Sleeping Dogs is a game with a convoluted production history and even weirder release schedule originally supposed to be released in 2010 under the name True Crime: Hong Kong, the game was then delayed to 2011 and then quickly cancelled for a reason which makes little to no sense to me: the name was not good enough to complete. August of 2011 the game was picked up by Square enix and was renamed, since Square enix could not obtain the True Crime IP, and was finally released one year later. The game was one of the top-selling games in the UK, the sixth top-selling game in the US, the 20th top selling game of 2012 and was cited as the best new IP of 2012, The question is: Did Sleeping Dogs live up to all these sales and to the expectations or was it just the drama and great marketing that sold the game and not the game itself? Now this game has been out a year so this will have some spoilers but I will warn you when I’m about to do major spoilers but just assume minor spoilers will be spilled.
Wei Shen is an undercover cop who grew up in one of the worst parts of Hong Kong; a place called Old Prosperity, and was assigned to infiltrate the Sun On Yee by any means necessary. Wei uses his old friends to become a member of the Water Street gang and through that he infiltrates the Sun On Yee with the mission to destroy them from the inside out. The game’s story is the hardest thing to swallow because it feels like it doesn’t really know what it wants to be, on the surface it feels like a gritty crime story about an undercover cop trying to protect his identity and do his mission without becoming too attached to the people around him. The game presents interesting ideas like Wei having insomnia and becoming more and more unstable because of the violence and evil that is all around him; the game feels it is a good idea to present these interesting ideas but then make all the dialog in the game a parody of itself and action crime movies. Wei is having a serious conversation with his handler who is showing concerns but then the conversation will devolve into one liners and quips which leads the player to wonder, what the hell am I supposed to be feeling?! The game feels like it doesn’t have a clear emotion and is confused on whether it’s a parody of 1980’s action movies or if it’s a serious crime action drama about a man wrestling with his past darkness. This makes the game’s story almost unbearable, when bad things happen to Wei’s loved ones you don’t feel anything because it is unclear if we were supposed to sympathise with said character and that’s a big problem. For the characters I will talk about two characters that help shape the story but I won’t go into the antagonists.
Wei Shen is the main character and in my opinion the weakest character in the game, let me explain, because since you play as this character you should know how you feel or how even Wei feels about any situation but he is the most confused character in the game. At times Wei seems like a strong and intelligent character who always has everything under control but that will quickly change he will explode and jeopardize everything over something petty or just utter nonsense. This would be interesting if it was at all consistent but instead you are left confused at this seemingly bipolar character! So I came to the conclusion that Wei Shen is Bipolar and for some reason both the Chinese and American government decided a Bipolar martial artist who has loved ones in the Sun On Yee was the best person to take them down, and that is the reason he is the weakest character in this game.
Jackie Ma (MAJOR Spoiler Alert)
Jackie Ma is my favorite character in the game because he is the only character in the game who dares to have some depth and actually goes through realistic personality change. Jackie Ma grew up with Wei and dreams that one day he will join the Sun On Yee but right now is just an errand boy for the Water Street gang. Jackie is the one that gets Wei good in with Winston, leader of the Water street Gang, and plays a role as personal confidant to Wei without ever knowing Wei is an undercover cop. Jackie’s story is mainly told through conversations he has with Wei in cars driving to missions; we learn Jackie is in love with a girl and is too nervous to ask her out, we learn that Jackie is still a child in his mind and sees the Sun On Yee as some sort of family he wants in on. The rest of this has spoilers that tell the climax of the game so skip this part if you wish to remain unspoiled. Jackie and Wei eventually go through the initiations to join the Sun On Yee, in which they have to murder a man, and Jackie is the one who performs the actual deed. Jackie is broken and can hardly deal with what he did leaving the conversations with him depressing. Jackie has problems from then on and eventually leads to him wondering if being a part of a criminal gang is as glamorous as he originally thought.
The Gameplay is the strongest part of the game, at its surface it plays like a Grand Theft Auto type open world game, able to steal cars that allow you to go mission to mission and having the missions filled with car chases and fights. Where the game shines different from any other modern open world game is its martial arts influence, though guns are in the game they aren’t the main focus, the hand to hand combat is based around counters and combinations like a fighting game. The fighting is flashy and stylized making each fight more unique than games with similar fighting systems (the Arkham games) and threw optional missions Wei can learn different moves that allow each fight to be even more violent. Along with the normal hand to hand combat there are also environmental kills that range from not very violent to sawing someone’s face off with a high-powered fan. The games make car chase scenes entertaining by giving you a gun to shoot out tires sometimes but the most fun you can have is when you have to do something called an Action Hijack which allows Wei to jump from his moving vehicle to another moving vehicle hijacking it while it’s still in motion. On top of the action there is a plethora of collectables and mini games that are there to boost how people see you, which in turn allows you to where more stylish or outlandish gear, or boost your health. The last gameplay mechanic I will talk about is the point system, in missions you get either Triad or police points depending on how bad you are breaking the law to get the job done, these points are traded in to get new moves and upgrades. The open world sprawls across the entire city and is as vast as it needs to be without feeling to excessive or without making it impossible to get around without getting lost.
The game has a very impressive cast, featuring both big name and lesser known actors but the names aren’t the impressive part to me, the impressive part is how each of them sells their role as if they were doing a serious drama at times. Each character has a unique voice that can’t be confused and that does help with how the game works on an emotional level, it’s true that the story makes the characters confusing on how you are supposed to feel about them but I think it is almost saved by how well the voices are. When people are sad they sound sad and you feel sad for them, which is something that makes up a little for the horrendous story telling. The music in the game is one of the best parts of the game, like other games that use this style the game has numerous radio stations that range from classic Chinese songs to modern Chinese and American bands that make the long car rides bearable.
The game may have an unbearable story that didn’t stop me from enjoying this game as much as I did, where the game lacks in story it makes up for in gameplay so if you just want a fun action experience then this is the game for you but if you want a good story then I suggest you pick up Bioshock Infinite instead.
Final Score 11/15