Some people like to refer to Sleeping Dogs as “Grand Theft Auto: Hong Kong.” While that’s close to being true – you do steal and drive a lot of cars, and there’s a huge amount of missions you can take on – there’s far more to the game than just a reskinned GTA in a new location. There’s the undercover cop trope, giving it a detective feel. There’s the constant and very robust melee system, bringing in a lot of fun combat. And, of course, there’s fantastic character development, from Uncle Po to Broken Nose Jang to Wei Shen himself. No, this isn’t just GTA in Hong Kong. This is Sleeping Dogs, and it’s an animal all its own.
Platforms: PC, PS3 (Version Played), Xbox 360
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: United Front Games
Genre: Third-Person Gangster Action Drama
Release Date: August 14, 2012
ESRB Rating: Mature
I’ve been excited about this game for a long time. I first saw Sleeping Dogs at E3 2010, back when it was known as True Crime: Hong Kong. Activision had a closed-door demo for press, and even then, I was impressed by what I saw. Later, I was heartbroken to hear it had been cancelled, and then elated when Square Enix picked it up. I was giddy when I played it at PAX East. And the other night when I was finishing the game up, my boyfriend said, “You are giddy right now.”
That’s the perfect way to describe the experience I had with Sleeping Dogs. It was more than just a good game with a solid story and great gameplay. It was something I haven’t felt in a new game in a long time: a lot of fun. I spent as much time engaged in Wei Shen’s character and the complex story as I did laughing myself off the couch over the fact that I stole a double-decker bus and killed a bunch of thugs in an alley with it. The game is everything from intense to entertaining, from heart-wrenching to gut-bustingly funny. I laughed, I cried, and, perhaps most importantly, I played it for 20 hours, beat it, and didn’t want to stop playing.
So then what is Sleeping Dogs, exactly? You get to play as Wei Shen, an undercover cop whose life was irrevocably changed by the Triads. Shen’s desire to bring down the gangsters puts him right into the thick of things. Jackie, an old childhood friend, introduces him to a low-level boss, Winston, and just like that, Shen becomes a foot soldier. The gameplay is vast, allowing you to choose between several different types of missions: cases for the cops, missions for the Triads, favors for various side characters, street races, and drug busts. And if you find your former master’s jade statues hidden across Hong Kong, he will teach you more powerful melee moves as you progress. Oh, and also – you get to a point in the game where the bad guys are stealing your armored cars, so you get to steal them back. It’s a mission that never ends… you just keep finding armored cars, keep stealing them back, keep outrunning (or ramming) the cops, and keep getting a boatload of cash for every haul you bring in.
One of the most important aspects of the game are the three meters – there’s one for cop experience, one for Triad experience, and one for street experience, just called “Face.” As you level up in the cop and Triad areas, you unlock different abilities. On the cop side, among other things, there’s a Slim Jim you can get so car alarms stop going off when you steal cars, as well as being able to get guns from the trunks of cop cars (these two things are extremely helpful, I found). On the Triad side, there are mostly fighting bonuses, like one called “Melee Weapon Spring Attacks” – they’re all pretty self-explanatory.
The Face experience is another matter. You gain passive advantages as your Face level goes up. Many of them are connected to the Face meter – as you fight, the more you vary your moves, the faster your Face meter goes up. When it maxes out, your enemies are intimidated, making it easier for you to hit them for a short period of time. My favorite advantage is being able to disarm thugs while the face meter is active. Some of those weapons are pretty rough – no one likes getting hit with a cleaver! So being able to disarm those guys prior to taking them out is a hefty advantage. Oh, and there’s one where you get a valet who will bring you a car anytime you need one. (You will feel like you run Hong Kong by that point.)
Getting around on the map is easy. There are four main sections, and everything you can do has an icon. Simply pull up your map, click on the icon, and your mini map in the bottom left corner will give you a colored line showing you exactly where to go (unless where you have to go is off the road and/or in the water – then you need to do a little work on your own). There are icons for all the possible missions you can do, as well as showing you where you can buy clothes, buy cars, get a massage, sing karaoke, participate in cockfighting, and gamble. There are also icons for all of your apartments – you have a home in each section as you branch out into each one, your living space growing larger and more elaborate as you become more powerful. And each apartment has a parking lot near it, so you have fast access to your cars, though the attendant is usually pretty judgmental about your lifestyle. (“Let’s not get carried away with this one, Wei,” he says as you take out your jaunty Smart Car. If I could pull that smug jerk through the window of the parking garage, I would.)
Massages will allow your face meter to build faster. Other things will help you in your missions as well – drinking and eating certain foods will give you health regeneration, among other bonuses. The prices are a bit steep – you’ll be paying $30 for an energy drink, and $25 for a pork bun. But where else can you get roast duck, spicy squid, and ice cream on the street, within a few miles of one another? I have to admit – when I was going for the “Foodie” trophy, which is to consume ten different kinds of food and drink, I ran into the pork bun guy one too many times. “You look like you could use a pork bun!” he shouted in horrible Chinese/English, like so many of the side characters in the game. I pulled him out from behind the cart and beat his ass.
Such is life, for a gangster.