Sleeping Dogs may be easily described as ‘Grand Theft Auto: Hong Kong’ but it’s easily one of the most enjoyable games of this year
Sleeping Dogs is a game that wears its DNA on its sleeve. Its story is pulled almost wholesale from Hong Kong action movie classics such as Hard Boiled, City On Fire and Infernal Affairs. Its urban, open-world setting and the lion’s share of its gameplay is set firmly in the mould of Grand Theft Auto, but it also borrows the free-running elements of Assassin’s Creed and the combat mechanics of The Warriors.
Usually, a game creaking under so many influences can’t help but come off hackneyed and clichéd, but Sleeping Dogs, amazingly, transcends them and becomes a compelling whole in its own right.
Sleeping Dogs: Characters
Sleeping Dogs is the story of Wei Shen, a Hong Kong born ne’er-do-well who has just returned to his hometown after an extended stint in the USA. As the game begins, he finds himself in a holding cell after being arrested in a drug bust. There, he runs into Jackie, a childhood friend who works as a foot soldier for the local Triads.
Jackie offers Wei some work and in no time at all, Wei is breaking heads, boosting cars and steadily working his way up the Triad food chain. What his new criminal mates don’t know is that way is an undercover cop working with a government task force who are trying to bring the Triads.
Sleeping Dogs: Plot
Its set up may sound like clichéd pulp but the plot in Sleeping Dogs is actually one of its strongest assets. As Wei gets in deeper and deeper with Hong Kong’s criminal fraternity, his allegiances start to become divided and he begins to question who he should, in fact, remain loyal to.
His Triad gang are a collection of violent bruisers, but they genuinely care for him and his well-being – more so than Wei’s commanding officer, a callous snob, who demonstrates an alarming willingness to break the law if it achieves the desired results.
Meanwhile, the local cops, who find their assets stripped by the task force, turn to Wei to help them solve Triad murders that the top brass aren’t bothered with. To top it all off, it turns out street level gang tensions may be being stoked by Triad overlords involved in a power struggle.
The plot twists and turns throughout Sleeping Dogs, adding a layer of complexity the moment it threatens to become stale. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but as an action-filled potboiler it does the job and then some.
Sleeping Dogs: Features
It also helps that the developers have made Wei Shen feel and handle like an action hero. In hand to hand fights, Wei’s Kung Fu skills stand the player in good stead, and they’re able to take on multiple opponents single-handed.
They can also use items in their environment to devastating effect; they can dispatch foes by ramming their faces into fans, circular saws and hotplates. Gun play is a standard cover-based TPS affair, with windows of bullet-time tossed in for good measure. Wei is also able to fire at vehicles haring after him in car chases, taking out their tyres and sending them spinning end over end.
Wei’s split loyalties also feed into the game’s RPG system. For every noble or criminal act he carries out, Wei fills his Triad and Police meters. Every time he passes another level, the player’s awarded a point they can use to unlock new skills; these include the ability to hotwire cars without setting off alarms, brutal kung-fu moves and access to high calibre rounds.
Certain actions also fill up Wei’s Face meter, which offers him perks; some of these a purely cosmetic – sharp suits and flash cars - brutal kung-fu moves and access to high calibre rounds.
Certain actions also fill up Wei’s Face meter, which also offers him perks; some of these a purely cosmetic – sharp suits and flash cars – but other are an actual help, such as a car valet who will deliver a vehicle to Wei whenever he needs one.
Sleeping Dogs: Environment
The game’s biggest asset is the huge Hong Kong open city environment that’s just filled to bursting point with activities for the player to get stuck into.
Aside from side quests and story missions, players can take part in street races, compete in street fighting clubs, unlock new combat moves at the dojo, bet on Mah-jong games and cockfights, visit a massage parlour for some (ahem) R&R and even boost cars for the local chop shops in the area.
In one particularly fun mini-game, players can pick fights with rival gangs, drive them off their patch, hack the local CCTV camera and then use Wei’s TV back in his apartment to bust the local drug dealers. Every backalley offers a new club to visit or a market stall to buy gear (or extort money) from and every single street and highway cries out to be raced along.
Sleeping Dogs: Verdict
Not everything about Sleeping Dogs is perfect; the camera occasionally pitches a fit and the game’s GPS is sometimes misleading. It’s also not the most unique offering players will pick up in 2012, but in a relatively poor year for the videogames industry, it punches above its weight by remaining fun and engrossing throughout.
Sleeping Dogs availability: 17 August 2012
Sleeping Dogs price: TBC