The Surprisingly Good Sleeping Dogs
Even before Activision dropped it, it was hard to imagine that Sleeping Dogs -- a game once set to be a reboot of the True Crime series -- would actually be good. The series itself is perhaps best known for trying (and failing) to capture the lightning in a bottle that is Rockstar's open-world juggernaut Grand Theft Auto series. Couple that with developer United Front Games whose only video game credit comes in the form the kart racer Mod Nation Racers, and cause for concern was fairly reasonable. Yet here we are, a year after Square Enix rescued the game from certain death, to see that United Front Games has -- against all odds -- delivered an exciting, story-driven open-world game that is actually pretty good.
The story of Sleeping Dogs follows Wei Shen, a Chinese-born undercover cop shipped back to his hometown of Hong Kong and tasked with using his connections to infiltrate the Sun On Yee, part of the Chinese Triads. If this sounds a bit familiar to you, that's completely intentional. United Front stated during development that the both The Departed and Infernal Affairs (the Chinese film The Departed was based on) heavily inspired the game's story and protagonist. From here, Sleeping Dogs follows the typical open-world crime game mold of working your way up the ranks from lackey to boss, save for Shen playing both sides of the fence. You hijack cars, follow waypoints, get missions from random strangers and challenge people to races. You'll get access to progressively nicer apartments, cars, and clothes, and even go on dates. Yes, Sleeping Dogs is highly derivative, but it's hardly GTA: Hong Kong or Infernal Affairs: The Video Game.
The number one thing that separates Sleeping Dogs from the open-world pack is it's combat. Sleeping Dogs features a combo-and-counter fighting system nearly identical to the one found in Rocksteady's Batman titles. United Front has also peppered the environment with several context-sensitive kills, allowing you to dispatch thugs by more brutal means, such as throwing them head first into an air vent or spiking them on an meat hook dangling from the ceiling. Sleeping Dogs actually spends the first half of the game shying away from gun combat, but once it's introduced, it becomes a focal point of the game's late game missions. The gunplay isn't terrible, but it's not nearly as intuitive as the hand-to-hand stuff, and I frequently found myself hating the firefights just because I'd rather be using my fists. The game also features an "action hijacking" mechanic similar to the Just Cause games in which you'll leap from your vehicle to another in order to take control of it.
You'll spend the majority of the game switching between performing tasks for the Sun On Yee and the police, however there are plenty of side activities to occupy your time, if that's your thing. You can aid random strangers in need or participate in street races scattered about Hong Kong. There are also missions that utilize the aforementioned action hijacking to commandeer armored trucks and deliver them to a Sun On Yee garage.
Of course, Sleeping Dogs isn't without it's flaws. I ran into a few scripting bugs during my time with the game, usually involving cars or people getting stuck on the geometry of the world during chase sequences. Typically these kinks worked themselves out after waiting a bit for the AI to free itself, but in at least one spot, I was forced to fail the mission and start it over from a checkpoint. The cover system featured in gun fights is also rather clumsy, and there were several parts where I took heavy bullet damage while attempting to line Wei Shen up with whatever wall or box I was trying to hide behind.
Sleeping Dogs succeeds in so many ways that ambitious open-world titled tend to fail, and does it all while delivering a compelling story full of fantastic and well voice-acted characters (Mrs. Chu is the best new character this year, I will fight you if don't agree). It may not offer much in terms of replayability, but it still offers up a solid 20+ hours and should satisfy the needs of anyone itching for their open-world action fix.