The Great 2012 Catch-Up: Sleeping Dogs Edition

Hey there Giant Bomb, and welcome to my first blog post of 2013. I had hoped to write something a little earlier than this, something that would likely have taken its cues from the numerous excellent New Year's Resolution-style blogs that I've been reading, but as we're already nearing the halfway point of January I think that ship might have sailed. Instead I figured I'd embody the spirit of those blogs by looking ahead into 2013, but in a slightly more immediate fashion. The result is a mini-series of blogs I'll be putting out sporadically over the coming months, collectively titled The Great 2012 Catch-Up.

If there's one thing I regret about 2012 games-wise, it's that I didn't play any of the awesome titles that came out over the course of those twelve months. I played just one 2012 release within the year itself (namely Final Fantasy XIII-2) and while I enjoyed it, I certainly wouldn't rank it as anything even approaching awesome. Right up until the end of the year, I didn't even buy any other new releases, for fear that they'd get lost in the dark depths of my Pile of Shame (a list that once again seems to exceed my mortal gaming capabilities). I remedied that after Christmas by jumping on Amazon and dropping a hefty pile of my holiday cash on half a dozen 2012 releases that I've been itching to play:

My plan is to play through these games over the course of the first few months in 2013 (punctuating the experience with the occasional older title or an episode or two of Sam & Max just to keep things fresh and interesting). I'll then share my belated opinions of them with you in blog form, detailing what I liked and didn't like about the game, and ultimately whether I regret having put off experiencing the title in question, or I'm glad to have waited for the price drop. We're going to kick this off immediately, because I managed to beat the first of those six games this morning. That game is...

Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs is a pretty cracking open-world crime game

If Saints Row the Third was Giant Bomb's 'hey, you should play this!' game of 2011, Sleeping Dogs undoubtedly took that crown in 2012. Word of mouth seemed to do a lot more for the game's reputation than Alex's review ever could, and from my outlier's position I watched it spread like gaming wildfire through the Giant Bomb community. It wasn't until I read Sparky_Buzzsaw's blog-review of the game at the start of December that 'Schleepy Dawgs' found a firm place on my radar of interest. When my ordered copy of the game dropped through my door on New Year's Eve, I knew it wouldn't be long before I chose to bust it out of its green case and start wandering the crime-drenched streets of Hong Kong. That moment came on January 3rd, when I popped it into my 360 after a long day at work. Ten days and twenty-two hours of game time later, I've witnessed all that the story missions have to offer, along with most of the side-stuff as well, and I feel adequately positioned to pass my own judgement on United Front's take on the open world crime genre.

The Good

  • There is a ton of stuff to do in Sleeping Dogs' recreated city of Hong Kong. The variety in both the core missions and the side stuff is incredible, to the degree where at no point in my twenty-two hours with the game did I feel bored with it or at a loss for something to do. My playthrough saw me frequently side-tracked from the story missions simply by encountering distractions along the way to the next mission marker. This resulted in a flow of gameplay that felt more natural than any open-world game I've played since Just Cause 2, another game which offers a lush world front-loaded with a variety of events and side-missions that steal the player's concentration from the story missions.
  • Melee combat is one of the game's biggest strengths
    Not only is there a seemingly inexhaustible number of odd jobs the player can do in Sleeping Dogs, but pretty much all of it is fun. That's thanks to the mechanics of the gameplay, which are solid and their worst and damn near flawless at their best. Combat is reminiscent of Rocksteady's Batman games with its reliance on timing, counters and combos to dispatch large groups of thugs. The driving is fast, loose and forgiving, making getting around the city easy and the numerous street races a lot of fun. Gunplay isn't the game's strongest suit but it's functional, and really comes into its own in combination with the slow-motion that follows vaults and disarms. It also makes vehicular combat a lot more fun than it's ever been in any other game I've played in recent memory.
  • The roster of characters is pretty strong across the board, lending the story a lot more impact than I expected it to have. There were moments when I genuinely forgot protagonist Wei was an undercover cop, and I think that's a fair reflection of what Wei himself must be going through as he infiltrates the Sun On Yee, his sense of loyalty becoming ever more fractured. I especially liked the character of Jackie Ma, whose 'fish-out-of-water' portrayal within the Triad's inner circles evoked more than a little empathy out of me as the player.
  • Police chases require the player to force the cops to crash in order to shake them, a la Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. This is a mechanic I've been dreaming to see realised in an open world console game ever since, and Sleeping Dogs delivers it spectacularly. Here's hoping something similar appears in GTAV.

The Bad

  • Sleeping Dogs has some pretty memorable characters, but the story is somewhat lacking
    If the characters in Sleeping Dogs were solid and strong, the story left a little to be desired. The end of the story in particular felt rushed to me. I guess I'm referring particularly to the moment where Wei finds out that Pendrew sold him out to Big Smile Lee, a revelation that seemed to me like it deserved more than the incidental remark it gets in the grand scheme of the game's thirty-mission-long campaign. It's by no means a bad story, but the last third of it doesn't live up to the expectations the first two thirds work so hard to build up.
  • While I love the core idea behind the dating in the game, I found the execution abhorrent. Romancing a video game lady over time in order to reap gameplay benefits is a solid gameplay mechanic, and I don't begrudge Sleeping Dogs for attempting it. What I didn't like was that each love interest is only given a single date, after which the relevant perk is unlocked. I'd much rather have seen some more complex, multi-date stuff going on here, maybe even with the potential of getting caught and losing one or more of your perks until you've rebuilt sufficient trust. Given what we actually got in the game, though, I'd rather have seen nothing of its kind at all.

The Verdict

It's probably pretty clear from the weight of the good and bad sides of the argument that I really enjoyed Sleeping Dogs. As first gaming experiences of the year go, I think it's definitely going to be a tough one to follow up. My plan from here on out is to take a few weeks' break from the Great 2012 Catch-Up by playing through the next episode of Sam & Max, followed by the DLC I bought for Alan Wake, and wrapped up by playing through the back-end of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Once all those are out the way, I'll return to this little treasure trove of last year's gaming gold. In the meantime, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Sleeping Dogs (X360)

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11 Comments
Posted by dankempster

Hey there Giant Bomb, and welcome to my first blog post of 2013. I had hoped to write something a little earlier than this, something that would likely have taken its cues from the numerous excellent New Year's Resolution-style blogs that I've been reading, but as we're already nearing the halfway point of January I think that ship might have sailed. Instead I figured I'd embody the spirit of those blogs by looking ahead into 2013, but in a slightly more immediate fashion. The result is a mini-series of blogs I'll be putting out sporadically over the coming months, collectively titled The Great 2012 Catch-Up.

If there's one thing I regret about 2012 games-wise, it's that I didn't play any of the awesome titles that came out over the course of those twelve months. I played just one 2012 release within the year itself (namely Final Fantasy XIII-2) and while I enjoyed it, I certainly wouldn't rank it as anything even approaching awesome. Right up until the end of the year, I didn't even buy any other new releases, for fear that they'd get lost in the dark depths of my Pile of Shame (a list that once again seems to exceed my mortal gaming capabilities). I remedied that after Christmas by jumping on Amazon and dropping a hefty pile of my holiday cash on half a dozen 2012 releases that I've been itching to play:

My plan is to play through these games over the course of the first few months in 2013 (punctuating the experience with the occasional older title or an episode or two of Sam & Max just to keep things fresh and interesting). I'll then share my belated opinions of them with you in blog form, detailing what I liked and didn't like about the game, and ultimately whether I regret having put off experiencing the title in question, or I'm glad to have waited for the price drop. We're going to kick this off immediately, because I managed to beat the first of those six games this morning. That game is...

Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs is a pretty cracking open-world crime game

If Saints Row the Third was Giant Bomb's 'hey, you should play this!' game of 2011, Sleeping Dogs undoubtedly took that crown in 2012. Word of mouth seemed to do a lot more for the game's reputation than Alex's review ever could, and from my outlier's position I watched it spread like gaming wildfire through the Giant Bomb community. It wasn't until I read Sparky_Buzzsaw's blog-review of the game at the start of December that 'Schleepy Dawgs' found a firm place on my radar of interest. When my ordered copy of the game dropped through my door on New Year's Eve, I knew it wouldn't be long before I chose to bust it out of its green case and start wandering the crime-drenched streets of Hong Kong. That moment came on January 3rd, when I popped it into my 360 after a long day at work. Ten days and twenty-two hours of game time later, I've witnessed all that the story missions have to offer, along with most of the side-stuff as well, and I feel adequately positioned to pass my own judgement on United Front's take on the open world crime genre.

The Good

  • There is a ton of stuff to do in Sleeping Dogs' recreated city of Hong Kong. The variety in both the core missions and the side stuff is incredible, to the degree where at no point in my twenty-two hours with the game did I feel bored with it or at a loss for something to do. My playthrough saw me frequently side-tracked from the story missions simply by encountering distractions along the way to the next mission marker. This resulted in a flow of gameplay that felt more natural than any open-world game I've played since Just Cause 2, another game which offers a lush world front-loaded with a variety of events and side-missions that steal the player's concentration from the story missions.
  • Melee combat is one of the game's biggest strengths
    Not only is there a seemingly inexhaustible number of odd jobs the player can do in Sleeping Dogs, but pretty much all of it is fun. That's thanks to the mechanics of the gameplay, which are solid and their worst and damn near flawless at their best. Combat is reminiscent of Rocksteady's Batman games with its reliance on timing, counters and combos to dispatch large groups of thugs. The driving is fast, loose and forgiving, making getting around the city easy and the numerous street races a lot of fun. Gunplay isn't the game's strongest suit but it's functional, and really comes into its own in combination with the slow-motion that follows vaults and disarms. It also makes vehicular combat a lot more fun than it's ever been in any other game I've played in recent memory.
  • The roster of characters is pretty strong across the board, lending the story a lot more impact than I expected it to have. There were moments when I genuinely forgot protagonist Wei was an undercover cop, and I think that's a fair reflection of what Wei himself must be going through as he infiltrates the Sun On Yee, his sense of loyalty becoming ever more fractured. I especially liked the character of Jackie Ma, whose 'fish-out-of-water' portrayal within the Triad's inner circles evoked more than a little empathy out of me as the player.
  • Police chases require the player to force the cops to crash in order to shake them, a la Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. This is a mechanic I've been dreaming to see realised in an open world console game ever since, and Sleeping Dogs delivers it spectacularly. Here's hoping something similar appears in GTAV.

The Bad

  • Sleeping Dogs has some pretty memorable characters, but the story is somewhat lacking
    If the characters in Sleeping Dogs were solid and strong, the story left a little to be desired. The end of the story in particular felt rushed to me. I guess I'm referring particularly to the moment where Wei finds out that Pendrew sold him out to Big Smile Lee, a revelation that seemed to me like it deserved more than the incidental remark it gets in the grand scheme of the game's thirty-mission-long campaign. It's by no means a bad story, but the last third of it doesn't live up to the expectations the first two thirds work so hard to build up.
  • While I love the core idea behind the dating in the game, I found the execution abhorrent. Romancing a video game lady over time in order to reap gameplay benefits is a solid gameplay mechanic, and I don't begrudge Sleeping Dogs for attempting it. What I didn't like was that each love interest is only given a single date, after which the relevant perk is unlocked. I'd much rather have seen some more complex, multi-date stuff going on here, maybe even with the potential of getting caught and losing one or more of your perks until you've rebuilt sufficient trust. Given what we actually got in the game, though, I'd rather have seen nothing of its kind at all.

The Verdict

It's probably pretty clear from the weight of the good and bad sides of the argument that I really enjoyed Sleeping Dogs. As first gaming experiences of the year go, I think it's definitely going to be a tough one to follow up. My plan from here on out is to take a few weeks' break from the Great 2012 Catch-Up by playing through the next episode of Sam & Max, followed by the DLC I bought for Alan Wake, and wrapped up by playing through the back-end of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Once all those are out the way, I'll return to this little treasure trove of last year's gaming gold. In the meantime, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Sleeping Dogs (X360)

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

Our thoughts on Sleeping Dogs are almost exactly the same. I had the same complaint about the ending and the dating, but overall, I thought it was a really great start to a new(ish) franchise. I even found the little throwaway DLC packs to be fun, particularly those that let me be a passenger and shoot up baddies chasing us down. The on-foot gunplay isn't particularly fun, but oh my good gravy, do I love that slow motion mechanic when you shoot out a car's tires and end up chaining multiple attacks on cars.

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Posted by dankempster

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: I realised about halfway through writing this that I was in very real danger of reciting your blog almost verbatim at points. Given our opinions about the game run parallel in just about every aspect, though, I think that's almost unavoidable. I haven't invested in any of the DLC, and given I'm feeling comfortably done with the game at this point, I probably won't be splashing out on any of it unless a substantial expansion pack comes out.

Also, it may interest you to know the next game I play for the Great 2012 Catch-Up is very likely to be Borderlands 2. I am fully prepared to surrender my soul. At least, that's what I'm going to keep telling myself.

Posted by Mento

I don't know, I think they were wise to take the dating aspect in the direction they did. One of Sleeping Dogs' most persistent flaws is how certain aspects of the game feel incomplete, as if they were abandoned for being too incidental in the face of looming deadlines and an already over-long development period. Occasionally these instances seem negligently dealt with, but the dating fares better than most.

You have the four "love interests". The first (Emma Stone's character) is only interested in a fling, as suggested by her report from the informant. Kind of a brush-off, I guess, but an interesting way of dealing with a paramour (especially since she basically preempts the same thing you'll be doing throughout the rest of the game). The second actually breaks it off with you because of your involvement with the third in a sorta neat twist, and the fourth can't really go anywhere because it's the end of the game and things come to a head rather rapidly. It's not a completely elegant system, but it lets you spend a little time with the women who are interested in your character in a way that's narratively plausible at least. Had they more time to spend on the game, they might've fleshed out that aspect a bit more, but if it became something like GTA IV's constant interruptions I'm sort of glad they didn't.

I guess I don't believe Sleeping Dogs is perfect by any stretch, but the melee combat elevates it to the point where it's the best one of these open-world city-based sandbox games IMO. And that's as much as I like the crazy of Saints Row, which I believe they haven't quite nailed yet. The perfect Saints Row lies somewhere between 2 and 3, I feel, and I hope Volition gets the chance to find that optimal combination.

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Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

I just jumped back into Borderlands 2. Good gravy, I love that game. Shit, why am I sitting here blabbing when I could be shooting dudes and grabbing guns? I'm out!

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Posted by Slag

Sleeping Dogs is dope.

re: dating I did think Tiffany date's resolution was pretty awesome.

@Sparky_Buzzsaw said:

The on-foot gunplay isn't particularly fun, but oh my good gravy, do I love that slow motion mechanic when you shoot out a car's tires and end up chaining multiple attacks on cars.

Really? I thought the on foot shooting wasn't bad, especially when you vault jumped it almost felt like Bullet Time from Max Payne.

definitely agree flipping cars by blowing out their tires is especially satisfying.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Slag: I suspect my vision had some small part in me not liking the on-foot gunplay. I had loads of fun with the hand-to-hand combat, but when it came time to shoot some dudes, I often found that the enemies blended in a little too well with their cover and that the camera angles often made it frustratingly difficult to know when I was being flanked. In most of the story missions save the wedding, this wasn't really an issue. But when it came time to wipe out some gang activities, it became problematic, particularly when I was having to fend off both cops and gang members on foot.

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Posted by Slag

@Sparky_Buzzsaw said:

@Slag: I suspect my vision had some small part in me not liking the on-foot gunplay. I had loads of fun with the hand-to-hand combat, but when it came time to shoot some dudes, I often found that the enemies blended in a little too well with their cover and that the camera angles often made it frustratingly difficult to know when I was being flanked. In most of the story missions save the wedding, this wasn't really an issue. But when it came time to wipe out some gang activities, it became problematic, particularly when I was having to fend off both cops and gang members on foot.

Now that you mention it I could see that. I'm one of those Vinny type players who has to collect all the shiny collectibles, so I do tend to be way overpowered by the the time I do story missions. When i played the wedding I had already found 80% of the health shrines, so I never really noticed who was shooting me from where.

Just curious do you have an HDTV with HDMI inputs? I made the mistake early on this generation of trying play PS3 games on an old tube CRT Tv, I found most shooters to be utterly unplayable for the very reasons you describe. Wasn't till I upgraded my tv that I could even see what I was doing.

I tried Transformers War for Cybertron that way and god that was miserable on one of those TVs.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Slag: I have a big ol' standard definition TV. It was a Christmas gift from my brother years ago, and until I have a job again, I won't be upgrading. Besides, I'm super fond of it, save for trying to move the damn thing. It's 37 inches and weighs about as much as I do. That's roughly a metric ton.

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Posted by Slag

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: Sounds a lot like my old Sony Trinitron. I loved that thing, I'd probably still be using it if it's color palette didn't die on me. Now the thing 's picture looks like an Apple IIe monitor palette with a messed up vertical. I actually still have it since it's really hard to dispose of. The trash company won't take it, and the Waste Authority wants me to bring it to them and then charge be 100 bucks to take it. So I use it for an end table at the moment.

I know where you are coming from, Honestly man I was definitely in the HDTV's aren't worth the money camp until I got one. Suddenly all this gens games became playable for me. And thankfully for my wallet they've come down a lot. Hopefully this one will last as long (or better yet longer) than the previous TV.

I still don't think it does much for tv and movies, but games holy cow it's like night and day. A game with high detail like Uncharted I had no chance at on the old one. Wouldn't surprise me when you eventually get one your clarity problem in Sleeping Dogs and games like it will clear up as mine did for me.

Posted by Cyrus_Saren

I've always been somewhat interested in this game but, with the praise you and Sparky have given this, it seems I should add this to my "need to play soon" list.