2013-08-02_00002

Sleeping Dogs, a game very much in the GTA mould. Set in Hong Kong and bristling with Triad gang culture, this open world was my most recent experience, here is what I thought after finishing it.

The developer United Front Games, has managed to capture a nice oriental tone to the game, obviously being set in a real world Asian city may or may not have been an advantage. I’ve never been to Hong Kong to truly know how accurate or representative the game is, however as an ignorant westerner, it felt pretty authentic to me.

You play Wei, an undercover cop sent into the Triad gang ranks to break down their leadership and make the city a safer place. Gradually as you progress you get new homes, more cars, more clothes and more skills for the factions you can do missions for. If you’ve played GTA games or Saints Row games you pretty much know the score.

I particularly loved the stall vendors calling out various phrases to try and attract customers. My favorites were “You not try a pork bun….you never be a whole man!” and “Duck so fresh the other ducks not even notice he’s gone yet.” which made me smile. There are also vendors selling you temporary buffs to resistance, damage, health regeneration and face XP gain. With the exception of health regeneration, I never really felt these were particularly important to mission success and often ignored them.

The game mainly focuses around driving and martial arts combat, with variations on melee weapons and guns being included. The driving is…poor, whatever handling research they did for this game nobody thought to bother translating physics and handling from a real car. There is literally a button to “punch” another car with yours…even side ways. Don’t bother ramming, just push button to smash them off the road in any direction, regardless of your cars momentum.

The martial arts combat is a bit more engaging, you mostly use attack and counter moves although primarily you should focus on countering, since it is very effective at stopping you getting hit. Assuming you’ve unlocked the right special combos in the Jade statue collections quest, you can pull off some satisfying attack combos, breaking arms and legs although that doesn’t guarantee they stop using those limbs strangely. While certain enemies are resistant to grappling or direct strikes there are only four enemy types in martial arts combat and once you master each one, it’s only a matter of carelessness that ever gets you hit.

As you play missions for the police or triad gangs you gain experience in each field, which allows you to unlock various abilities or upgrades to your performance. Along with the “Face” meter which tracks your overall progression for game status, these work ok, but are perhaps a little shallow. I think I would have been happier dropping the Face XP bar and rolling everything into Triad and Police progression bars to add some more depth to those.

As it turns out, you don’t need to sacrifice anything, because you can do all the missions for both factions anyway, which I felt was a bit cheap. I get the impression the ending doesn’t change regardless of if you focus on only one or the other factions missions. I felt this was a missed opportunity to really add some depth to replayability, by allowing the player to sink deeper into his triad gang persona or his undercover law enforcement role. The story line shows Wei struggling with his double life, but you don’t seem to have any external control on the outcome.

The selection of vehicles and clothing is fun and varied enough to feel rewarding when you can afford to purchase something new. I felt the blood stains were a little over the top, I think they should have faded after a few seconds to not spoil the overall look of your character as you run about the world. I didn’t like the clothing set bonuses for various factions or skills, that felt too narrow and often made none set bonus clothing less attractive, despite often looking better.

Sleeping Dogs feels like a talented youngster copying a masters painting, they made a strong effort, but it never quite feels as good as those it tries to copy. The controls are a little all over the keyboard, making use of cursor keys, WASD and mouse is quite a strange layout, I only have two hands, not sure what species the designers were aiming for. Many times I would jump over completely random walls by accident when trying to run past or get stuck unable to vault over a one foot platform because the designers didn’t bother to flag it as passable.

While certainly not a match for GTA or Saints Row, Sleeping Dogs does do enough to be worthy of your attention. However, if you already have GTA and or Saints Row games, there probably isn’t much here that will really grab you beyond the setting.

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