It’s a good thing these Dogs weren’t left to lie
On the surface, Sleeping Dogs looks awfully familiar. Gaming is, after all, no stranger to open-world action, cinematic Hong Kong homages, or gun-laden gangsta s***.
But once you get past the elements you know you’ve seen before, you’ll quickly realize this isn’t just another wannabe chasing Grand Theft Auto’s tail, nor is it the next evolution in the John Woo Presents Stranglehold mold. Instead, Sleeping Dogs sets out to be more than just another amped-up hodgepodge of sex, violence, and dudebro humor by delivering an experience that raises the bar on almost every aspect of the genre—and does so with the kind of patience and polish one rarely finds in a game of this scope and size.
Much of this is due to the fact that, from the jump, developer United Front Games strove to avoid the idea of building yet another “jack of all trades, master of none”–style open-world title. Instead, they opted to push boundaries and challenge expectations in nearly every aspect, starting with combat. Borrowing liberally from Batman: Arkham City’s simple, counter-driven system and offering a hefty dose of environmental attacks to boot, Sleeping Dogs’ melee beatdowns are surprisingly fluid and offer a vast improvement on many of the more simplistic offerings in the genre, allowing you to take on tons of enemies in that classic kung-fu style.
And then there’s the gunplay, which isn’t quite on the same level as the hand-to-hand confrontations but still offers up a serviceable cover-driven system, complete with HK-inspired slo-mo sequences on foot and behind the wheel. These elements combine to offer up some respectable shootouts, though I’d have appreciated the ability to gracefully move to alternate cover locations à la Gears of War.
Luckily, the driving aspects more than make up for the bumps in the road mentioned above. Largely designed by United Front’s many Black Box refugees—who had a heavy hand in EA’s Need for Speed series—Sleeping Dogs’ on-wheels segments definitely know how to put the pedal to the floor. The game’s thoughtful level design offers up a host of built-in “racetracks” that adeptly fuel its considerable amount of street-racing side missions, and there’s also significant variety in the game’s tightly tuned rides and an impressive ramming mechanic that combine to serve in sharp contrast to GTA’s clunky vehicular controls.
Burning rubber isn’t the only way to get around, though, as Sleeping Dogs also offers a robust movement model to help protagonist Wei Shen—a Chinese-American cop—traverse the stunning Hong Kong streets; while it’s not exactly Assassin’s Creed or inFAMOUS, the densely populated environments are frequently challenging and intense, despite an occasionally annoying system that penalizes for late button presses.
It’s honestly a lot to take in, but Sleeping Dogs’ story serves as the perfect wrapper for the wealth of game mechanics, offering up memorable characters and moving tale of vengeance, betrayal, and conflicting loyalties. And it’s all thoughtfully tied into a three-pronged advancement system, a wealth of unlockables, and a series of intense minigames that all cleverly converge to deliver a cinema-quality plotline that just happens to feature a videogame shell.
Unlike some of gaming’s more movie-minded adventures, Sleeping Dogs’ gripping narrative doesn’t detract from the action in the slightest, leaving us with one of the more playable, personable police quests of the modern era. It may not be as crass or flashy as some of its competitors, but Sleeping Dogs has a surprising amount of soul for a game of this ilk, offering a refreshing take on what’s possible from an open-world action title—and more depth than you can shake a tire iron at. Not bad for a game that almost didn’t make it out of the gate after Activision pulled the plug, eh?
SUMMARY: Sleeping Dogs represents a marked step forward for open-world action games, offering surprisingly deep gameplay and an almost meticulous attention to detail.
- THE GOOD: The best combination of scope, polish, and playability in the genre to date
- THE BAD: Cover mechanics don’t quite measure up to the rest of the gameplay
- THE UGLY: Old Salty Crab’s fashion sense
Sleeping Dogs is available on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on PS3.