Sleeping Dogs
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2012-09-09 Xbox 360 Action M (Mature) United Front Games / Square Enix

Starting life as True Crime: Hong Kong, Sleeping Dogs was abandoned by Activision and eventually resurrected by United Front Games and Square Enix. Luckily, the game's time in proverbial purgatory doesn't seem to have harmed the experience, as this is one lengthy crime drama that starts with a bang and never lets up.

Sleeping Dogs follows Wei Shen, an undercover police officer tasked with infiltrating and eventually eliminating the Sun On Yee, a massive crime group with branches throughout Hong Kong. Born and raised in a Hong Kong slum, Shen uses his former ties to the area to gain access to the gang and quickly begins climbing the ranks and earning its members' trust. In the process, Shen must question his own values and loyalties as he balances the justifications of his illegal actions and the reasoning behind the Sun On Yee's operations.

It would be difficult to describe this open-world experience without at least a passing reference to games like Grand Theft Auto, but while Sleeping Dogs may fit into that overall "style" of game, it feels mostly different. Guns aren't the complete focus in the game, and are actually used sparingly, all things considered. Instead, Shen's martial arts training sees him learning a unique array of takedowns and counterattacks that can be used in hand-to-hand combat. Depending on your dedication to his training, Shen can become a master of the craft by unlocking new moves, and can even use the environment as a weapon, shoving enemy gang members through plate glass or into dumpsters, smashing their skulls in vehicle doors, or turning them into proverbial lumber on a table saw, as just a few examples.

While combat can become a rather intricate affair, with multiple button combinations to unleash some of Wei's strongest moves, it's handled rather smoothly. Enemies glow red as they prepare to attack, giving you plenty of time to counter, and those that wish not to dive into the world of attack patterns and memorization can simply bash on a single button until everything stops moving. This isn't to say that the attack combinations are incredibly intricate, as most only require different combinations of tapping and holding X while facing a particular direction. This is a satisfying setup, as Wei's catalog of moves is so varied that it doesn't take much to make one feel like a badass while beating all sense out of his enemies.

Back in the main world, Hong Kong is a different beast than most fans of sandbox-style games are used to tackling. From the simple fact that cars drive on the other side of the road to its many small, winding alleys, Hong Kong has a personality all its own and feels alive. There's an attention to detail here that's fascinating. Rain starts and stops on a whim, and if pedestrians aren't carrying umbrellas, they'll struggle to find something to cover their heads. If you run over an innocent bystander, paramedics will eventually arrive to aid them (or complain about unnecessary paperwork if they're DOA). Non-interactive storefronts are backlit, with graphics that present depth to their shelving units as though people might actually be shopping inside. It's these details that make the world such a joy to explore, even if the game's traffic can sometimes be unnecessarily heavy.

There are tons of collectibles scattered throughout the world, along with favors and odd jobs to complete, but it's in these secondary features that the game's storyline starts to struggle. The entire plot is full of intrigue, drama and plenty of violence, but some characters and introduced or disregarded too abruptly. Wei's romantic interests, as an example, can be wooed on a single date and are mostly never heard from again, save for the single example of a betrayed lover that references how deep her relationship with Wei had really been. It's as though Wei has been carrying on meaningful relationships with these women during moments we're simply not allowed to witness. The same goes for some of the game's more major characters, as they'll be introduced as major players with little fanfare, as though we were supposed to know of their existence all along.

With that all being said, the game's voice acting is top notch and the characters that truly matter are given plenty of depth and backstory. It's easy to become attached to these characters, even though they're criminals, which makes Wei's own attachment to them easier to understand and relate to. While Sleeping Dogs never becomes truly emotional, there are some rather extreme cutscenes that contain severe amounts of violence and torture. Still, this violence never seems as though it's there just for the sake of being so, as there's always a justification to a character's anger, whether it be betrayal and mourning or a lust for power.

While Sleeping Dogs is a beautiful game, there are a few technical design choices that are less than user-friendly. The camera may rotate far too quickly or not enough when turning corners or backing up in a vehicle, and the game's free-running mechanic (that allows Wei to leap over fences and scale buildings) can sometimes fail if you're not facing an object at the right angle. Finally, some graphical issues see characters clipping through obstacles, and are sometimes so prominent that enemies will become stuck in walls altogether, forcing you to reload a save point or hope to get lucky as you randomly punch or kick at the wall.

Even with these few issues, Sleeping Dogs doesn't become frustrating or even tedious in its combat repetition, as there are tons of side-quests and activities to complete. If you like puzzles, you can hack electronics in a code-decryption game.

If you like racing, you can try your hand at both car and motorcycle races throughout Hong Kong's many varied districts. Music fans can even take part in a very light karaoke rhythm game, complete with Shen's voice singing along to every word.

Sleeping Dogs may not revolutionize the open-world genre, but its unique setting and attention to detail in this living world are a pleasure to experience. There are unfortunately some questions left unanswered in the final moments of the campaign, but the main story comes to a satisfying conclusion that was definitely worth the journey to reach. Even with these minor complaints, Sleeping Dogs is easily recommendable as it's just a great game. Putting it simply, this is a varied, entertaining ride that really shouldn't be missed.

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