Sleeping Dogs review: new tricks

While Sleeping Dogs doesn't offer the polish of a Grand Theft Auto game, there are plenty of clever ideas that make a visit to this virtual Hong Kong worthwhile.

The open world genre is a difficult beast to tackle. Not only do you have to build an entire city, but you need to have enough play mechanics to make exploring the city worthwhile. Driving, fighting, and an assortment of mini-games--these are the things we've come to expect the genre. United Front Games delivers with Sleeping Dogs, its first foray into the genre. And while it doesn't offer the polish of a Grand Theft Auto game, there are plenty of clever ideas that make a visit to this virtual Hong Kong worthwhile. At its core, Sleeping Dogs is just another "GTA clone." You'll run around the city, accepting oddjobs from a variety of characters, hijacking vehicles whenever necessary--only this time, you drive on the left side of the road. Unlike Rockstar's seminal series, however, you're technically a good guy. As Wei Shen, you must go deep undercover, infiltrating Hong Kong's triads and destroy them from within. But while you're technically an officer of the law, you'll be able to dish out a whole lot of mayhem upon the virtual populace. Considering millions of people have already played GTA and its ilk, it's rather fruitless to talk about how the game is structured. Instead, it's more fruitful to talk about what it tries to add to the formula. Nearly every aspect of the genre has been given a twist. Wei is a far more acrobatic character than Niko, being able to parkour through the environment relatively easily. The free running system is actually quite a lot of fun, and used to dramatic effect quite frequently. Driving not only offers the standard GPS navigation in the lower corner of the screen, but adds augmented markers that guide you to your destination. Driving is solid, but where Sleeping Dogs shines is its car combat. Not only can you sideswipe cars, but you'll also be able to hijack cars while already in a vehicle. You can jump out of your car onto another moving vehicle a la Pursuit Force. Doing a drive-by shooting, and then jumping into a passing car in order to make your getaway--that's pretty darn cool. Hand-to-hand combat also offers a surprising amount of depth, with a skill tree that unlocks dozens of potential combos. You'll be able to counter enemies a la the Arkham series, tapping Y as enemies flash before they strike. Making hand-to-hand combat an even more interesting affair is the ability to pick up weapons--cleavers, hand saws, knifes--and use them beat 'em up style. There are also dozens of (gruesome) environmental kills, involving aquariums, furnaces, table saws, and more. When it all comes together, Sleeping Dogs is a remarkably satisfying gaming experience. However, it doesn't always come together. There are moments where I was genuinely surprised at what the game had me do. For example, after beating up a key character, I dragged him out into the street. I could then throw him into the trunk of my car, and drive him away for interrogation. In another moment, I was chasing a key figure through an exploding factory. However, these memorable moments are bogged down by combat that ultimately wears out its welcome. Apparently the triads employ thousands of grunts, as you must murder so many of them to progress through the story. Eventually, combat becomes monotonous, especially as new strategies are unnecessary. Perhaps the biggest flaw is the game's shooting mechanics. There are some novel ideas here, too. For example, jumping out of cover will initiate John Woo-style slow-mo, adding to the game's hardboiled feel. But the actual cover and shooting mechanics are so clunky, that it never feels quite right pulling that off. Moving from cover to cover is surprisingly robotic, and assigning cover to LB is just awkward. Once in cover, the game gives you very little reason to move, as you fire at mostly-stationary targets. The latter parts of the game become simple shooting galleries.

The game is pretty good, except for the gunfights.

The gun fights are easily the worst aspect of Sleeping Dogs. Some of the side missions involve wiping out an entire gang, and these are especially annoying. While there are finite number of enemies you must fight, the game will literally spawn new enemies behind you to murder you. No the Ai isn't outwitting me by flanking me. To test my theory, I ran backwards to actually see new enemies magically pop into the environment. While I despise the shooting, I found myself really enjoying many of the game's other activities. As an undercover cop, you have quite a stable of gadgets at your disposal. The game's various hacking mini-games are surprisingly clever, albeit over-used. One of my favorite missions involves parkouring on a building to break into someone's apartment. After picking the lock, I had to place bugs in the apartment while avoiding detection by the couple that lives there. It's incredibly tense, and a testament to the gameplay variety on offer. Perhaps the game's greatest asset is the environment. Hong Kong is spectacularly recreated here. While not "accurate" by any means (somehow there's no MTR ... or traffic), United Front Games has managed to capture the spirit of one of my most beloved cities. Driving up to Victoria Peak felt a bit nostalgic. Each of the game's neighborhoods really captures the feel of their real-world equivalent, making Sleeping Dogs a great virtual tour of one of Asia's great cities. It's a refreshing change of pace from the Americana that saturates the genre. It may not be as polished as a Rockstar effort, but Sleeping Dogs does its part to make an impression. Yes, the story is absurdly heavy-handed. And yes, the gun combat is, simply put, not good. But it's the only game I know that lets me, go offshore and play mahjong, bet on a cockfight, and woo girls at the karaoke after hawking fake watches. It's not perfect, but it's a trip well worth taking.
This review of Sleeping Dogs is based on retail Xbox 360 and PC code provided by the publisher. The game was primarily played on Xbox 360, with additional testing on PC. The PC version offers significantly better visuals, and is highly recommended over the console versions. Sleeping Dogs is also available on PlayStation 3.
From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 27, 2012 8:30 AM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Sleeping Dogs review.

    While Sleeping Dogs doesn't offer the polish of a Grand Theft Auto game, there are plenty of clever ideas that make a visit to this virtual Hong Kong worthwhile.

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      August 27, 2012 11:12 AM

      Thanks for the review Andrew. I plan to rent this one on GameFly because I don't know if it's a keeper. I hope to hear you talk about it on Weekend Confirmed this week.

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      August 27, 2012 11:18 AM

      I played the demo this weekend and thought it would certainly be worth an "on sale" price.

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      August 27, 2012 11:49 AM

      Just beat it, the game is awesome. The amount of activities to do in this game is quite good. Compared to other open world games. Ill get back to this game when I have nothing else to play or I feel like mixing some martial arts with my gun play again. This game game me a reason to trade in Wheelman (although I am still on the fence about that).

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      August 27, 2012 2:27 PM

      I jumped in for a momment and really enjoyed what I played. I like the hand-to-hand combat, and found the story set-up quite interesting. Can't wait to play more (right after I finish Darksiders 2!)

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      August 27, 2012 2:49 PM


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      August 27, 2012 3:04 PM

      i thought the shooting was pretty solid. i guess to be considered good shooting needs to be more hand holdy with aim locks and perfect aim.

      This game has a soft lock seems clear that united front wanted to put some challenge into their shooting mechanics.

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        August 28, 2012 8:11 AM

        I actually prefer it this way around than in the Rockstar games where the shooting is solid and melee combat is crap.

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      August 27, 2012 10:56 PM

      Basically, a bunch of personal preferences.

      The written review format basically needs to die.

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        August 27, 2012 11:47 PM


        That's...insane. :|

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        August 28, 2012 12:29 AM

        Ummm, that's basically what a review is. It'd be pretty hard to review without refering to your personal preferences.

        "I played this game. The gunplay was mediocre You may like the gun play, or you may not. The world felt alive You may like the world, or you may not. It ran at 30fps most of the time, you may like that, or not." Informative.

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          August 28, 2012 3:54 PM

          If it's just personal preferences, then who's suppose to read the review?

          I now know a lot about the reviewer's preferences, doesn't do me any damn good.

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        August 28, 2012 1:05 AM

        Yes, it should only be in video, because video reviews are entirely objective. But podcast reviews are the most objective of all. Better yet, a review that is entirely composed of thinking.

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        August 28, 2012 1:16 AM


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        August 28, 2012 1:48 AM

        What's the alternative?

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          August 28, 2012 4:01 PM

          Video. Stop telling people what it's like, show it. Give all the relevant information and let people decide for themselves.

          Written review is obsolete, an old dinosaur. I think I've disagreed with even the best traditional review places enough times to know enough is enough.

          It's not about being objective. It's about being subjective, but not your subjectivity.

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            August 28, 2012 4:02 PM

            *reviewer's subjectivity

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            August 28, 2012 8:12 PM

            A review will always be a personal thing; the format doesn't change that. Or are you talking about gameplay videos? Because there are a ton of that, not to mention playable demos.

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        August 28, 2012 5:50 PM

        I prefer video reviews so I can see what the writer is refering to and knowing the review an opinion is fine. If you like the way someone performs the review, either spoken or written, then you're more likely to watch more of their work. You might find yourself agreeing with their points and learn you like similiar games for similar reasons. If I tend to agree with a reviewer then I can start to trust their reviews. Find what works for you.

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          August 29, 2012 5:04 AM

          So it's just a matter of finding someone who agrees with you? That's still not right.

          Someone can have a different opinion from me and still sound reasonable, cus sometimes there isn't just one way to play - if the point is aptly articulated with good supporting material. If you've gotten to the bottom of the systems, that's perfectly fine.

          If you're only scratching the surface and blaming the game for not answering your expectations bore from other games, then there's a problem. Either way, having a video will expose you really quick as to which of the two it is.

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            August 29, 2012 3:20 PM

            I agree with differing opinions and I wan't trying to say just find someone that agrees with you. What I mean't by that is if your opinion is often shared by a reviewer(s) then it builds trust in their opinion. So in the future I'm more inclined to try something they recommend on faith and be confident I'm going to like it.

            Maybe I look at reviews from the question "Am I going to like this game?" and not "How good is it?."
            There are times I have loved a game yet it's received bad reviews. Nothin wrong with that.

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      August 27, 2012 11:50 PM

      Interesting. I thought the shooting was actually quite good UNLESS you tried using a mouse + keyboard. Then it's janky as all fuck.

      This game, to me, was significantly better than GTA IV. Everything in Sleeping Dogs is really tightly focused as to not make the game boring, and I really appreciate the designers' attempt to say: "Hey, let's reign this in, because this kind of micro-management minutiae is not fun."

      I'm talkin' to YOU, Roman Bellic. Go fucking bowl by yourself you son of a bitch.

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      August 28, 2012 1:37 AM

      This is the best packaged game I've played in 2012 so far. The dialogue (learnt more cantonese than ever before) and colours & textures (drive down a big street with the signs in a rainy night) and distance blur (near far blur thing) and gunplay (very triad style just pumping bullets into bodies) and THE UNCANNY VALLEY FACES OF EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN IT (walking in the night market for the first time 5 minutes into the game I went WHOA who's that shopkeeper it looks mighty familiar) and ease of getting to mission starts (oh what's that GTA4 I got to drive for 20 minutes to reach the quest start?) altogether makes it a fantastic game with the right blend of SR3 (takedown of vehicles, lol) and GTA4 and Batman AA(brutal fist fights!) and I had a lot of fun with it.

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      August 28, 2012 2:04 AM

      .. the game will literally spawn new enemies behind you to murder you
      unforgettable for me, absolutely despise any game that pulls this shit. Almost as bad as infinite spawns.

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      August 28, 2012 8:06 AM

      Isn't it funny how people experience things differently. I found the brawling and gun-play satisfying up until the end but I found the car combat a bit meh and the gadget sequences laughably dumb.

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      August 29, 2012 7:18 AM

      What a dreadful review this game wipes the floor with GTA in ever aspect. I cant even finish GTA because it plays so bad and the story is so boring the driving and flying in GTA suck. Rockstar need to up there game. As for slagging down the fighting i bet you never said crap about batman did you ??? No??the gun play is amazing very max Payne works perfect. Defo 9/10 game role on number 2.

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