Once Upon a Time in Hong Kong
What was once True Crime: Hong Kong is now Sleeping Dogs. You play Chinese-American Wei Shen, who grew up among the gangsters of Hong Kong and is now an undercover operative for the HKPD. The main storyline consists of a series of missions that reflect the duality of Wei’s character. Half of the time you’re working for the triads: killing people, selling drugs, street racing etc, and the other half you spend doing police work: planting bugs, hacking security cameras, beating up thugs. Now, this ain’t L.A. Noire, when I say police work I don’t mean you get to sit down and whip out a notepad like good ol’ Cole Phelps. The triad missions are pretty much the same as the policing missions, and I think this is a missed opportunity. United Front really could have capitalised on the two-faced nature of the main character to create some really unique gameplay. Unfortunately, every aspect of gameplay you carry out as a policemanofficer you will at some point carry out as a criminal. You’re gonna hack a lot of security cameras and you’re gonna beat up, shoot, and chase a lot of people from both sides of the game.
Sleeping Dogs sports a rank system similar to that of the Saints Row series, but here it’s split into three. One for your criminal activities, one for your police work and one for your general reputation or ‘face rank’. Compared to the latter, which enables you to unlock useful things like faster regen and the ability to call for someone to bring you a car, the triad and police unlocks have a very minimal impact on how you play. In my playthrough I had maxed out my police and face rank waaaay before the end of the game, meaning that every police or side mission I completed after that point didn’t really get me anything but cash. The higher your face rank the better clothes and cars you can buy and it definitely feels good to save up enough for a ridiculously fast car and some stylish threads after spending the start of the game wearing trackpants and driving a car that handles like my great aunt Elsie. The side missions are basically what you’d expect: street racing, stealing specific cars, shaking down people for money etc. They’re simple and fun for a while, but quickly become repetitive. Then there are the favour missions which sometimes relate directly to the main story, once again they’re fun but nothing special.
I played the PC version and it looks pretty damn good, especially if you download the free high-res texture pack. I used mouse and keyboard (madness I know), but it actually wasn’t too bad. There are few annoyances, for example the button for sprint and for leaping over things s the same, which makes running near balconies quite terrifying. While you can change which key to use, whatever key you choose will still do both sprint and leap. I would recommend a gamepad, if you have one.
So why should you bother? It may sound generic and it’s certainly derivative, but where Sleeping Dogs shines is in its great characters, compelling script, better than average voice acting, and a truly outstanding atmosphere and sense of place. Hong Kong is wonderfully realised here. Shopkeepers screech at you to buy their food and their knock-off clothes, rows and rows of skinny skyscraping apartment blocks jut up into the smoggy sky and neon signs pulse at every turn. When it rains the pedestrians pull out umbrellas or huddle under a newspaper. “Wei Shen”, some of them whisper as you pass them, a sign that you’re gaining reputation within the Sun On Yee, one of several gangs that make up the Hong Kong triads.
Sleeping Dogs borrows heavily from GTA, Saints Row, Arkham Asylum and Assassin’s Creed, and while it never really reaches the same heights as any of these titles, it remains a fun open-world game with a very refreshing atmosphere and a certain uniqueness that is desperately lacking in this Rockstar-dominated genre. If you feel like a whole lot of old mixed with a fair amount of new, then Sleeping Dogs is worth a look.
3.5 out of 5