Sleeping Dogs review (Xbox 360)
Kung-fu fighter or Hong Kong Phooey?
Square Enix’s open-world action game hasn’t had an easy route to store shelves, as Sleeping Dogs originally started out as a next-gen follow-up to Activision’s True Crime series. After being orphaned by Activision, Square Enix saw potential in the title, put the right team in place, and renamed the project.
Sleeping Dogs has now arrived, but does this ambitious second-chancer have what it takes to survive a brim-filled genre?
The basic premise of Sleeping Dogs follows an undercover cop named Wei Shen, who attempts to infiltrate the Triads to take down the big fish at the top.
The story weaves itself thick with an impressive and diverse cast of characters and twists. The element of bending allegiances to both the Police and the Triads is explored and creates a serious sense of tension throughout the game.
The narrative is gripping thanks to the believable and excellently put-together dialogue and voice-acting, comprised of a mixture of English and Cantonese. The risks involved in being an undercover cop are explored to good extent, with the boundaries of doing what’s necessary to stay undercover being pushed.
In terms of gameplay, Sleeping Dogs can be broken down into three core components.
Hand-to-hand combat makes up for a large portion of the game, and celebrates Sleeping Dogs Kung-fu and Hong Kong cinema-inspired heritage.
The combat system works in a free-flow manner, similar to that of Batman: Arkham City. Players can take on multiple enemies at any given time, with light and heavy attacks, and a counter system, allowing you to deliver bone-crunching finishers.
The environment also plays a big role, as players can grapple enemies and execute environmental takedowns. Kicking enemies through telephone booths, ramming them into fans or even slamming cars doors on their heads are just some of “tame” moves that are on offer.
The melee combat itself feels very fluid, and impact from each hit and strike feels authentic and effective.
Driving is a well-executed element, and besides the odd awkward physics moment, the arcade-like controls and handling complements the action and quick manoeuvrability the game requires.
While the game makes a relatively slow start with each gameplay element before opening up, it then fuses combat, driving and shooting seamlessly.
Vehicular shootouts ensue, with Wei able to fire from the window of a car or back of a motorbike. Tyres can be targeted, which results in some aerial flipping of cars, ticking that box of action movie must-haves.
Action hijacks are also available, which lets Wei leap from one vehicle to another, then taking over the driver’s seat. It’s ridiculous and sometime looks awkward given your distance from one car to another, but fits in perfectly within the over-the-top context of the game.
Guns are not a huge focus in Hong Kong (as expressed in the story), but that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of action-packed gunplay on offer.
A simple and effective cover-system provides sanctuary in fire-fights, but the star of the gun-show is vaulting. Players can vault over cover, but instead of it being a simple traversal move, it gives the chance to fire-off some slow-motion shots.
That’s not all that’s on offer though, as Sleeping Dogs also features a number of chase scenes. In some missions, targets will make a run for it, leaving you to chase them down.
Dodging pedestrians, sliding over counters, vaulting over obstacles, and making leaps of faith in order to get closer to your target are some of the most intense and satisfying parts of the game.
Exploration will also be a welcome pastime in Sleeping Dogs, as there are collectables to track down, rooftops to explore, cock-fights to bet on, locations to visit, and a whole illegal underground street racing syndicate to get involved with.
Despite the over-the-top action, Sleeping Dogs delivers an impressive and deep story. The gameplay is solid and while each element is not top of the genre, they’re well-executed and add a flavour and style of their own.
Sleeping Dogs delivers the right combo of a story-driven experience and an all-out action extravaganza.