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Like I previously mentioned, in Sleeping Dogs you are an undercover cop named Wei Shen. You’ve lived in America since you were ten but have now been relocated to Hong Kong to work within the Triad, attempting to take one group down from the inside out. The issue is that Wei has personal ties within his Triad, making him a bit more involved than the police had originally hoped. This opens up the narrative of Sleeping Dogs as it evolves further from there, leading Wei to do things that both the cops and his gang would not approve of. While it isn’t the most unique story, Sleeping Dogs delivers a strong experience that keeps you hooked mainly because of the well thought out characters. The personalities exuded by every character are truly a treat to watch and eventually set up some twists and turns you may not expect.
Because it is Hong Kong and because you are working within the Triad, people are going to die. Sleeping Dogs does not shy away from that, killing off main story characters one after one, all with good reason behind them. It starts off with a few deaths, nothing too significant to Wei, but eventually escalates into personal vendettas that simultaneously rip your heart and Wei’s heart out. While it may all just be typical gangster fair, Sleeping Dogs has some story beats that are shockingly effective in whatever emotion they want to arise, whether it’s happiness or anger. Thanks largely to its characters and some nice writing; Sleeping Dogs brings out a good fiction, something most open world games cannot achieve.
Something else open world games struggle at getting right is the driving. This is another problem Sleeping Dogs avoids as the controls for navigating around the city are tight and make you feel very in control. Your car never feels too out of your control and it’s always possible to turn around on a dime. On top of that, smart design choices like slowing down time when you want to shoot while driving only heighten the experience. The driving isn’t necessarily the most realistic experience to ever be put on a console but it undoubtedly rivals GTA and Saints Row as some of the best.
The only issue that arises from the driving is that the framerate likes to take a few dips along the way. It isn’t just the framerate either as screen tearing also hampers the experience. These problems seem to be persistent throughout Sleeping Dogs which is a disappointment as the art style is rather nice and extremely effective in setting up a great atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re right in the heart of Hong Kong. Bright lights shine intensely in the Hong Kong market as people rumble around looking at goods and merchants yell at you for your attention. Walking through all of this is a unique experience to say the least.
Unlike most everyone’s favorite open world game, Grand Theft Auto , Sleeping Dogs prefers hand to hand combat as opposed to using guns. It features a Batman like fighting system, encouraging counters (shown by highlighting enemies that are attacking with a red aura) and using simple X and Y combos. That isn’t all though as Sleeping Dogs also encourages you to perform environmental kills such as throwing people in dumpsters, beating them in the head with a payphone, or the crowd favorite, ramming your enemy’s head into a spinning table saw. These brutal executions are a quick way to take out thugs and although this may not be something I should say, they’re pretty fun to take part in. The game does still feature some gunplay and it’s handled well but it’s also clear that United Front focused mainly on hand to hand combat. Depth is added to the combat by way of an upgrade system that slowly feeds you more and more powerful combos.
There are multiple upgrade systems in Sleeping Dogs, though as you also gain experience for working with the Triad and with the police. You gain Triad experience by doing environmental takedowns, using weapons, counters, etc. While you earn police experience by not harming innocents, not tearing up the city of Hong Kong, and by helping eliminate drug dealers throughout the city by hacking camera in certain locations and then using the camera to spot a drug deal. From there you highlight the dealer and cops swarm after him in a heartbeat. There are other ways but those seem to be the main courses of action to attain experience. These systems lead to some nice upgrades such as the ability to grab a gun from the back of cop car or to simply make it easier to disarm an enemy.
It’s telling of the quality of a game when the biggest complaint about it is the graphics. While a good portion of the game has no problem, there are nagging issues with the frame rate and wonky animation that holds it back from being a technical marvel. But in all honesty, you don’t have to be a technical marvel to be a great game and Sleeping Dogs proves that. It won’t set the world afire but the fact that we almost never got to play it is a terrible thought. Thankfully, Sleeping Dogs has arrived and thankfully, it’s pretty damn good.
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