|Developer: United Front
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: One, friends leaderboards.
In Sleeping Dogs you play Wei Shen, an undercover cop born in Hong Kong and raised in America who has returned to Hong Kong to try and sort out the burgeoning Yakuza gang problem. After a glittering career with the San Francisco PD with many arrests to his name, Wei’s new job is to infiltrate the ‘Sun On Yee’ gang, and the game tells the story of how he goes about impressing the hierarchy and moving up the ranks, and how blurred the line becomes between undercover cop and Yakuza hood when friendship and loyalties get confused.
he combat is simple but effective and satisfyingly brutal, and all of the game’s moves and animations were overseen by Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight Champion Georges St Pierre. A tap of ‘X’ is light attack button, and to keep things simple holding ‘X’ down performs a strong attack. Pressing ‘Y’ at the right moment will counter an enemy’s attack (they glow red to let you know they’re going to try and thump you) and you can also grapple enemies by pressing ‘B’, and then throw them by pressing the ‘R’ trigger. A grappled enemy can also be punished with various bits of scenery, like stickling their head in a urinal, an air conditioning unit, a furnace or even a bench saw, with suitably gory results! When grappled, bad guys (some are easier to grapple than others who must be stunned before they can be grappled) can be thrown through windows, over ledges or even stuffed in the boot of a car (if it has one.) You can also get a tyre iron out of the boot of many cars to use as a handy melee weapon, and other weapons include batons, crowbars, ladies’ handbags and even the occasional fish to use as a club-there’s actually an achievement for killing someone with a fish!
Sleeping Dogs' version of Hong Kong is a very interactive place; even in Wei's apartment you'll find that you can use the toilet and the wash basin, open and close the bathroom door and use his flat screen TV to link into local security cameras once you've hacked them-you also learn to pick locks, hack computers and set surveillance bugs. Pastimes include Karaoke (it plays a bit like Guitar Hero without a guitar), Gambling Den (Mahjong poker) and Cock Fighting (no, really!)
Like the combat, Wei’s movement is very simple to perform, and there’s no ‘jump’ button as such, so Wei performs jumps, hurdles and general climbing and clambering semi-automatically, although pressing ‘A’ once when sprinting (you hold ‘A’ to sprint too) just before you reach an obstacle makes Wei hurdle or scale it more effectively. Climbing objects also requires a press of the ‘A’ button, but these are all context sensitive and Wei’s movement features several basic Parkour moves. Like I’ve found in a lot of games though, the lack of a jump button limits how much of the Hong Kong you can explore to just what the developers wanted you to see, and also sometimes puts you in some strange positions where Wei gets either stuck or could obviously climb or jump to a surface but he just won’t jump or grab hold because the level designer didn’t want you to go there-this even happens when docking boats in some places that look like they’re specifically designed to tie up at. The game includes a nice feature in that if you hold ‘B’ when near a dock or pier the boat will automatically slide up next to it, so all you have to do is press ‘Y’ for Wei to jump out of the boat onto dry land, meaning less unintentional swims than in GTA IV, although, amusingly, Wei will still inexplicably jump out of the wrong side of the boat into the sea…
The game has a multi-faceted experience points system with “Cop”, “Triad" and “Face” XP earned for completing tasks in a particular way. Face represents your reputation, and you can enhance this by doing favours, events and street races (all marked on the map.) Wearing certain items of clothing enhances either Cop, Triad or Face XP.
Various drinks and snacks add temporary buffs to Wei’s health and attack strength; Dragon Kick energy drink increases your melee damage, herbal tea helps keep you alive by reducing damage taken. As well as these beverages various snack foods bought from stalls such as a bowl of noodles, chicken on a stick, roast duck, curry fish balls, waffle eggs, ice cream, fish dumpling, spicy squid or the ever-popular (and oddly amusing) pork bun give you health regeneration for a limited time. You can also get a massage from some very friendly local girls which tops up your health, sharpens your senses and makes your Face meter fill up a bit faster.
The vehicle handling is varied, but the steering disappointingly twitchy on all vehicles at low speeds. The steering feels much more natural at high speed, but just cruising around the city feels more digital than analogue—like you may as well be using the D-pad. Driving boats is a much smoother experience, and all aquatic journeys are enhanced by the lovely water and wake effects. Just as in GTA Wei can steal any car he comes across, but also has the ability to hijack moving vehicles (you hold ‘A’ down to prepare for the move and then press ‘A’ again when you're close enough to the target vehicle.) This works a lot like the the ultra-daft Airjacking in Wheelman, but looks more slightly more plausible.
Although there are a couple of boat chases in the game and plenty of civilian posers cruising around in speedboats and yachts you can't do the hijack thing with boats, and when I tried to board another moving boat by leaving the boat I was controlling with perfect timing to step aboard another boat, Wei got frozen in position and ended up on the floor looking like he'd been tasered! All I could do from this position was quit and reload.
When playing you often incur the wrath of the Hong Kong PD; the Cops are stern but fair, usually fairly easy to escape and the AI rarely shows signs of the psychopathic behaviour of cops in many other games. Your “Heat” rating rises as you cause more havoc (like “wanted” stars in GTA), and the cops will respond accordingly, it’s usually a matter of putting distance between you and them, and nipping down alleyways or taking any of the spectacular jumps (that are sprinkled liberally around the city) will normally lose a tail.
As I mentioned earlier, all of the 4 main districts of the city have their own set of car and bike races. There are a couple of stupid bike races where the opposition seems more intent on murder/suicide than racing, and a few routes that pass through narrow alleys where the walls and every little projection seem to reach out and grab hold of the bike that will irritate, but in the main the racing is an entertaining diversion. None of them drag on too long and they don’t become a chore like in some games of the ilk, and there’s a ramming mechanic (‘X’ button + steer) that allows you to ram opponents (or cops). This has also been “borrowed” from Wheelman. It’s worth noting that you can replay races and missions from the social hub for extra cash and XP away from the main storyline.
Sleeping Dogs’ Hong Kong is evocative of the real thing and a lot of work clearly went in to the design of the architecture and the layout of the city. There are also nice little touches like when you drive a poultry van chicken feathers flutter out the back. Or if you manoeuvre a car into a spot where both doors are blocked rather than just magically appear beside the car Wei kicks out the windscreen and clambers out over the bonnet! Cables sway on the breeze, birds flutter away when surprised, bugs scrabble around on the ground, there’s a 24minute day/night cycle and the weather changes from rain to sunshine in a very believable way; it’s as detailed and immersive place to visit as you’ll find in the current crop of open world sandbox games.
I also found a weird glitch in the “High Speed” ride-along-and-shoot side mission (It’s part of the Limited Edition DLC) that put me in a permanent loop, but it saved after every run and I was earning 15k every time I completed it and a small amount of cop XP, so it wasn’t exactly the worst glitch I’ve ever had in a game. Pausing and loading the quick save returned the game to normal. The game seemed to bug up after completing a mission once, leaving me with no control over Wei at all despite him remaining animated with the ambient sounds still working. Also found a horrendous oversight of visible HTML code on the ‘Place A Bet’ menu in both of the offshore gambling dens, and it’s hard to understand how something like that gets through testing. We also had one occasion where I thought the game was crashing or the Xbox was packing up; when on the West side of the island in a boat the frame rate dropped to the speed of a slide show, but stuttered and cleared up after a while, and it’s never occurred again since.
As we’ve come to expect in games of the genre, there’s a host of collectibles to find in the form of lock boxes, security cameras and Jade animal statues. Finding lock boxes rewards you with cash and new clothes, security cameras allow you to turn drug dealers in to the uniform cops with reward, and when returned to their owner (your old martial arts sensei) Jade statues unlock a series of additional moves and combos that not only look cool, but make the gang fights in which you’re hugely outnumbered easier to win.
So what do we have with this young pretender to GTA’s crown? Well, I’ll bet that despite some disappointing glitches Activision are kicking themselves, I think Squaresoft have got themselves a winner here, Sleeping Dogs is not only a top free-roaming adventure, but it also arrived at a good point in the summer when the games market was relatively stagnant. I fully expect the game to sell well and stay near the top of the charts for some time to come, for the entertainment it supplies it deserves to, and anything else would be a true crime.
- A superb city to explore and “police.”
- Cool, brutal, gory and satisfying combat with simple controls.
- Decent gunplay and vehicular gameplay.
- Some clever gameplay features.
- Nothing much wrong here but there is a shocking lack of polish or proper testing in a couple of places.
- No "jump" button.