Image copyright Square Enix 2012
“Finally, a console game review.” Yes, after a number of weeks keeping to the mobile market, I think it’s about time I returned to the console for this week’s review. There’s still a place in the world for mobile games, and if you fancy reading about a good game (that is more than a little addictive), check out last week’s review. Looking at this week, however, I thought I’d give my verdict on a rather underrated game from 2012. Standing in the far-reaching shadow cast by GTA, it’s hard for any open-world action-adventure game to live up to those high-expectations – something we spoke about with our Saints Row review a number of months ago. This week’s choice manages to do just that using two words; kung. fu. Yep, it’s everyone’s favourite Hong Kong-based GTA clone, Sleeping Dogs.
I have some fond memories of this game that don’t even include playing it. One day, whilst I was still working in a local fast-food chain, I was talking to one of my colleagues about it. We both agreed it was a very underrated game that was a whole heap of fun to play.
And the kicker is, at that moment in time, I’d only just got through the tutorial missions!
The game features Wei Shen, a Chinese-American police officer who returns home to tackle the Sun On Yee triad organisation, by going undercover and infiltrating them to work his way up the ranks.
Sounds like a stereotypical story thus far, I know, and it doesn’t get too much more original as, whilst you progress through the ranks (and narrative), Wei Shen’s morality comes under scrutiny as his loyalty to the badge is stretched and his devotion to the gang grows.
Of course, whilst this is a tried and tested cliché these days, it still makes for interesting character development.
A video game of this genre typically features a level-up or progression system, and Sleeping Dogs is no exception.
As Wei Shen increases his XP, he can gain additional, bonus assets unlockable through the game’s skill tree; the more XP he builds working for the Triads, the more deadly attacks he can acquire, Face XP gain allows Wei to unlock cool new clothing items and accessories, whilst the Police XP will grant Wei various open-world tricks such as hot-wiring cars and disarming opponents. The game doesn’t force you to choose one path over the others, meaning Wei can be a kick-ass kung-fu warrior who knows how to hot-wire a car without setting off the alarms whilst wearing a designer suit.
Aside from these added features, as you progress through the game’s narrative, you unlock nicer houses, cars, and, as is expected in such a game, missions.
The missions vary from the traditional car-chase style, to the arbitrary cop-takes-down-a-group-of-thugs missions, to the frustratingly repetitive “spot the drug dealer” sequences which involve you hacking into a CCTV system to spy on a large gathering of criminals, waiting for the ‘correct’ criminal to show up and do the drug deal and then call in the cops to bust him. It’s repetitive because it’s always the same guy!
But I can forgive a game that also includes some of the best (see; worst) karaoke singing ever recorded. It’s worth a go just to hear Will Yun Lee (Wei Shen’s voice actor) tackling Air Supply’s “All Out of Love” – it get’s me every time!
Of course, it’s not all bad karaoke singing that Sleeping Dogs offers you; as you could probably work out, there are elements of driving to be done as well.
Square Enix was never going to pull out GTA-levels of quality when it came to this department, but seeing a motorbike travel along at 200mph to perform a perfect handbrake turn and barely lose any speed is always enjoyable, even if it’s not totally realistic.
And, through the many, many DLC packs available for the game, you can ride a mystical “cloud bike”, which is, presumably, the fastest thing in the game as it barely has to obey those pesky laws of physics.
But whilst we’re talking about driving, the racing side-quests (because of course there’s racing involved in it!) stack up the difficulty in huge waves. You go from having the fastest car/bike/boat available in-game, to being totally wiped out by something that looks like it should handle as well as my laptop. But then, after another attempt, you pull off the big finish and, voila, you realise there’s a time attack mode where you can try and do it all again, only better!
Sometimes I think the guys at United Front Games just enjoy a bit of sadomasochistic programming.
Or I need to get better at handling cars. Either way.
One of the best parts of the game is definitely the combat system.
Whilst GTA focuses on its weapon-heavy violence, and Saints Row utilises over-the-top and, oft-times, silly forms of melee combat, Sleeping Dogs rests on its laurels and features a Batman: Arkham City quality combat system. In other words, it’s rather good!
You’re able to mix up your fighting styles (which is a lot easier if you unlock some of those Triad awards we spoke about earlier), and a simple combo on one guy can turn into Wei breaking somebody else’s leg, whilst performing a flying roundhouse kick on another before countering a punch and turning it into a skull-busting flip.
It’s quite a combat heavy game, which is handy when you realise just how little the game focuses on gunplay – seriously, I had been playing for a solid two hours before even an enemy had a gun in hand, and even that was because it was part of the story!
But you don’t really miss the gunfights, truth be told, especially when you’ve got environmental kills that are as awesome to watch as they are a joy to pull off.
Nerd Rating; 9/10 – Whilst it may not be as renowned as GTA, Sleeping Dogs is an underrated gem of a title and a worthy of a place within the heavily populated landscape of open-world games. The combat, voice-acting, and general atmosphere of Hong Kong is a delight, and Wei Shen is actually a protagonist you can get behind, even when he’s on the wrong side of the law. The graphics and visual representation of Hong Kong actually make me want to visit the real HK, as, when comparing Sleeping Dogs imagery to photos, there’s a breathtaking amount of detail and accuracy captured. Oh, and the Zodiac Tournament DLC is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had playing a game – it’s like reenacting one of those trashy 1980s kung-fu movies, only with more self-awareness. Well done, Square Enix and United Front, well done.
If you like this, try; True Crime: Streets of L.A., Yakuza O, Batman: Arkham City
Sleeping Dogs, available on Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
Official website; https://eu.square-enix.com/en/games/sleeping-dogs