games / Reviews

Sleeping Dogs (Xbox 360) Review

August 27, 2012 | Posted by Mark Salmela

Title: Sleeping Dogs
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: United Front Games
Genre: Action
Players: 1
Rated: M for Mature

Sleeping Dogs is a sandbox title that originally started development as a new entry in the old True Crime series with Activision, before being dropped and picked up again by Square Enix as a new IP. Normally, when a game goes through a long development cycle filled with delays and a change in publisher, the game turns out to be less than stellar. Surprisingly, and thankfully, this isn’t the case with Sleeping Dogs.

You take control of Wei Shen, a much more interesting and complicated character than his name implies. Shen is a Chinese-American police officer who returns to Hong Kong after a stint in America to extract revenge against the murders of his sister. Shen is after the Sun On Yee, a large and wealthy crime mob that has nearly taken over the city Shen grew up in. Due to his past growing up around several of the Sun On Yee members, Shen infiltrates the group from the inside. Shen convinces the mob to let him join, starting out as a low grade thug, slowly progressing up the mob ladder.

One of the most important things to note about Sleeping Dogs is just how good the story and atmosphere is. It’s extremely difficult to make a convincing and compelling story in an open-world sandbox game. You can’t relate to Niko Bellic from GTA4 because even though he has his eyes on the American dream he kills thousands of people in the process. You can’t sympathize or relate to that. Wei Shen actually makes sense as a character and his actions are believable. On one hand he’s a police officer so it makes sense when he commits good deeds, but on the other hand he’s also out for revenge for his sister and the lines between good and bad start to become blurred when he starts becoming more and more invested in the mob. Shen’s story is interesting to follow because he’s a compelling character and the story makes sense whether you stick to your police routs and play as a good guy or become a corrupt member of the mob you initially wanted to destroy when playing as a bad guy. It also helps deal with the issue of the police, since it makes sense they would be willing to let certain things slide since they believe you’re working strictly under cover as a criminal.

The fictionalized version of Hong Kong is also rather impressive. While city streets aren’t packed with people like they would be in the real Hong Kong, there are a lot of citizens roaming the streets and the city feels like it actually exists, and isn’t just a sandbox that revolves around your character. Citizens will occasionally have interesting things to say, which is extremely rare in sandbox games. Typically most characters in Sandbox games don’t have much to say besides “watch it” and whatever story-focused plot details the developers want to point out to you. The 4 districts in Sleeping Dogs are different enough from each other to not become super repetitive, although it can be extremely frustrating when you can’t climb over a 6 foot tall box when you just scaled a 15 foot wall seconds earlier. The environment is full of interesting things, but it takes you out of the experience when you can’t climb over certain objects that look climbable.

There’s a lot of variety in the gameplay of Sleeping Dogs, but it does very few things extremely well. Think of Sleeping Dogs like a buffet. There are a lot of solid options, but nothing outstanding to really sink your teeth into. The combat is ripped straight out of the recent Batman Arkham Asylum/City games, although that’s actually a good thing for the most part. It’s not quite as fluid as the Batman games but it’s actually more satisfying since unlike the Batman games Sleeping Dog is allowed to have blood and actually look as brutal as the combat is trying to make it feel. The counter-focused gameplay looks great when you’re breaking a dude’s leg and actually beating people to death, compared to Batman where it can be comical how far those games go to ensure that enemies are simply “defeated” when realistically they should be paralyzed if not mortally wounded. Sleeping Dogs also introduces environment based finishing moves, although you’ll run into the same ones over and over again. It’s a real shame since it really could have been the feature that made Sleeping Dogs stand out, but you’ll eventually grow tired of impaling someone through a Swordfish.

The driving in Sleeping Dogs is fun, and extremely arcadey. This actually works since it’s tough to do an open-world game with simulation driving (see LA Noire). You don’t actually get to the open-world part of Sleeping Dogs or hop into a car until a few hours into the game, since the game starts out rather linear and doesn’t open up until you’ve accomplished a handful of missions that essentially teach you the mechanics of the game. There’s also a noticeable emphasis on hand-to-hand combat compared to shooting, as guns aren’t nearly as prevalent as they are in games like GTA. You’ll still have those handfuls of story missions where you enter god mode and kill everything in sight as an unstoppable badass, but those missions stand out a little more in Sleeping Dogs than they would in GTA since there’s such a strong emphases on the previously described hand-to-hand combat system.

While the environments in Sleeping Dogs are rich and full of detail, the graphics aren’t that great. You can tell the game has been in development for a long time, as a lot of textures are pixilated and feel like an early generation game, not something coming out at the end of a console life-cycle. The character models also don’t look that great, especially the tattoos that apparently every male in Hong Kong is required to cover their arms in. On the other hand the voice acting is extremely well done, blending a convincing mix of English and Chinese. Even if you find a particular character uninteresting you’ll often find yourself following everything they have to say, due to the interesting way characters flip back and forth between languages (although the subtitles are all in English so you can understand what’s going on).

There’s a lot to do in Sleeping Dogs in addition to the respectably long, but not overly long main campaign. There are plenty of things to collect, including worship shrines that increase your maximum health. There are also plenty of mini-games to hold your attention, including Karaoke, which only strikes more comparisons to the Yakuza franchise on PS2/PS3 that already feels very similar. While Sleeping Dogs is a single player only game, there are leader boards that will compare your scores and times for various missions and mini-games to your friends. It’ll help provide that extra motivation to keep playing long after you’ve finished the main story.

Pros

– Interesting and believable story
– Great voice acting
– Good atmosphere with a great environment
– Combat system may not be original, but it’s done well.
– Lots of variety in the gameplay
– There’s a distinct feel to the game, especially when it comes to the lack of emphasis on guns

Cons

– Sleeping Dogs doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally well
– Camera can be problematic
– There are a lot of objects in the environment that appear interactive but actually aren’t
– Graphics look dated
– Most of the gameplay elements are borrowed from other games

The 411


This game is extremely detailed and it adds a lot to the atmosphere.

Sleeping Dogs is definitely one of the biggest sleeper hits of 2012. There’s no doubt about it. Leading up to the game’s release Sleeping Dogs appeared to be another generic open-world GTA clone, but it’s clear from the opening cutscene that Sleeping Dogs has an interesting story to tell. If you let the game get its hooks into you, you’ll find an enjoyable open-world action game that’s definitely worth your time. If it wasn’t for a few minor issues and the inability of the game to do any one gameplay mechanic extremely well, this could have been a possible contender for game of the year. As it stands Sleeping Dogs is still worth your time, but just barely misses the mark on being something truly special.

Graphics7.0The environment is well detailed and there’s a good atmosphere, but some textures are downright ugly and the character models look like they’re from 2008. 
Gameplay8.0There’s nothing wrong with borrowing gameplay mechanics from other games, especially when most things are done rather well. Sleeping Dogs does manage to separate itself from other sandbox games by deemphasizing guns compared to GTA. 
Sound8.5The voice acting is good, and the constant switching between English and Chinese is interesting. It doesn’t feel forced. 
Lasting Appeal8.5There’s a lot of content in Sleeping Dogs to keep you entertained. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself putting in 15 – 25 hours depending on how much you enjoy the side content and getting to the top of the leader boards. 
Fun Factor 8.0If you let yourself become invested in the storyline you’ll have a lot of fun. A problematic camera and lack of any outstanding gameplay mechanics hold it back, though. 
Overall8.0   [ Very Good ]  legend

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Mark Salmela

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