I was honestly very sceptical about this game. I had heard that it was sort of like a Grand Theft Auto style set in Hong Kong and thought that this would only be a horribly cheapened knock off and was probably going to have to force myself to play it through. Oh how wrong I was. Just like Activision, as it turns out.
The dead giveaway that this was something special should have been that Square Enix were the ones who picked this game up after Activision dropped the game (it was originally to be part of Activision’s True Crime series). For Square Enix, to look at this game and think this is something that needs to see the light of day, it must have had that special, certain “something”. And they were right.
Sleeping Dogs tells the story of Wei Shen, an undercover cop infiltrating Hong Kong triad gang the Sun on Yee. This is more than just another gang land shoot-them-up. The story is beautifully written and is gripping from start to finish. It keeps you invested as you start to feel the pressure on Wei as he gets further involved within the Sun on Yee and torn in his loyalties to both his new family and his true role as a cop. Character development is additionally aided by police reports you acquire at the end of missions. You end up feeling either rather attached to a character, or getting so angry at them that you cannot wait for sweet sweet revenge.
The dialogue is gritty and can be full on at times, though never to the point where you think it’s out of place or used just for shock factor. The voice acting is fantastic with big names such as Lucy Liu and Emma Stone having roles in the game. The side quests and mini games are fun, missions are often challenging, the car driving is by far the most enjoyable I have seen outside of a good car racing game, and of course it is an absolute blast being a Bruce Lee martial arts badass. Oh, and did I mention there is karaoke? And it’s stereotypical bad karaoke, which makes it so damn good! While the graphics are not particularly amazing (though for the PC version they have released a HD graphics patch which would probably do the city justice) Hong Kong is still beautiful and feels truly alive and immersive with its knock-off fashion street vendors, food stalls and of course, massages that will “relax you all over”. Wei Shen is even a bit of a hound dog with the ladies as you romance a few along the way. The humour in this game is also well done and sometimes it’s just the little comments they have thrown in that will have you in stitches.
The combat is inspired by the Batman series freeflow style that is both enjoyable and challenging, though this is nowhere near as smooth. Environmental combat take downs are just plain awesome and at times rather brutal! I ACTUALLY mashed a guy’s face into an exhaust fan. Ouuuuch. Bins, fish tanks, phone booths all become fierce ways to dispose your opponents when your Bruce Lee skills are just not quite enough. I also knocked someone out with a fish. I’m still a badass, right? Halfway through the game you end up getting to play with guns (the way they integrated the tutorial on gun play in a truly cinematic style is also one of the best I have seen) which leads to some rather fun shootouts. I especially enjoyed it when I got to play with a grenade launcher.
There is a really neat levelling system in the game in the fact you get Cop, Triad and Face xp for different missions which all unlock its own set of upgrades. On all main story missions you get both Triad and Cop experience, though Cop experience you lose if you are too careless and start killing innocent people and damaging property, which works as a great incentive and adds a real challenge to a lot of missions as your trying to chase down your enemy without running into anyone or anything!
There are a few bugs in this game and at times camera angles in combat and while reversing your vehicle aggravated me severely, but they’re overall forgivable in the face of how much fun and utterly compelling this game is. At times, this story feels more action movie than game, and the way the whole picture has been woven together is nothing short of brilliant. This game is a must-play of 2012. Now excuse me while I go and impress the Hong Kong ladies with Wei Shen’s smooth vocal stylings. And by smooth I mean awkward.