August 27, 2012

Waking the Dragon

Lasting First Impressions of Sleeping Dogs

Developed by United Front Games  |  Published by Square Enix

Sleeping Dogs Boxart» New kid on the Open-World block, Sleeping Dogs, was originally conceived as True Crime: Hong Kong before receiving a cancellation notice by Activision and being subsequently picked up by Square Enix. Focusing more on game-play density as opposed to having a massively huge world, United Front Games continued to polish their already nearly complete game and the results are incredible. I had the opportunity at PAX East 2012 to see and experience the game and, even then it was looking very polished.  I was instantly sold on this new IP. Eagerly, I anticipated its August release date and am thrilled to finally take it for its much deserved Lasting First Impressions treatment.  Instantly, from the onset of the game’s action packed introduction, it was apparent to me that I was going to be in for quite a ride.

Taking on the role of Chinese-American undercover cop, Wei Shen, players will find themselves knee deep in the seedy underbelly of Hong Kong’s organized crime syndicate looking to infiltrate and take down the top dogs of the Sun On Yee triad. As the game progresses, Wei Shen’s loyalties will be tested on both fronts; his loyalty to his profession and his loyalty to his crew.  Posing as your typical open world third-person action game, ala Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row, Sleeping Dogs proves to be much more more than that. RPG, Racing, and plenty of collections to find round out Sleeping Dogs into a full and immersive package.

Completing tasks and missions throughout the world, players will gain XP towards one of three different faction trees, Triad, Cop, or Face (reputation on the street). As each of these trees level up, skill points will become available to spend to add more abilities to Wei Shen’s arsenal.  United Front Games’ experience with games such as ModNation Racers and the upcoming Little Big Planet Karting, you can be assured that the many instances of vehicle action in Sleeping Dogs will be much more polished than any open world game before it.  Driving a motorcycle or a car throughout the streets of Hong Kong were only marred by the fact that I had to remember to drive on the left side of the street.

The majority of the combat in Sleeping Dogs is hand to hand and United Front Games has done a great job implementing a similar control scheme as that found in Batman: Arkham Asylum/City and it works well. In addition this this, however, combat includes a great new ability to use the environment to your advantage. Grabbing enemies and kicking them into a phone booth, or smashing their head through an outdoor speaker, or even bloodying them in an air conditioner fan makes Sleeping Dogs combat incredibly fun and satisfying.  That’s not to say, however, that you won’t find your fill of some great gunplay as well, as there are plenty of weapons to be found here.

Sleeping Dogs screen 3In Sleeping Dogs, the streets of Hong Kong are rendered beautifully and are teeming with life. You will be hard pressed to find a street that isn’t busy with people going about their lives.  Between missions, of which you are free to chose in any order, I found myself wanting to just walk around the city and simply explore everything it had to offer.  Many collectibles can be found in the world and, unlike other games of this nature, these give you a reason to find them.  Prayer pedestals, for example, will increase your health bar as you continue to find them; money boxes net you a healthy profit; and Zodiac statues returned to your former Shifuu (Kung Fu Master) will grant you upgraded Kung Fu skills.

The controls in Sleeping Dogs work well and are easy to grasp and master, but they aren’t perfect.  Camera control is a little sluggish and having the camera auto-center itself behind you can be a little annoying when trying to look around the city as you walk.  Wei will always run through the city instead of a standard walk so maneuvering Wei can, at times, seem a little finicky and unnatural but this is certainly not a game-breaker by any means since during combat and vehicle driving the controls work well and that is where it truly matters.

Sleeping Dogs screen 1Boasting a star-studded voice cast with the likes of Tom Wilkinson, Kelly Hu, Lucy Lui, Emma Stone, and Wil Yun Lee as Wei Shen himself, Sleeping Dogs continues to impress with believable performances throughout all the story missions.  While the character animations and graphics throughout the game are stunning and detailed, I wouldn’t say Sleeping Dogs is something you haven’t seen before but it is till a gorgeous game.  It is apparent that the characters that each actor voices has been created in their likeness which helps keeps Sleeping Dogs feel like an epic cinematic crime story.

Normally, our reviews are written after the first hour of solid gameplay but Sleeping Dogs pulled me in and wouldn’t let me go.  By the time I put the controller down I had already been playing for just under two full hours.  Sleeping Dogs has just about everything in it to keep players fully immersed and suffering from  “just one more mission” syndrome.  It is my hope that Sleeping Dogs does not disappear into video gaming history as a one-off title. I sincerely believe this is the beginning of a wonderful new IP and is worthy of follow-up titles in the future.

United Front Games, I gave you (more than) an hour and I am IMPRESSED.

About the Author

Sean is an avid gamer and lover of all thing tech. He is a dedicated husband and the father to three beautiful daughters. In addition to taking his love of gaming to a new level with this site, Sean is also host of our podcasts: The OMG! Hour, Lost Treasures of Gaming, and Primetime as well as the bi-weekly podcast mashup show, Gamers Unscripted. Follow Sean on Twitter as @Xiantayne and this blog as @OMGnexus.



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