Wednesday, 29 August 2012

REVIEW: Sleeping Dogs (PC)

Sleeping Dogs is an open-world sandbox action game set in Hong Kong. I could probably give it a better description, but I'm sure you guys will understand it better if I tell you that it's essentially GTA: Hong Kong. As per my review rules, the main story portion of the game was played to completion. There was no difficulty setting.

In Sleeping Dogs, you play as Wei Shen, an undercover HKPD officer going deep undercover to infiltrate and bring down the notorious Triad gangs. Anyone familiar with Hong Kong cinema will recognize the bog-standard plot, and appreciate that the it's essentially Infernal Affairs: The Game. Stranglehold, the officially licensed John Woo game released back in 2007 was the last attempt to bring the world of Hong Kong action flicks to the gaming world. It succeeded with its flawless combat system, but unfortunately the rest of game was very short and very shallow. Sleeping Dogs has learned from Stranglehold's mistakes and has succeeded in bringing the islands of Hong Kong to life.

Vibrant neon signs help bring Hong Kong to life

This is one of the strongest points of the game. While GTA IV's sprawling metropolis of Liberty City was certainly much bigger than Sleeping Dog's portrayal of Hong Kong, it felt empty. The people were stoic and scripted, the locals were bland and samey, and it was very obvious you were playing a video game. On the other hand, the Hong Kong that Sleeping Dogs presents is very much alive. It's one of the first open world games I've played where the NPC's felt like people, not programs. Pedestrians open umbrellas (or flee if they don't have one) when it rains, street vendors call to you from their markets, and people actually learn your name as your notoriety rises. It really shocked me when I was buying a pork bun from the vendor outside my house, and he said 'Thanks, Wei' instead of his usual 'Thank you!'

Sleeping Dog's representation of Hong Kong is small, but lively

The smaller size of Sleeping Dog's map means that each district feels varied and distinct. As you explore them for the first time, you'll notice a lot of little things that jump out at you. For example, in one of the poorer districts, I spied an NPC reliving himself against a wall... 

As you progress through the game, you'll be able to spend your heard earned Triad blood money (or honest policeman's salary) on new, faster cars, clothes that give various social or combat bonuses, and short term 'buffs' to your combat stats. Buffs are collected by drinking energy drinks, eating food, and getting a massage. While this was a cool little concept, it quickly grew old and became tedious, as I felt obligated to refresh my buffs before starting every mission. A simple option to skip the animations Wei performs when getting the buffs would have gone a long way in reducing this tedium.

The 'lady killer' set unlocks additional dialogue options while on dates.
Combat in Sleeping dogs is split into two main areas: martial arts and gunplay. The martial arts fights draw obvious inspiration from the combo/counter systems of games like Assassins' Creed and Batman: Arkham Aslyum. It rewards you for performing flowing combos and punishes you for missing counters. It feels really natural, and when you get a good flow going and start to make use of the environmental takedowns (like tossing a goon into a dumpster) it makes you feel like you're Jackie Chan.

A red flashing enemy indicates a counter oppertunity

No Hong Kong action movie is complete without a fair share of over-the-top gun fights, and Sleeping Dogs is happy to oblige. Bursting from cover offers the gaming staple of bullet time, allowing you to dive over tables, disarm opponents, take precise shots, and of course, shoot many conveniently placed explosive barrels.

Wei does his gunfighting in cemeteries, SO THEY DON'T HAVE TO MOVE THE BODIES

Driving is generally well done - the vehicles handle well and the segments are never too long, but one of the coolest addition to Sleeping Dogs are the free-running sections. Often, you'll have to chase a crook through the side-streets and back alleys, clambering over obstacles and jumping across rooftops. It's really well done, rewarding flow and timing just like the combat system, making you feel like a badass when you can pull it off perfectly.

Sleeping Dogs lets you chase crooks by car, by boat, and now, on foot!

As you complete missions for the police and the triads, you'll gain points that you can learn to unlock various permanent upgrades for the respective skill trees. You can also get upgrades by completing side missions or collecting various items strewn throughout the city. The main story progression was very well done - the game never 'forced' me to do anything I didn't want to, and I never felt 'brickwalled' into doing a whole bunch of side missions to build up my character. I sunk around 18 hours into the game, and actually felt myself hungry for more. This surprised me, as I usually can't stand these kind of sandbox games. I never even finished GTA IV.

Complete Triad missions for triad score, police missions for cop score, and side missions for face score

Sleeping Dogs wouldn't be a GTA clone without an array of useless, poorly implemented mini-games. Wei can go sing Karaoke, bet on cock fights, and hack various security cameras around the city. Just like in GTA, they don't really add anything except maybe a little extra flavour. Hacking is forced on you a couple of times for some specific missions, but it's so hard to fail that it makes me wonder why they even put it in at all. It's an immersion crutch, like the ever popular quick-time events (which are thankfully far and few between in Sleeping Dogs).

1, 2, 3 and uhh.... 4

Sleeping Dogs has been a sleeper hit for me (no pun intended), coming out of no-where and enticing me enough to re-think my views on the open-world sandbox genre. But more importantly, I feel it has accurately captured the feel of Hong Kong cinema. As someone who recently acquired a collection of every Jackie Chan movie ever made (including The Tuxedo) I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a big fan of Hong Kong cinema, and this game had me feel like I was playing through a video game version of Hard Boiled, Infernal Affairs, or Police Story. All it was missing was an explosion of doves every time I entered a room.

Verdict: Buy it

Buy Sleeping Dogs on the Steam store

Liked this article? Check out my Death Rally review


  1. Nice review. Wasn't biased, got to the point, and actually made me want to buy the game.

    1. Thanks! I appreciate the feedback!

    2. im sorry if you wrote this and i ddidnt see it but how long does it take to complete the storyline

    3. The main story would take around 12 hrs if you did none of the extra side missions. I did a bunch of extra missions and it took me around 18 hrs till i was finished with it.

  2. Why do you mention GTA so much? it really bothers me that you are trying to compare instead of making a review and in some points you aren't even right. "It's one of the first open world games I've played where the NPC's felt like people, not programs. Pedestrians open umbrellas (or flee if they don't have one) when it rains, street vendors call to you from their markets, and people actually learn your name as your notoriety rises." from that i can take that you haven't play GTA IV and yet you make a review/comparison to a game you are not familiar with.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I'm sorry you feel that way, let me try and address your concern. I made all the comparisons because they are obvious, this game is a GTA clone at heart, but I feel it does a better job. It's also a good reference points for fans of the genre. I felt like the NPC's of GTA were much more stoic and programmed than the Sleeping Dogs NPC's, who actually made you feel like you were in a living breathing city!