Auto, music blares when you are riding your car. The radio stations have different themes so you can choose to rock out to heavy metal (Roadrunner Records station), indie (Kerrang Radio), hiphop (Real) or even Cantonese Pop and orchestra (Ninja Tunes and Softly). One thing I was disappointed about is that the ads are pretty serious so you don’t hear any funny ads or talk shows like in GTA.
Overall gameplay. You get to fight in fisticuffs or shoot using pistols, machine guns or even a freaking grenade launcher. There are simple puzzle decoding activities to get into goodies, and loads of stuff that will make you feel like a Hong Kong action star. The game is very well-rounded and offers a lot of things to do in the game so you do not get bored by being stuck doing the same things over and over.
Minor bugs. There are some bugs in the game which breaks the game’s seriousness sometimes, but nothing that will destroy the flow of the game so I didn’t mind it that much. There are times that the boss would taunt me while I beat him up and then his dialogue / voice continues to play even though he’s already dead. Also, this is probably not a bug but sometimes when I fight with the thugs and I have only like one hit left on my life bar, I die from being PUSHED by a gangster. Yeah it’s considered a hit, I guess, but it’s just funny to die by just being pushed though.
Map icons. It could be fine-tuned as some of the icons of drug bust locations are actually inaccessible by the route that the GPS maps out. Not that serious, but it can be fixed.
Emma Stone? I was stoked to see Emma Stone’s name on the game’s starting credits roll but dismayed to find out I have already finished the game and only had like two interactions with her character (Amanda Cartwright). What’s up with that? I am still playing the game to get all the trophies though so I am still hoping I get to bump on her somewhere.
Things That Could Swing Either Way:
Graphics. To be fair, I played this on the PlayStation 3. I cannot say if it’s any better on the PC, but I am guessing it would be especially if you have an awesome rig. The textures sometimes take a while to load and they’re not as amazing as well, LA Noire or The Last of Us in terms of facial expressions and whatnot but it’s not too bad.
Overall, Sleeping Dogs is a solid game that still deserves your purchase (yes, it has already cycled out of the PlayStation Plus free games). The game has the right amount of length story-wise, and there are tons of things left to do even if you finish the game by doing only the core missions. The writing is superb, the voice acting stellar, the music gives the right vibe to the Hong Kong triad scene and the brawling and shooting is mad, mad fun.
Sleeping Dogs is developed by United Front Games and Square Enix.