Sleeping Dogs will keep you up at night

Night falls in Hong Kong. Technicolor neon lights illuminate the darkness, their vibrant hue reflecting off the rain-slick streets. Scooters weave through the traffic, and soon, so will I. But first, a pork bun. I try to think of what Anthony Bourdain might say as I chow down on street food, but I’m distracted. There’s a clothing store down the street, and my duds have seen better days. Time for a new outfit—and an, ahem, massage. When in Hong Kong…

The truth is, I’ve done far more objectionable things than pay for the touch of a woman. In just the last few nights, I’ve stolen several cars, caused multiple accidents, and leveled enough lampposts to light a small town. I beat a man senseless for not paying his debts. Another, I slammed face-first into an air conditioner for having the nerve to take a swing at me. Then there’s the group of unarmed thugs I savaged with an angle grinder. They didn’t have a chance.

I’ve spared some, including one guy I stuffed into my trunk after leaving his crew in a broken, bloody heap. He didn’t last, though. Mrs. Chu, a dear old lady barely 4′ tall, butchered the poor guy with a meat cleaver. I watched in silence from the corner of her kitchen; he had it coming. That’s not even the worst of it. No, I’ve also been frequenting karaoke bars—and singing. What have I become?

A Triad gangster, apparently. Except I’m also an undercover cop. My name is Wei Shen, and this is Sleeping Dogs.

The premise for United Front’s open-world GTAlternative is intriguing. In reality, the narrative isn’t nearly as dynamic as one might hope. Through more than two thirds of the missions that appear to make up the single-player story, a smattering of in-game cutscenes has told me that Shen is conflicted and sinking deeper into the gang he’s supposed to bring to justice. However, at no point have I made any decisions affecting my fate. The story hasn’t been particularly gripping thus far, either. Feels like a Hong Kong action movie I’ve seen many times before.

I’ll reserve final judgment on the story until I reach the final climax. Apart from side quests, the odds of completion are good. That’s sort of a big deal, since I haven’t finished an open-world game since Crackdown. The last few Grand Theft Autos, I grew tired of within a few sessions. Sleeping Dogs is literally keeping me up at night. Just one more mission, I tell myself.

While the storyline follows a predictable path, the missions offer a fair bit of variety. As a gangster, I’ve spent plenty of time unleashing all manner of violence on groups of baddies. The melee combat is reminiscent of the recent Batman games, complete with counter-attacks against opponents who shimmer red when they’re on the offensive. In addition to bladed weapons, power tools, and the tire iron lurking inside most trunks, the environment can be used as a weapon. Meat hooks hang from certain ceilings, garbage bins are distributed liberally, and an enemy’s head can be smashed into just about anything. There are combos, too, from takedowns that would make Georges St. Pierre proud to spinning kicks that send bodies flying. You’ll need to be strategic about using the various combat elements, since attackers have different weaknesses and a tendency to swarm in groups.

When playing with a gamepad, the violence is engaging and satisfying. Still, the controls don’t seem as tight as Arkham City; either there’s some sort of latency, or I’m just not getting the timing down right. I do have a tendency to button mash, which may be affecting my ability to counter mid-combo. The action feels much better than anything else I’ve played in the genre, though.

Dual analog sticks may be ideal for hand-to-hand brawling, but they’re not as good for gunplay. Sleeping Dogs has a little shooting, too. The game employs what the developers call aggressive cover, which means the player can slow time by vaulting over obstacles that also provide cover from gunfire. It’s much easier to pick off opponents when everything is moving at Max Payne speed. Playing with a keyboard and mouse is an option, of course.

Thing is, that combo doesn’t as feel as good for the game’s driving elements. There’s lots of cruising around town, plus races and chase sequences that involve hanging out the window, automatic weapon in hand. Bullet time is invoked easily, and watching flaming cars flip in slow motion always leaves a smile on my face.

Driving in open-world games has always bugged me. The physics are usually awful, and players are typically asked to traverse epic distances to the starting point of the next mission. Why can’t someone come and meet me for a change?

In Sleeping Dogs, the driving feel is better than expected. It’s not on the level of an arcadey Need for Speed game, and cars feel unnaturally glued to the ground unless the handbrake is yanked. That said, the handling seems a little more natural than in most games of this ilk. Driving from mission to mission doesn’t take too long, at least.

Chase sequences are sprinkled throughout Sleeping Dogs, whether it’s behind the wheel or on foot. There are brief flashes of parkour to spice up the running, but the camera is a little too slow to keep up around corners. At least there’s an opportunity for a beatdown at the end of each chase.

The undercover missions are considerably less violent overall. They’re also less memorable. Snapping pictures of crime scenes just isn’t as much fun as snapping limbs. I haven’t had to do any stealthy sneaking thus far, although I have mastered the handful of mini-games for lock picking, terminal hacking, and bug calibrating. The mini-games are simple, so they won’t bog you down.

While Sleeping Dogs‘ rendition of Hong Kong doesn’t feel as big as some other open worlds I’ve roamed, the scale is still impressive. There’s an authenticity to the environment that’s almost convincing, save for the lack of massive crowds and gridlock traffic. The city feels sparsely populated overall, even if what’s there looks good. United Front has included some PC-specific eye candy, and a high-res texture pack was released on day one. The characters are particularly detailed, which works well with the in-game cutscenes.

As I write this post, I’m trying to figure out exactly what it is about Sleeping Dogs that keeps me coming back when most other open-world titles have failed to hold my attention. It’s not one thing, I don’t think, but a combination of slick graphics, entertaining combat, and a sense that the action isn’t too encumbered by awkward mechanics. Rather than trying to explain why Sleeping Dogs is fun, I should take a cue from the title and simply enjoy the fact that it is. Something to contemplate over another massage, perhaps.

While I do that, consider checking out Sleeping Dogs yourself. The game’s favorable MetaCritic rating suggests I’m not the only one having a good time on the streets of Hong Kong, and there’s a demo on Steam that’s free to try.

Comments closed
    • dashbarron
    • 7 years ago

    Ah. Seems a lot like LA Noire (almost finished) which has the open, destructible environment and meat bags to beat. Unfortunately, it sounds like this game has the same, no-consequence layer too it…which zaps a lot of fun out of the destructive attitude and turns it into a pointless time waster (for a game, you critics).

    • Madman
    • 7 years ago

    I was really looking forward to this game, turns out it’s another leased game for a retail prices 🙁

    Consumers don’t even have a choice anymore 🙁

      • HisDivineOrder
      • 7 years ago

      You have a choice. You can lease it for retail prices, lease it for Steam sale prices at a later date, or pay about the same as the Steam sale’ll wind up being to rent it on a gaming console.

      The only way you really lose is to buy it at retail for the MSRP at launch and that’s not because of the “lease” as you call it, but in fact more about the pricing at launch.

      • Laykun
      • 7 years ago

      Pirate it.

    • wirerogue
    • 7 years ago

    i tried the demo. it had one glaring problem that could not be overlooked.

    it would not let me remap the movement keys to the up/down left/right arrows.

    for someone that hasn’t touched wasd in a video game in almost 20 years, this is big issue.

    i’d love to play the game someday, maybe you guys can let us know if they ever get this fixed.

      • CaptTomato
      • 7 years ago

      Origin, GFWL, can’t remap, all deal breakers for me.

      • My Johnson
      • 7 years ago

      Source engine key re-mapper here and it borks Special Infected controls in L4D2 and as Zombie Master in the Zombie Master mod for HL2.

      It’s easy enough to switch back to default keys with a few clicks but if I switch back to survivor I got to re-map all over again. Need profiles for keys.

      • indeego
      • 7 years ago

      That was a battle I tried to win for about 5 years, and eventually gave up and joined the Borg. I used to use the numlock [i<]5123[/i<] keys, because they are more "aligned" that wasd, but reconfiguring every single game got very old and there were frequently games that would have the occasional glitch with other keys near the numlock. It was just easier to adapt than fight, sad to say.

        • Delphis
        • 7 years ago

        Still wondering what the problem with WASD is … Looks like some people just look for problems

    • d0g_p00p
    • 7 years ago

    I am thinking about getting this game. How are the controls. K&M vs Controller?

      • Noigel
      • 7 years ago

      Are both control schemes active at once? I don’t mind using a gamepad for driving and then jumping to mouse and keyboard for weaponry.

    • raghu78
    • 7 years ago

    I have been playing this game for a while and I have to say its one of the best games in recent times. Even though the combat draws a bit from Batman Arkham city , the martial arts stuff is really nice and the combat moves which you learn are quite fun. the training part is not clear . the on screen hints are not well designed. but the combat is just amazing fun. the consistent game world is generally my favourite. it keeps your suspension of disbelief unlike when you have to wait for a game level to load in a level based game. overall as said above the game is quite addictive.

    • Darkmage
    • 7 years ago

    Hmm. Sounds interesting.

    Personally, I’m a big fan of [i<]Saints Row The Third[/i<] and its open world mayhem. It's not serious. It's not gritty. It's not realistic. It is, however, a hell of a lot of fun with some really impressive mission design. The last time I played it, I was dressed up in a panda outfit and paragliding through flaming hoops to the tops of buildings (bouncing off of parade balloons for lift). Once on the top of the building, I used a chainsaw on a group of sports mascots and then launched myself back into the air with a cannon straight out of a circus. Because that's how you race in Saint's Row. I'll have to give this a try. Perhaps after Borderlands. And XCOM. And Assassin's Creed. It's going to be a good fall.

      • UberGerbil
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]I was dressed up in a panda outfit and paragliding through flaming hoops[/quote<]I am very happy this line is now in my browser cache.

    • RedAdmiral
    • 7 years ago

    This game really was fantastic. Very few bugs relative to other games like it, and a lot more open than Mafia II. It was hard to stop playing at times and was completely worth the money. We need more games like this. I still wish that some of the interior levels were more than just start at point A and go down a hallway past all the locked doors to point B. However, the larger world and different missions really made up for that IMO.

    • The Dark One
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]But first, a pork bun. I try to think of what Anthony Bourdain might say as I chow down on street food, but I'm distracted. [/quote<] I think he'd be fine with it. [quote<]Muttering to myself, I charged out of Starbucks, found the narrowest, most uninviting-looking street, pushed aside the banner of the first soba shop I encountered, slid back the door and plopped myself down on a stool. When greeted, I simply pointed a thumb at the guy next to me and said, 'Dozo, I'll have what he's having.' Things worked out well. I was soon slurping happily away at a big, steaming bowl of noodles, pork, rice and pickles.[/quote<] Granted, this was Tokyo, but the sentiment is still the same.

      • cynan
      • 7 years ago

      I didn`t quite get the Anthony Bourdain reference myself, as he made a 100+ episode TV series that basically featured him doing exactly that (or at least local authentic food). Maybe that was the reference..

        • RobbyBob
        • 7 years ago

        He’s just imagining what Anthony Bourdain’s commentary on that pork bun. I don’t see what’s so hard to get.

    • yogibbear
    • 7 years ago

    Finished this a couple of weeks ago or whenever was 5 days post launch. It was my favourite game of the year so far. But I think X-COM might top it…. or DishonoUred

    All up it took 22 hrs to finish not including side missions which you could do and probably add another 8 hrs on top. The unlock progression of combos is really nice, as it forces you to keep doing the story missions and those security camera missions provide a decent area to test them out. All up I just liked the instant kill environmental animations TOO much… must be my sleeping murderous psychopath getting its fill. Throwing someone into an open electricity panel, or getting their head blendered up in an airconditioning vent was just too much fun.

    I had zero negatives with this game. Zero. It is flawless. There are things that could be done that would add to the game, but there are no negatives.

      • CaptTomato
      • 7 years ago

      Did you use a KB&M?

    • Knee Dragger
    • 7 years ago

    Phht… this isn’t Team Fortress 2.

    • Pez
    • 7 years ago

    Excellent MMA reference 🙂

    Been looking forward to trying this – thanks for the write up. Off to Steam I go!

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