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Sleeping Dogs (PlayStation 3) artwork

Sleeping Dogs (PlayStation 3) review

"By the end of the game, the combat system has expanded to offer the level of depth youíd more typically expect to find in a dedicated fighting game. Counters, arm breaks, grapples, jump kicks, stuns, and even the environment all can be used to Weiís advantage. Itís possible to pick up items and wield them as weapons, or to grab a foe and (for example) toss him over the side of a building or shove his face into a whirling fan blade."

Sleeping Dogs tells the story of Wei Shen, an undercover police officer who has recently returned home to Hong Kong after spending much of his early adult life in the United States. The game features quality voice work from the likes of Will Yun Lee, Edison Chen, Tom Wilkinson, James Hong, Lucy Liu, and Emma Stone, but the real star is the bustling and expansive city environment where the surprisingly riveting story unfolds.

Hong Kong in Sleeping Dogs feels much like Hong Kong feels in martial arts action flicks. There are towering tourist buses, noisy marketplace squares, skyscrapers, temples, massage parlors, fight clubs, cock fights, seedy boat casinos and an active nightlife. The game convincingly transports the player to that intriguing society. Wei canít enter every building, of course, but that typical genre limitation has rarely felt less restrictive than it does here because thereís plenty going on to distract you.

Sleeping Dogs asset

Part of what keeps things interesting is the fact that Wei isnít your typical open world hero. He knows martial arts and heís extremely agile, plus heís not allergic to water. Those qualities allow him to move around the city in non-traditional ways. He can vault over railings, climb along storage containers, leap between rooftops and in general behave like a total badass. Since Wei feels at home in Hong Kong and can interact with so much of it, the city is more convincing.

As Wei goes about his business, heíll run into various gang members, both in scripted scenes and elsewhere. Brawls are a common occurrence and there are only a few enemy types, yet encounters are almost always engaging because Wei is able to utilize a wide variety of moves and is so frequently outnumbered. Enemies have an advantage at first, but that balance shifts once Wei makes enough visits to a training dojo his former mentor operates. By the end of the game, the combat system has expanded to offer the level of depth youíd more typically expect to find in a dedicated fighting game. Counters, arm breaks, grapples, jump kicks, stuns, and even the environment all can be used to Weiís advantage. Itís possible to pick up items and wield them as weapons, or to grab a foe and (for example) toss him over the side of a building or shove his face into a whirling fan blade.

Gunplay is a less common element than brawling, but executed beautifully. The game employs a cover-based system to ensure that Wei neednít always run in with guns blazing (though he can do that too, if you like). Blind fire is possible, but headshots are more fun. If a foe nearby is packing heat, Wei can also vault over a barrier and knock that weapon out of his enemyís hands, then grab it and go crazy on any thugs in the surrounding areaÖ as long as heís not gunned down in the process.

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The game also grants Wei access to a wide selection of vehicles. Options range from simple sports cars and sedans to limos, taxi cabs, armored trucks, police cruisers and motorcycles. The vehicles come in four classes that give you a rough idea what to expect from them in terms of performance, but Wei will need to take everything for a test drive if you want to determine which rides suit him best. Wei can either invest in vehicles that car dealers offer (which he can then retrieve from any of the garages scattered across the map), or he can adopt a less legal approach and assume the role of car thief. Of course any thievery is all done for the sake of the good people of Hong Kong, so Wei shouldnít let himself feel too bad about it.

At a glance, vehicle elements play out about like they do in a Grand Theft Auto game, but thereís more to it than a brief comparison might suggest. In Sleeping Dogs, Wei can participate in as many as 18 unique street races that are hosted throughout the cityís four districts, as long as he owns one or more vehicles that fall within the appropriate class. Street races tend toward the frantic side, especially when Wei finds himself careening crazily through traffic and bumping against rival bikers while jockeying for position and hopefully avoiding a wipeout. Still, victory is never out of reach. Then there are the police pursuits, which begin if Wei drives over too many pedestrians or bumps against a cruiser or hijacks an armored truck.

During police chases, assuming that Wei is appropriately equipped, he can shoot at enemy drivers or blow out tires or aim for gas tanks. A few well-placed shots can leave the freeway littered with vehicle wreckage, which tends to be quite satisfying even if itís not especially realistic. Cars are also capable of ramming against one another, which keeps chases suitably tense. If the police are getting too close or Wei just needs a new vehicle, he can also pull within range and leap onto the roof of the desired replacement car or truck, Pursuit Force style.

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As you must have noticed, thereís a lot to learn as you play Sleeping Dogs. Fortunately, the story missions do an excellent job of walking you through the play mechanics and they seldom feel like tutorials in disguise. Missions showcase the gameís variety perfectly while introducing you to characters you will likely grow to love in spite of their triad affiliation. Weiís compatriots are foul-mouthed (occasionally, a line of dialogue will literally consist of nothing but a stream of profanity uninterrupted by nouns, adjectives or predicates), backstabbing thugs with a persistent violent side, yet their warped code of honor makes it genuinely difficult to watch bad things happen to them as gang violence escalates.

While you learn to appreciate Weiís new triad friends, you can also share the experience with your own friends. Sleeping Dogs is a single-player experience, but it features some interesting skill challenges that make the experience a social one. In one challenge, youíll need to disarm gun-toting villains a certain number of times (police officers will do in a pinch, if youíve exhausted the readily available supply of miscreants). Another asks you to drive at high speeds for a set period. There are a total of 30 unique challenges that you can work to complete at any point as you work through the game, and your performance is tracked and awarded bronze, silver and gold medals. If your friends have played the game online, you can also compare your performance to theirs, with leaderboards for each event. Thatís actually rather inspired.

Unfortunately, despite the many things it does well, Sleeping Dogs is far from perfect. There are numerous minor flaws that together manage to detract from the experience, moments where ambition appears to have trumped development resources.

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Technical glitches pop up more often than they really seem like they should, for example, even in a game this full-featured. Wei might become stuck in the environment and go flying upward hundreds of feet. That sucks when he eventually drops to the concrete and dies. In another case, through no fault of your own, you might press a button at just the wrong split-second and Wei could wind up trapped in burning car wreckage, unable to move or even die. There are other possibilities, as well. If you run into a glitch at the wrong time and are forced to load the last save as a result, you may lose progress in a mission or you may need to re-gather a handful of collectibles because the auto save didnít kick in often enough. That doesnít happen often, but thereís a good chance youíll run into such a scenario a few times if you play long enough.

Another issue is that the gameís trophies are tied to collections and side quest completion. Thatís understandable since the skill challenges took care of the task of pushing the player to try different things. However, a number of the trophies ask you to perform something like 15 or 20 tasks and a couple of those are almost always a pain in the butt. Unless you buckle down and make a job out of the process, itís unlikely that youíll ever earn a platinum trophy. Of course it shouldnít be easy to round up all of a gameís trophies, but in this case it feels like youíre being punished if you make 100% completion your goal.

While stepping into Weiís shoes is a delight most of the time, and although the enormous city that he gets to explore is often fantastic, there are times when Wei will be asked to crisscross the city a bit too often. Most of the time, itís possible to take a shortcut by hailing a cab--if you can find one--but the button that hails a cab is the same as the one that steals it. That can lead to frustration if you tap the button when you meant to hold it down and thus have to search for a second cab. Assigning the alternative action to the Circle button instead of the Triangle button would have fixed things quite easily, but itís too late now.

Sleeping Dogs provides fodder for two or three times as much review as youíve just read, but you donít really need to know everything about the game to decide whether or not it might be worth buying. Just ask yourself if the idea of an open world, over-the-top action game set in Hong Kong appeals to you. If you like that idea, thereís a good chance youíll love the game.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (September 02, 2012)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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