Sleeping Dogs: New Year catchup review

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  • Format: PS3 (version reviewed), 360
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: United Front Games
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://www.sleepingdogs.net/

“It’s like GTA” is a lazy way of describing Sleeping Dogs, but it’s also a largely accurate one. An immediate and refreshing difference from other games of this ilk however is that, rather than being set in America, Sleeping Dogs takes place in a Hong Kong recreated with generous dollops of artistic license. You are dropped into the shoes of Wei Shen, an undercover cop tasked with dealing a blow to the Triads from within. Most of the acting is decent (though a few examples are bloody terrible) but unfortunately, the plot is riddled with clichés. It goes something like this: Conflicted loyalties mumble don’t forget you’re a cop mumble mumble violent gangland retribution mumble extreme measures but getting results, mumble betrayal.

The general structure of story missions is just as you’d expect, in that they largely consist of killing/acting as a taxi for people, stealing vehicles, and various chases. Some of these chases take part on foot, and are a clear sign of Sleeping Dogs’ determination to present itself as an interactive Hong Kong action movie. Shen engages in a sort of parkour-lite, vaulting over market stalls and fences, scrambling over walls, and jumping between buildings in an effort to Get His Man. It certainly looks jolly exciting, and we would sometimes ensure a waist-height obstacle was in our path even when it could be easily avoided (we’re not proud).

The fights, too, sometimes differ from what you might expect. In fact, it’ll be hours before you pick up your first gun or encounter your first heat-packing enemy. In another nod to the Hong Kong movie scene you’ll often take on thugs with kung-fu, with the occasional melee weapon thrown in for good measure. It’s a basic but effective – and, vitally, enjoyable – system that rewards care and timing (rather than button bashing) with special moves and combos. There are QTEs for when you get grabbed, which miraculously fail to irritate. There’s also the inevitable counter system, with the helpful (if rather inelegant) visual cue of enemies glowing bright red before they strike.

Wei soon regretted stopping off for a vindaloo on the way to work.

It’s just as well that kung-fu plays such a prominent part throughout the game, as the cover system and general gunplay – while perfectly competent – are uninspiring, even with the slow-mo activated by vaulting over cover while aiming. Shooting from a vehicle on the other hand is a consistently guilty pleasure; knocking motorcycle riders off their steeds with a hail of bullets is all very well, but watching cars overreact when you shoot out their tyres by crashing into the nearest available object and/or flying through the air will surely fill you with glee.

Holding the experience together is XP, of which there are three kinds; Police, Triad, and Face. Police XP is generally unlocked during the story by completing missions without doing unfriendly things (like smashing into cars, through fences, and over innocent people), allowing you to unlock various abilities. Triad XP is earned by fighting well hand-to-hand, and unlocks further abilities and new moves. Face is basically “rep” and, while it confers bonuses of its own, you also need to achieve a certain Face level in order to wear some of the clothes available to earn and buy. Sorry Shen, you’re not cool enough to wear those shades yet.

You’ll come across a few minigames which do a good job of hiding the fact that they’re minigames. Lockpicking is a simple yet unobtrusive experience, and the same can be said for safecracking, carefully turning the dial left and right to find the right combination. Best of all is surely working out the four-digit passcode for electronic security via trial and error. It gives you a sense of achievement when you succeed – and does an excellent job of masking the fact that, actually, it’s very difficult to fail.

“Er, this is the sort of bike that carries on working underwater, right?”

There are many things to do outside of the story beside the expected races and steal-to-order missions. There’s karaoke (via the medium of the left stick) and a handful of women to woo; as well as a few optional police cases to solve, and several extortion gigs should you feel the need to be naughty. There are also ‘drug busts’ scattered throughout the city. Clear out the thugs in the area, hack the nearby camera (with the aforementioned passcode feature), and check the camera in your safehouse to identify & order the arrest of the dealer. Simple, repetitive, but fun nonetheless.

There are many people demanding “Favors” to help increase Face, though you’ll soon find yourself repeating the same tasks (dumping a car in the harbour for insurance is a popular scam in Hong Kong, it seems). Add to this lockboxes full of cash, jade statues for new fighting moves, and shrines to increase your health hidden throughout the large map, and you should get at least two dozen hours of gameplay here before you struggle to find something new.

It’s worth noting that Sleeping Dogs is, for want of a better phrase, more user-friendly than the GTA titles. For example, later Face upgrades make it easier to find hidden collectables; and while you can enjoy the thrill of losing the police through some nifty driving you can, if you wish, lose them quickly and easily by smashing into any cars chasing you until they’re rendered unusable – at which point the police simply give up on you. It’s also difficult to lose most enemy encounters unless you’re particularly reckless. As a result, we found that we died on average less than once every two hours; whether that’s a good thing or not is up for debate.

While it’s rough around the edges – the graphics almost look like a hi-res PS2 title at times, the frame rate suffers when things get really busy, and there are a few minor bugs you may encounter – Sleeping Dogs can stand proudly as a worthy alternative to GTA. Besides, how many other games sell noodles which give your character Wolverine-like regenerative powers?

critical score 8

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He’s the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you’ll find something he’s written in there.

Luke doesn’t have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

2 comments

  1. steven g /

    Just a note – this def looks better on the 360. PC looks amazing. I love this game – it’s pure B-Movie trash, but really cool. GTA without all the fuss. The fighting isn’t quite as fluid as say Batman, but hey, your character is a cop, not a super hero!

    “Hidden right under your nose bit of gaming fun, and a MUST if in a bargain bin of 2012” might be an overstatement, but its an argument….

    • Kevin M /

      Really looking forward to playing this. I see it’s one of this months freebies on PlayStation Plus, which is even better than the bargain bin!

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