Can I just start this by saying how refreshing it is to have an open world crime game in a setting outside the USA? One of the things I wanted most out of the Grand Theft Auto series for a long time was to use a city outside The United States of America. While still fun, it was kind of a let down to go back to Liberty City in 4. Even Saints Row the Third (as insane and off the wall as it was) had the city of Steelport in the borders of North America.
So it was a great change of pace to take on the video game version of Hong Kong in Sleeping Dogs. I'm not even going to touch it's long, tenuous history from a game with a female protagonist to True Crime and beyond. There are probably way better sources than I. I'm just happy this game exists as it does. I had a lot of fun with it.
Sleeping Dogs (I'm Waiting for that Title Drop)
If I had to describe Sleeping Dogs in one word, it would probably be: solid. This game doesn't really do anything new or groundbreaking in terms of game play or story telling, but it's so well rounded. Not to mention fun. What probably did the most for me was the setting and subject matter. Hong Kong is a city with some steep history between China and Great Britain, and choosing the Triads as the criminal element of choice to dive into (as opposed to making them a faceless rival gang you beat up on) was perfect. Red Poles, Dragonheads, and more, it's all the little things that made this game so enjoyable to me. And I love, love breaking people's legs in combat and watching everyone else visibly flinch. Great bone breaking sound effects.
So if you don't know, this is a GTA style open world game about gangsters, undercover cops, and breaking the law. Only it's in China, so you'll have some local color in the form of driving on the left side of the road (assuming your country of origin doesn't do that already) and dashes of Cantonese from main characters and pedestrians alike. It's also got shades of Vin Diesel Wheelman in the form of air jacking (or stunt position if you prefer) and a button designated for ramming people with your vehicle of choice. Not to mention some Arkham-esque melee combat with counters and combos and enemies that will make sure you just don't button mash to victory. And yes, it's got guns that go bang-bang and cars that go vroom-vroom. Those are okay, but it all meshes together well enough for a good time.
A Killer in the Kitchen, Too
I mostly enjoyed the fist fights (I was always happy to enter combat) and the various weapons like meat cleavers and tire irons. I love meat cleavers as weapons. You get some sweet moves too. I liked the grappling attacks because you could follow up with breaking some poor thugs' arm or leg with the right timing. They actually have some enemy variety too like tough guys who can shrug off damage (aka they don't flinch when hit) and big guys who can throw your ass around if you try to grab them. Much like Batman, it feels very satisfying to take on twenty plus enemies and just mop the floor with them. And in this game you have the option to whip out a blade or throw a guy into a meat hook if you feel like it. There are some great environmental kills in this game. The ice chipper (when you find one) is so, so good.
As for the story, I enjoyed that too. There are some real characters in Sleeping Dogs. People I remember. Not to mention a collection of some of the best gang names I've heard in a long time. My favorite would have to be "Broken Nose" Jiang who is one of the rare female Triad members. When I first heard her name I thought she was a man because I couldn't imagine a lady with a nickname like that. You also have "Dogeyes" Lin, "Big Smile" Lee, "Two Chin" Tsao, and many more. The guy you play as is pretty cool too. Wei Shen has a great voice actor and some great animations all around. Some of my favorites involve the moments when he gets out of bed after a long night of... messy triad business... and his idle animation is him on the verge of freaking out. It's a nice touch to represent the stress of undercover work.
...Still Waiting for the Title Drop
Not to say that Sleeping Dogs is a flawless piece of work. It's got a fair share of "open world jank" as the crew at Giantbomb would put it. Generally in my video game playing history, I've always been lucky. I never ran into anything game breaking in my playthrough. The worst thing that happened to me was one mission taking a really long time to cue up the phone call that would move the story along like it had frozen or something. A few times the valet that delivered my car would get out, assume the seating position like he was still in the car, and then disappear into the street. Sometimes the physics got real weird (as in people and cars flying way too high into the air) and sometimes Wei Shen would get caught up on a corner during foot chases that he should easily be able to climb. Nothing was terrible or frequent enough to ruin my time with Sleeping Dogs... although your mileage will vary.
The way you get more money in this game stealing armored cars or select vehicles was nicely done. The customization for Shen's clothing was cool as they had a nice variety of thuggish clothing and slick suits to beat up enemies in. The progression system of Cop, Triad, and Face (as in the expression "saving face") experience was a nice touch to keep things moving and a sense of accomplishment. I also appreciate how the game took itself seriously enough for the sake of the story. Those technological mini-games (bugs, tracking phone calls, hacking computers, etc) were okay. And the free missions doing favors for people (or getting robbed) was interesting enough.
It's hard to say what kind of future this game has, but if they do plan to make another, I think I want that crime game with a female protagonist. Hopefully in another city outside the USA. After all, variety is the spice of life.
P.S: ...the title of this game is referring to the old saying of "let sleeping dogs lie" right?