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Published September 11th 2012
Sleeping Dogs is one of the 'Sleeper Hits' of 2012
Sleeping Dogs definitely has a troubled past, originally United Front Games was creating its own brand new open-world IP. Which Activision (their publisher at the time) decided to turn into the next installment of the True Crime series, then comes 2011 and they decided to cancel the game entirely. Enter Square Enix, who picked up the game and allowed United Front to continue their dream. Now today we are graced with Sleeping Dogs, a mature open world action-adventure. Sleeping Dogs introduces Wei Shen, an undercover cop designated to Hong Kong where he must infiltrate the Triads that run the city and bring them down from the inside. This game is not for the faint of heart, showcasing a brilliant mature narrative and some brutal moments. However the game finds itself held back, with a frustrating camera and numerous game glitches.
United Front went into the game trying to make the best overall gameplay experience the open-world genre has seen, it would be hard to argue. The driving in Sleeping Dogs feels arcadey, but it is very smooth and easy to control. With numerous classes of cars to choose from, being able to control a Class-A vehicle with precision was done to great effect. Hong Kong is known for melee combat, the combat feels familiar to those who have played Batman but the addition of some brutal environmental attacks sets it apart. It is very fluid and once you are used to reversing moves, you will be untouchable as your skills increase. Guns are rare within the city of Hong Kong, which is very unique for an open world game. When you do encounter firearms, you will notice that this feels like an improved Uncharted based shooter. Which in my personal opinion feels great, nailing headshots is a breeze and the guns feel special since they are barely used in comparison to melee combat.
One of the best things in Sleeping Dogs is the story; I would easily rate the narrative as one of the best of the year. Following Wei Shen as he finds himself struggling to determine if he is a cop, or a Triad at heart. This is an interesting angle to witness and keeps you coming back, to find out where his allegiances lie. Shen was brought up in the city of Hong Kong and has a history with members of the Triad, including his childhood friend Jackie who is a part of the Triad he was sent to takedown. The bond these two begin to share is unique, as Wei must decide if he wants to help out someone he considers a brother or the police he works for.
Another narrative point United Front portrays brilliantly is the fact some members of the Triad do not want to commit these atrocious crimes, they have nothing to live for and are left dreaming of a better life. These are just kids who wound on the wrong side of the law, hoping for greatness and now find themselves in danger because of their bad choices. This interesting take on the Triads, continues to intensify later on in the game.
Wei Shen himself has become one of my most likeable characters, the fact he is conflicted within himself to be loyal to what he believes in, or what he actually enjoys. This is a moral dilemma many of face on a day-to-day basis, which makes his character that much more believable. But the major character in this game is the world of Hong Kong itself; with open world games set in America being a dime a dozen this fresh experience is appreciated. The world feels unique, from the illegal DVD copies being sold in the local markets, to the bright advertisements through its main district, United Front have created a world that feels like a foreign environment. Though I have never been to Hong Kong, this rivals attempts to replicate the city in cinema. The radio also complements the amazing city, introducing some very catchy foreign tunes with some classic songs available in your local karaoke bar.
During the main campaign you will have the ability to earn Triad points or keep your Police points; these deplete/increase depending on how your play during the game, for example killing a civilian will cost you police points. These points allow you to level up and then add additional abilities and skills to your character, you can also unlock powerful fighting techniques by collecting statues that you can then handing them to Sifu (Your dojo master). Sleeping Dogs has many favours, random events and races to unlock and complete. There is a tonne of content for those looking to spend more time in the city of Hong Kong, some of these side missions do become repetitive at points and many are your typical fetch quests or timed challenges. Yet they are fun to complete and never felt like a chore throughout my experience.
Though Sleeping Dogs narrative shines, it is marred by a shonky camera, jumping issues and many glitches. The camera becomes an issue when trying to get your car out of a tight spot, you hardly ever know where you are going as the camera tries too hard to keep up with the player, this is also apparent in combat when the camera will have a mind of its own sometimes, possibly costing you the battle. One gameplay method that United Front did not nail was the jumping, watching Wei Shen struggle over what is certain to be a 10 cm obstacle because he isn't meant to jump it, is absurd. The jump only seems to be allowed when certain obstacles have been programmed to be jumped over, which leaves some obstructions that should not be an issue, become noticeable.
The main problem goes to the many bugs I encountered during my play through; sadly I had to restart my console 6 times as recurring game freezes plagued my experience. Some of these were encountered due to a bug that occurs after finishing one of the Cock Fights available to Shen. Once you finish the fight, you will be able to move the camera but will not be able to move your character meaning a restart is inevitable. These also occurred during combat and car chases, when the game could not keep up and decided to freeze. Travelling around the world via its many taxi cabs also becomes a slight chore, being able to set custom markers on your map but not being able to have your taxi drive to them is odd. You will only be allowed to travel to key areas surrounding your custom marker, in some cases forcing you to skip the cab ride all together because you will not even be close to the location you want to visit.
Sleeping Dogs is far from a perfect game, but even though glitches are apparent the extremely interesting and mature narrative will overpower the problems. Along with some memorable characters and a very likeable main protagonist, the city of Hong Kong delivers a fresh experience that open world titles have been lacking. United Games was able to create an experience that in my opinion rivals many of the best open world games available. Their dream may have been on shaky ground at one point, but they have been able to push that to the side and deliver one of the best titles of 2012.