Sleeping Dogs
Developer: United Front
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: One, friends leaderboards.
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In Sleeping Dogs you play Wei Shen, an undercover cop born in Hong Kong and raised in America who has returned to Hong Kong to try and sort out the burgeoning Yakuza gang problem. After a glittering career with the San Francisco PD with many arrests to his name, Wei’s new job is to infiltrate the ‘Sun On Yee’ gang, and the game tells the story of how he goes about impressing the hierarchy and moving up the ranks, and how blurred the line becomes between undercover cop and Yakuza hood when friendship and loyalties get confused.

One of the first hints that United Front had created more than just a simple GTA clone (industry gossip says that Sleeping Dogs was originally to be True Crime: Hong Kong before Activision dropped it) was the first drug bust mission. First you have to beat the heck out of a drug gang, then hack the nearby CCTV camera (sometimes the control box will be some way from the camera, so you’ll have to find it by tracking the cable) via a sort of numerical combination minigame not unlike the old Mastermind pegboard game, then return to your apartment, view a drug deal and identify the dealer so the HKPD uniform officers can arrest them while you watch in the comfort of your own home. The open world game habit of going from place to place, having a huge fist fight/shootout and then moving on to the next, almost identical fight doesn’t really occur here, there’s a period when it starts to get a little repetitive but Sleeping Dogs seldom forces you to follow the plot rigorously or nags you to continue with the story-for much of the game you’re free to explore and play the game at your own pace.

he combat is simple but effective and satisfyingly brutal, and all of the game’s moves and animations were overseen by Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight Champion Georges St Pierre. A tap of ‘X’ is light attack button, and to keep things simple holding ‘X’ down performs a strong attack. Pressing ‘Y’ at the right moment will counter an enemy’s attack (they glow red to let you know they’re going to try and thump you) and you can also grapple enemies by pressing ‘B’, and then throw them by pressing the ‘R’ trigger. A grappled enemy can also be punished with various bits of scenery, like stickling their head in a urinal, an air conditioning unit, a furnace or even a bench saw, with suitably gory results! When grappled, bad guys (some are easier to grapple than others who must be stunned before they can be grappled) can be thrown through windows, over ledges or even stuffed in the boot of a car (if it has one.) You can also get a tyre iron out of the boot of many cars to use as a handy melee weapon, and other weapons include batons, crowbars, ladies’ handbags and even the occasional fish to use as a club-there’s actually an achievement for killing someone with a fish!

You can even get a pump shotgun out of cop vehicles later in the game, but Sleeping Dogs is never too much about firearms, and sets itself aside from most open world games by focussing on hand to hand, mixed-martial arts combat. This isn’t to say that the shootouts are poor, the cover mode works adequately and the combination of cover-shooting, run & gunning and hand-to-hand combat makes for some truly satisfying and exciting battles. “Dying,” as in GTA, simply costs you some embarrassment and hefty hospital bill; this seems to be linked to how much cash you have so my initial fears that I’d go bankrupt if I kept dying soon evaporated. The main thing to remember is to keep using the counter (‘Y’) button, and soon fights where you’re outnumbered 10 to 1 will be a doddle, with you hungrily looking for more “arse” to kick.

Sleeping Dogs' version of Hong Kong is a very interactive place; even in Wei's apartment you'll find that you can use the toilet and the wash basin, open and close the bathroom door and use his flat screen TV to link into local security cameras once you've hacked them-you also learn to pick locks, hack computers and set surveillance bugs. Pastimes include Karaoke (it plays a bit like Guitar Hero without a guitar), Gambling Den (Mahjong poker) and Cock Fighting (no, really!)

Like the combat, Wei’s movement is very simple to perform, and there’s no ‘jump’ button as such, so Wei performs jumps, hurdles and general climbing and clambering semi-automatically, although pressing ‘A’ once when sprinting (you hold ‘A’ to sprint too) just before you reach an obstacle makes Wei hurdle or scale it more effectively. Climbing objects also requires a press of the ‘A’ button, but these are all context sensitive and Wei’s movement features several basic Parkour moves. Like I’ve found in a lot of games though, the lack of a jump button limits how much of the Hong Kong you can explore to just what the developers wanted you to see, and also sometimes puts you in some strange positions where Wei gets either stuck or could obviously climb or jump to a surface but he just won’t jump or grab hold because the level designer didn’t want you to go there-this even happens when docking boats in some places that look like they’re specifically designed to tie up at. The game includes a nice feature in that if you hold ‘B’ when near a dock or pier the boat will automatically slide up next to it, so all you have to do is press ‘Y’ for Wei to jump out of the boat onto dry land, meaning less unintentional swims than in GTA IV, although, amusingly, Wei will still inexplicably jump out of the wrong side of the boat into the sea…

The game has a multi-faceted experience points system with “Cop”, “Triad" and “Face” XP earned for completing tasks in a particular way. Face represents your reputation, and you can enhance this by doing favours, events and street races (all marked on the map.) Wearing certain items of clothing enhances either Cop, Triad or Face XP.

Various drinks and snacks add temporary buffs to Wei’s health and attack strength; Dragon Kick energy drink increases your melee damage, herbal tea helps keep you alive by reducing damage taken. As well as these beverages various snack foods bought from stalls such as a bowl of noodles, chicken on a stick, roast duck, curry fish balls, waffle eggs, ice cream, fish dumpling, spicy squid or the ever-popular (and oddly amusing) pork bun give you health regeneration for a limited time. You can also get a massage from some very friendly local girls which tops up your health, sharpens your senses and makes your Face meter fill up a bit faster.

The city’s road system is complex, criss-crossed with alleyways, sweeping highways and overpass bridges. Fortunately you can pull a map with a press of the back button, all useful locations and mission starts are on there, and eventually so are the locations of all the collectibles. Waypoints can be set and you can hail a taxi and get it to take you to set location, although for some reason it won’t take you just anywhere you want on the map, but it’s probably a traffic jam or glitch-avoidance thing.

The vehicle handling is varied, but the steering disappointingly twitchy on all vehicles at low speeds. The steering feels much more natural at high speed, but just cruising around the city feels more digital than analogue—like you may as well be using the D-pad. Driving boats is a much smoother experience, and all aquatic journeys are enhanced by the lovely water and wake effects. Just as in GTA Wei can steal any car he comes across, but also has the ability to hijack moving vehicles (you hold ‘A’ down to prepare for the move and then press ‘A’ again when you're close enough to the target vehicle.) This works a lot like the the ultra-daft Airjacking in Wheelman, but looks more slightly more plausible.

Although there are a couple of boat chases in the game and plenty of civilian posers cruising around in speedboats and yachts you can't do the hijack thing with boats, and when I tried to board another moving boat by leaving the boat I was controlling with perfect timing to step aboard another boat, Wei got frozen in position and ended up on the floor looking like he'd been tasered! All I could do from this position was quit and reload.

When playing you often incur the wrath of the Hong Kong PD; the Cops are stern but fair, usually fairly easy to escape and the AI rarely shows signs of the psychopathic behaviour of cops in many other games. Your “Heat” rating rises as you cause more havoc (like “wanted” stars in GTA), and the cops will respond accordingly, it’s usually a matter of putting distance between you and them, and nipping down alleyways or taking any of the spectacular jumps (that are sprinkled liberally around the city) will normally lose a tail.

As I mentioned earlier, all of the 4 main districts of the city have their own set of car and bike races. There are a couple of stupid bike races where the opposition seems more intent on murder/suicide than racing, and a few routes that pass through narrow alleys where the walls and every little projection seem to reach out and grab hold of the bike that will irritate, but in the main the racing is an entertaining diversion. None of them drag on too long and they don’t become a chore like in some games of the ilk, and there’s a ramming mechanic (‘X’ button + steer) that allows you to ram opponents (or cops). This has also been “borrowed” from Wheelman. It’s worth noting that you can replay races and missions from the social hub for extra cash and XP away from the main storyline.

The story is well-scripted and has believable dialogue, and the cut-scenes are well acted with voice talent that's just about as good as it gets. Wei has a couple of brief "romances" during the game, very much in the style of Nico's dalliances in GTA IV, but the game's 18 certificate is earned by the violence, not the sexual content which is distinctly lacking in my humble opinion, especially considering the game's setting. The characters are well-animated and highly detailed, but anatomically they look a bit odd at times in extreme movements with ragdoll-like joints at the top of thighs, which looks a bit dated. All vehicles have a radio and there are 10 or so stations to listen to, with an incredibly diverse selection of music, a good deal of which is original and easy on the ear.

Sleeping Dogs’ Hong Kong is evocative of the real thing and a lot of work clearly went in to the design of the architecture and the layout of the city. There are also nice little touches like when you drive a poultry van chicken feathers flutter out the back. Or if you manoeuvre a car into a spot where both doors are blocked rather than just magically appear beside the car Wei kicks out the windscreen and clambers out over the bonnet! Cables sway on the breeze, birds flutter away when surprised, bugs scrabble around on the ground, there’s a 24minute day/night cycle and the weather changes from rain to sunshine in a very believable way; it’s as detailed and immersive place to visit as you’ll find in the current crop of open world sandbox games.

And now to the gripes department. After initially seeming to keep dead bodies on-screen the game later starts making bodies disappear, which is kind of disappointing when you have a big rumble-whether it’s a shootout or a beat ‘em up section it’s always more satisfying and realistic if there’s a pile of bodies to bear witness to your awesome skills. The guns in the game are intricately detailed but look ludicrously oversized, particularly in some cut-scenes.

I also found a weird glitch in the “High Speed” ride-along-and-shoot side mission (It’s part of the Limited Edition DLC) that put me in a permanent loop, but it saved after every run and I was earning 15k every time I completed it and a small amount of cop XP, so it wasn’t exactly the worst glitch I’ve ever had in a game. Pausing and loading the quick save returned the game to normal. The game seemed to bug up after completing a mission once, leaving me with no control over Wei at all despite him remaining animated with the ambient sounds still working. Also found a horrendous oversight of visible HTML code on the ‘Place A Bet’ menu in both of the offshore gambling dens, and it’s hard to understand how something like that gets through testing. We also had one occasion where I thought the game was crashing or the Xbox was packing up; when on the West side of the island in a boat the frame rate dropped to the speed of a slide show, but stuttered and cleared up after a while, and it’s never occurred again since.

There’s no multiplayer or co-op but Sleeping Dogs also links your game to friends through a network (a bit like a light version of EA’s Autolog) to compare various stats like mission scores, jump distances, race times and your clean driving records.

As we’ve come to expect in games of the genre, there’s a host of collectibles to find in the form of lock boxes, security cameras and Jade animal statues. Finding lock boxes rewards you with cash and new clothes, security cameras allow you to turn drug dealers in to the uniform cops with reward, and when returned to their owner (your old martial arts sensei) Jade statues unlock a series of additional moves and combos that not only look cool, but make the gang fights in which you’re hugely outnumbered easier to win.

So what do we have with this young pretender to GTA’s crown? Well, I’ll bet that despite some disappointing glitches Activision are kicking themselves, I think Squaresoft have got themselves a winner here, Sleeping Dogs is not only a top free-roaming adventure, but it also arrived at a good point in the summer when the games market was relatively stagnant. I fully expect the game to sell well and stay near the top of the charts for some time to come, for the entertainment it supplies it deserves to, and anything else would be a true crime.

Best Bits

- A superb city to explore and “police.”
- Cool, brutal, gory and satisfying combat with simple controls.
- Decent gunplay and vehicular gameplay.
- Some clever gameplay features.
Worst Bits

- Nothing much wrong here but there is a shocking lack of polish or proper testing in a couple of places.
- No "jump" button.

by: Diddly

Copyright © Gamecell 2012