Sleeping Dogs is a welcome entry to the open-world genre accentuated by the intoxicating Triad narrative. Wei Shen is the cool-as-you-are-going-to-find Chinese Kung-Fu specialist whose mother took to America to escape the Hong Kong underworld that Wei’s sister was getting involved in. Wei returns to the vibrant city of Hong Kong, joins the HKPD and goes deep undercover within the Triad mob organisation. Wei must win the Triad’s trust to promote himself within the Triads, to unravel one of the most lethal mob organisations on the globe. Wei faces opposing groups within the Triads and needs to do whatever it takes while remembering that he is first and foremost a cop.
Developer: United Front Games
Publisher: Square Enix
For fans of: GTA, Open-world games, action
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Also available on: Playstation 3, PC
If we had to give it a numerical score: 8.5/10
What we liked
- The fighting gameplay
- The fighting gameplay!
- The tattoos
- Interesting characters
- Voice-acting is top notch
- Surprising gameplay in a few aspects
- Triad theme
- Hong Kong vibe
- Voice-acting superb
- Interesting narrative
Not so much
- Some clumsy gameplay
- Driving is uninspiring
- Some dialogue out of sync
- Visuals not the greatest
Gameplay and Features
Sleeping Dogs is a somewhat standard open-world game where you can follow the primary story, or take on the numerous, differentiated side-quests. The primary gameplay includes what you would expect from the genre; driving, shooting and so on; but then adds a few surprises. There’s quite bit of parkour which has you scaling the terrain around Hong Kong, and then the game’s foremost gameplay feature, the brilliantly executed and imaginative combat systems.
As you should know by now, United Front collaborated with MMA expert George St. Pierre for the brawling, and I can happily report that this primary feature alone makes Sleeping Dogs a worthy title. The fighting gameplay combines an array of martial arts moves with grappling techniques. The fighting begins with visceral strikes that are executed similarly to that of the fighting in the Batman games. Hit a button for basic strikes or grab the opponent for various grappling moves. You can also brutally thrust enemies into objects from grappling them and throwing them into the object. Like the Batman games, you can also counter the opponent when you hit the button as the opponent (lights up) and strikes. From there you can string combos together which play out in a stunning cinematic manner. The fighting evolves beautifully as you unlock more moves that you can learn at the dojo – you need to find ornamental statues throughout the city and bring them to the Kung-Fu teacher who collects them. He will teach you new moves in return, from basic combos to elaborate grapple techniques. The fighting takes centre stage in Hong Kong as guns are scarce, so your fighting skill is how you will gain respect and push forward. The fighting cinematic sequences were well crafted and thankfully never get old.
There are plenty of attributes that Wei needs to develop, from ‘face’ level to his Triad Skills. From he’s fighting skills to cop skills, all the attributes develop as you unlock them by performing a variety of tasks. With the fighting, using a variation of sequences to take down enemies will better you face value; a ‘respect’ sort of value. One of the design elements that I love most about Sleeping Dogs is that, because Wei is undercover, the gameplay surrounds being a ‘good’ cop as well as being a ‘badass’ mobster. So the gameplay offers so much variety from beating people rival gangs to good old cop chases. So by performing accurate cop activities will further the attributes in this department, while typical gang activities will develop Wei’s Triad attributes.
The gameplay as a whole is not perfect in all areas but is well executed in the parkour department, and absolutely shines in the fighting department. The shooting was not a highlight for me, but fortunately this is not the game’s main focus. The driving is not that great either, and I know that it hardly ever is in open-world games, but even so, the Grand Theft Auto series has shown it can be done fairly well in the later games in the series. The driving in Sleeping Dogs is not terrible, but by no means that great either.
While Sleeping Dogs is a singleplayer title, being an open-world title means there’s plenty of side-quests to extend your experience. You can connect to a social-club to track stats and so on, but this is a defining singleplayer event. United Front has promised to back the game with DLC and has already released its plans for six months of story DLC.
Sound and Visuals
Visually Sleeping Dogs did not blow me away, but it is not that bad either. The characters are well textured and their animations are pretty good for the most part, but I don’t exactly think that Sleeping Dogs is going to sweep up the awards in this department; unless it’s for the brilliantly tattooed characters if anything. We know what to expect with open-world games – not the most detailed gaming worlds – and this is the case here. With great signage, good use of lighting and lively populated streets, Hong Kong does manage to be vibrant despite the bland backdrop. The cinematic sequences were well designed and carry the story well without being too intrusive.
I found the sound quality to be more impressive than the visuals, and in my opinion it was the brilliantly executed dialogue that did the most to absorb me with the narrative. Jeff Tymoschuk was tasked with composing the score for Sleeping Dogs; and his experience in film, television and video games clearly helped with creating the important ambiance of the game. Besides the wonderfully ambient scoring and soundtrack, there’s plenty of sound effects and casual chatter among the streets of Hong Kong to create the vibrant mood. The main-story’s dialogue was well written and the story is driven by the interesting characters and their dialogue, which was played brilliantly by the voice-actors. The all-star voice-cast is headlined by Wei Shen played by Will Yun Lee; Wei’s childhood friend and low-level Triad member Jackie Mah played by Edison Chen; and a “boss” levelled Triad Winston Chu played by Parry Shen. Emma Stone debuts her voice to videogames and plays Amanda Cartwright, a love-interest of Wei’s; while Lucy Liu also lends her voice playing Vivienne Lu.
While the gameplay outshines the aesthetics, Sleeping Dogs is still a treat as an audio-visual experience. The visceral fighting was the absolute highlight for me in the visual department, and the soundtrack and dialogue made for an immersive experience that keeps with the best of them.
Sleeping Dogs lacks the overall polish that you get with the series it will be most compared to, but the imperfections are nowhere near enough to detract from the wonderful gameplay. Hong Kong is an immensely interesting gaming world, and the Triad’s story is as interesting as you are going to find. The wonderful open-world gameplay topped by the brilliantly executed fighting bits, complimented with a rich story and brilliant voice-acting makes Sleeping Dogs one of the most compelling games you’ll play this year.
Read about our ratings here.