Go undercover in Sleeping Dogs
Hong Kong: home of the martial arts film, Canto-pop, dangerous airport runways, Mahjong Poker, buildings that lack fourth floors and setting for United Front and Square Enix’s latest open-world action game, Sleeping Dogs. An open-worlder that’s not called “Grand Theft Auto” invariably invites a “GTA clone” labelling, and Sleeping Dogs doesn’t attempt anything terribly innovative to rise above this generalisation. But it does offer a refreshing experience with a lot of character. What’s more, you’ll get to experience some of its setting’s lovely cultural aspects — including the Feng Shui.
You play Wei Shen (voiced by the strangely Nolan North-sounding Will Yun Lee), an undercover police officer who is tasked with bringing down the Sun On Yee, a dangerous Triad organisation. Wei begins his faux criminal career (expectedly) at the bottom of the pile in a gang led by Winston Chu, where he starts off doing the dirty work — intimidation, extortion and the like. Playing as Wei, you will get to indulge in a variety of fun criminal activities as well as play cop; all the while keeping your cover intact. To help you do this, United Front Games have thrown in a bunch of gameplay elements from your other favourite open-world action/adventure games.
Expect to spend a lot of time in Sleeping Dogs beating up bad guys. But this is Hong Kong, so you’ll be giving Kung Fu beatings, which are infinitely cooler than regular beatings. The combat engine is clearly inspired by Rocksteady’s Arkham series, featuring attacks, counters, combos and finishing moves — it might not flow as freely (pun intended), but despite occasional unresponsiveness, the combat is satisfying and challenging. Gunplay, similarly, is inspired by the Max Payne (sorry John Woo fans, but Sleeping Dogs does require guns to be reloaded) series with the game’s own version of bullet-time letting your trigger finger do its worst in wonderful slow motion, while Assassin’s Creed makes an appearance in the game’s well-implemented Parkour mechanic. A lot of the elements are borrowed, no doubt (the developers acknowledge this fact), but their implementation doesn’t feel forced. The end result is a game that combines the best elements of all those games. Sleeping Dogs is a clone and not ashamed of it, but it also occasionally manages to go one up on the titles it draws inspiration from. Remember the awful hand-to-hand combat in GTA 4? What about the dreadful car handling? Have you always wanted on-screen directions so that you don’t have to refer to your mini-map all the time? Well, a. they’re gone, and b. you’ve got it now. There’s also a whole bunch of fun mini-games (hacking, bug-planting, racing, cock fights, karaoke, general debauchery) that fit well into the grander scheme of things.
Sleeping Dogs utilises the tried and tested open-world formula present in Rockstar's popular series, while tweaking and improving on several gameplay mechanics that players found frustrating in the GTA games. Developers United Front have also drawn inspiration from other titles including Assassin's Creed, L.A. Noire, Square Enix’s own Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham City —these “moments of inspiration” will be more than obvious to you if you've played any of those games. But there’s a stark difference in the storytelling process (from GTA in particular). Sleeping Dogs doesn’t try to be clever, funny or sarcastic — it’s a serious story about an undercover police officer struggling with morality and loyalty. And in the end, the no-nonsense narrative and “borrowed” gameplay elements come together quite nicely, making Sleeping Dogs' crime-laden Hong Kong a joy to inhabit for 15-or-so hours. Sleeping Dogs is now available on PS3, X360 and PC.