United Front's latest game has been around in circles, but it's still become one of 2012's biggest suprises.
Sleeping Dogs is a game that almost didn't happen. First announced by Activision in 2009, it was originally going to be the next instalment to the True Crime series, titled True Crime: Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the game was delayed, leaving it hanging on a thread. Thankfully, Square Enix came on to the scene and took the publishing rights. It's a good job too, because Sleeping Dogs managed to not only survive, but it's turned out as one of 2012's best games.
You take the role of Wei Shen, an American-Chinese Undercover Cop. He has currently spent some time in the states, and has returned to his birth place, Hong Kong. Wei is soon tasked by the Hong Kong police to help take down a large Triad organisation, known as the Sun On Yee. He must work his way up the Triad ranks, whilst trying to keep a low profile. Wei needs to keep both sides of the law happy, but he ends up going in far too deep. The good cop, bad cop routine is far from original, but the story is one of the biggest draws. It's very well paced and the voice acting is solid throughout. It will keep you on the edge of your seat at all times. The occasional change from English to Cantonese is also a neat touch that makes it feel more believable.
Sleeping Dogs vision of Hong Kong is simply eye candy. Not only is it dazzling, but it's full of life. Busy streets are lit up with bright neon signs. Markets are scattered down alleyways, and people are going about their business. It does very well in capturing the essence of Hong Kong, and it never seems empty. There's also a lot of interaction within the environments. Certain stalls can offer you foods, giving you a health boost. Or you can go for a relaxing massage at a parlour. Different activities also take place around the towns. From singing karaoke, betting on Cock fights, and more. These little distractions are nice to break up some missions, but it's not the most enjoyable way to spend your time.
Sleeping Dogs might seem like a GTA knock-off at first. Sure, it does borrow plenty of elements from the genre. You can steal cars, buy clothing, etc. But Sleeping Dogs is much more than that. It does so many things different, that it sets the bar high for the open-world genre. One of the main reasons that Sleeping Dogs is unique is due to it's progressive levelling system. As you complete missions, Shen will earn experience, allowing him to level up in three different areas. Triad, Cop and Face. Each section has it's own bar, allowing you to level up in any order you wish. Triad XP gives you new brutal moves that you can unlock. Cop XP can earn you better equipment, like hacking phones, etc.
Face on the other hand works slightly different. Face is all about respect and what people think of you. You can earn Face XP by helping out people, like completing favours in the street. There's many advantages of Face. It can give you an increased health boost for a limited time, powerful attacks, discounts at stores, and more.
Combat plays a big role in Sleeping Dogs. Unlike GTA or Saints Row, Sleeping Dogs focuses more in hand-to-hand combat, rather than shooting bullets. You do get some opportunities to fire weapons, but most of your time is spent punching and kicking your foes to death. The combat system is very similar to the one in Batman: Arkham City. It's mainly button-mashing with Kung-Fu combos and timed attacks. It's not as polished as in Batman, but it's still the most impressive combat system I've seen in a sandbox game. As I took down a rival of street thugs, it made me feel like a real Martial Artist. Each move I performed felt brutal and completely satisfying. There's plenty of combos and you can learn more by finding statues and taking them to your trainer.
The most enjoyable part of combat is within the environments. Wherever a fight takes place, there's always something nearby that can be used to your advantage. By simply grabbing an enemy, you can carry them over to a dangerous object. Whether it's shoving their face into an electricity box, dropping a car engine on their head, or throwing them into a fish tank. These brutal takedowns are devastating and sometimes outright gory. It makes the combat more exhilarating than it already is, and it's always a delight to find new ways of finishing off your foes.
When your not taking down enemies with your Martial Art skills, you are simply shooting. There might not be a great amount of shooting in Sleeping Dogs, but when it comes along it's nothing less than spectacular. Shooting feels like most third person shooters. You can simply move into cover, blind fire, and my personal favourite, vault over cover in slo-mo. This makes killing moving targets far more easier, but it's great fun that never seems to lose amusement.
Firing weapons can also be done when driving vehicles. Some missions focus on high speed chases. This might be nothing new to the sandbox genre, but Sleeping Dogs does have a few tricks up it's sleeve. Something that might take you by surprise, is the ability to jump from vehicle to vehicle. It works like a more improved version of Vin Diesel's Wheelman game. Simply holding the A button will open your vehicles door, then when it's green to go, you simply jump. Whilst it's always a thrill, you only get a few missions that use it. The game never sticks on one path. It's shooting, hand-to-hand combat, and driving sequences are all varied, so it never seems too repetative.
The game isn't without some flaws. The biggest issue is with it's camera angles. When entering a vehicle, the camera will sometimes try to reposition itself towards the centre of the screen. Whilst this is slightly annoying, it isn't enough to stop you having a great time.
Sleeping Dogs is one of the best sandbox experiences you can have. Each mission is varied and fun to play. The story is slightly short on an open-world stand point, but theres plenty more to do. There's collectibles to find, Drug Busts and lots of activities to take part in. Sleeping Dogs doesn't know anything different but fun, and it makes every second worth spending.