Sleeping Dogs Review (PS3)
The story follows Wei Shen returning to his childhood home from America and going undercover to take apart the Triad, the Sun On Yee. In the course of the story we see Shen’s weakening mental state as he struggles to follow the code he took as a police officer while fighting his growing attachment to his fellow ‘brothers’ in the Triad. The story is probably Sleeping Dogs’ strongest point, as it is engaging and interesting to watch Shen’s downward spiral and leaves you wondering which path he will choose in the end. Although there is an opposing Triad, the 18k, most of the story revolves around Shen and the internal struggle for power in the Sun On Yee.
The map is on the smaller side, but I did not mind this. It will still take a couple of minutes to travel from one side of the map to the other thanks to a mountainous region in the middle splitting things up with winding roads. These roads are surrounded by trees and are my favourite part of the map, having large curves, dipping areas and tunnels. Each of the map’s four main towns vary slightly enough for you to generally be able to tell where you are at a glance while keeping the sense you are in the same overlying city. The entire map is also unlocked from the beginning, so straight away you are able to go anywhere. I quite liked not having any restrictions on the city at the start. I never encountered that feeling of dismay that can occur on some larger maps when travelling large distances and the collectibles are still well spread out. It is well-populated with cars and people and overall the city feels full and alive.
Shen uses free-running to get through the environment on foot holding X to sprint (unlimited which I loved) and he will automatically climb or jump with a Context prompt (tap X) determining how quickly you traverse the object. I found this feature to be quite good and while the amount of climbable objects doesn’t go to the extent of climbing the sides of buildings, it did make travelling on foot a breeze thanks to Shen tackling fences with ease.
Sleeping Dogs is definitely more focused on hand-to-hand combat and as such the game has a much more fleshed out and superior combat system than GTA and the like, being much more similar to the recent incarnations of the Batman series.
Shen’s arsenal consists of combo attacks, counters and grapples. Square is used for combos; tapping for light attacks and holding for heavy. Triangle is used for counters (enemies flash red) and circle is used for grappling. To defeat enemies you must alternate between these as enemies have special traits like blocking or being unable to be grappled. The combat system works well; attacks and counters flow well between each other and stringing combos is simple.
Though the combat can side on being mashy, the varied types of enemies do well to force you to mix it up. Of course filling the face meter (which builds by damaging enemies) disables these traits while active, giving you a chance to go super offensive. Environmental attacks are spread through some areas and will instantly take out any grabbable enemy. Hand held weapons work just like using fists but do more damage and only last for a specific amount of hits. These range from knives to umbrellas and purses. The game does have a lock-on button, L2, but it does disable sprinting and I found it more of a hindrance.
Guns are rare and they are not introduced until later on in the game (Hong Kong has strict gun laws). But when they are introduced you will find yourself relying on the lock-in cover (through the use of L1) to survive as you will fall quickly to them.
There are your basic gun types, each with variants and their traditional traits. Pistols, sub/full machine and shotguns all make an appearance. Guns also introduce a short bullet time when jumping out of cover or aiming in cars (beware it slows your reloading and left me wondering why I hadn’t reloaded yet). I feel they are introduced at the right point in the story and allowed the combat to be front and centre and stand on its own and although they became more predominantly used later, I don’t feel they overshadowed the combat. One thing I did feel was missed was the use of the stealth attacks as there was rarely any chance to use it through the story. One late mission even set itself up for stealth but didn’t necessarily require it, which I felt was a miss.
Hijacking cars is the same concept as other open-world games, but Sleeping Dogs also adds the incredibly useful ability to hijack cars while driving. Holding square, Shen will move to jump out/of his current vehicle and then after tapping square at the right time, Shen will leap onto and hijack the next vehicle. This was extremely useful, easy and fun especially when upgrading to a better or newer vehicle.
The types of missions available in Sleeping Dogs ranges from story and cases to jobs, favours, random events and races. These all vary greatly in the task you will be given to complete - from chasing down bad-guys and chasing down a cake, to having large-scale shootouts and fights as well as singing karaoke and planting bugs. I never felt any form of déjà vu during any of the missions and think that United Front Games did an exceptional job in mixing tasks and locations up. The feeling of repetition never popped up for me, where it has in some other open world games.
During any of these missions you will be earning experience points from 3 specific areas: Cop (story, cases), Triad (story only) and Face (jobs/favours/races/random events). Cop and Triad points are earned during story missions and play off each other by losing Cop points with reckless behaviour and gaining Triads point by killing. Losing Cop points only really come into play when on the streets if you take a corner too wide and risk hitting property or killing civilians with a stray bullet. Triad points reward you for mixing your combat up between heavy attacks, throws and environmental kills. Face experience points are awarded upon completion jobs, favours, races and random events.
All three of these have their own skill tree, with Cop/Triad points giving you a smidgen of choice in how you go about things. The upgrades range from increased food bonuses, stealing cars quicker, a valet, face mode bonuses and extra moves. After completing all missions I had maxed out Cop and Face while Triad needed a couple of mission to be replayed. I really enjoyed mixing my combos and driving more carefully to maximise my points rather than relying on a favoured combo or driving with reckless abandon. There is also a combo tree which is increased by returning jade idols to Shen’s childhood fighting instructor.
There are also several bonuses that are available to you through clothing, food and your face meter. When wearing a set of clothing you may receive a bonus 15% extra Triad exp or striking damage, for example. I felt this was nice and used the triad bonus for the majority of time. The food bonuses tie in with the Health Points (HP) while visiting shrines throughout the city. You are able to double your maximum HP but it will always only regenerate half-way unless you consume food. Other food bonuses include increased attack damage and damage mitigation.
Along with the health shrines and the idols, the other collectibles include hacking security cameras and lock boxes. While most security cameras are guarded and used during drug busts, there are a couple of different ways a lock box may appear. They could require cracking or be guarded. I liked this uncertainty and it gave a nice twist on collectibles.
Along with 2 races you are able to have, these collectibles appear on the big map by completing specific dates, and each of these dates are one-off and different. Any previously found collectibles are marked on the map, which I think is brilliant and should become standard. Apartments are automatically given throughout the story. There is a huge variety of clothing to purchase as well as cars, although car varieties are on the lean side and purchasing them is the only way to add them to your garage.
As is becoming a trend lately, Sleeping Dogs also incorporates leaderboards and medals to compete online with your friends with other players around the world. Basic things like clean driving, kills, bones broken and jump length are all recorded for you to try and beat your friends, along with race times and mission scores, all of which are replayable to increase your score or better your time. I like this trend and enjoy seeing how I stack up against others and welcome this increasingly popular take on the traditional leaderboard.
Post 100% completion however, Sleeping Dogs falls short of other open-world games. While it is possible to replay missions and races, apart from this, mah-jong, cock fighting and stealing armoured vans are your only diversions. The lack of gun availability (one gun spawns at your house) and your weakness to bullets being greater than in other open-world games make rampaging generally short on foot, with death coming quickly once surrounded as the heat level escalates quite quickly. Car chasings generally last longer but ammo is in shorter supply.
The graphics are not mindblowing but they do well in representing a stylised version of Hong Kong. The city looks good under lights or rain and Shen’s clothes will get wet during rain and bloody from fighting. I found them more than acceptable and I did not notice any slow down or screen-tearing. Some of the higher buildings have noticeable low quality textures and the relatively short (for an open world) draw distance was highlighted in open areas. Some cars also suffered from shuddering when braking, but thankfully this only affects a select few cars. Animations are also done well. While sprinting, Shen will bump into pedestrians and his fighting moves are smooth and look good.
The voice acting is well done with bits of Chinese added in with the English dialogue. This doesn’t feel forced and is well implemented and helps set the location. There is street chatter and the ambient sounds do very well to help build the facade that you are in a living, breathing city. The gun sounds are also good and there seems to be shared or similar sounds between certain cars.
I didn’t have too many control problems, although Wei Shen did thrust himself over a couple of barriers unwantedly when sprinting near them. The camera on vehicles is tight and the bikes gave me a little motion sickness with their rocking until I adjusted. Load times were short and there was generally little loading down time. The menus are easy to navigate through, though due to the online nature the leaderboards are somewhat slow to scroll through.
The car/bike handling (once adjusted) is arcade at its best, requiring little effort to slide around corners and weave through tracks. Some of the faster cars do have some understeer during braking, and boats go forward/backwards and do boaty things - nothing really made me want to drive around in them. I did encounter troubles with reversing cars where it would not work or was delayed. Vehicles are retrieved from the car-parks that litter the map. Other than those, no other control issues surfaced for me in the game.
Beyond leaderboard competition, Sleeping Dogs has no multiplayer, and so this wasn't rated in this review.
I finished the game with 100% completion in under 24 hours. It didn’t feel like I was rushing and there were several non 100% completion-related pursuits that I took in between the story missions. I enjoyed the full 24 hours of playing and it never feel like a chore - it was interesting and exciting for the entire time and the story made me want to keep playing. In the end though, the shortness does hamper it, and I was left wanting more. I like open-world titles to approach the 40-50 hour mark for 100% completion, and people who prefer guns over hand-to-hand combat would most likely not get too much out of it Sleeping Dogs until later on in the story and then find very little fun post-story. But if you’re looking for a short rush of excitement and want something different from the more common, wrong side of the law and gun-focused open-world atmosphere, then Sleeping Dogs is definitely worth playing.