By dankempster 10 Comments
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:
- Sleeping Dogs
- Borderlands 2
- Far Cry 3
- Mass Effect 3
- Max Payne 3
- Assassin's Creed: Revelations (alright, this one's a 2011 release, but the sentiment remains the same)
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...
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Currently playing - Sleeping Dogs (X360)