I’m a grown man, with not a lot of time on my hands and important bills that need to be paid. That means I have neither the money to buy a lot of $60 games nor the time to play them enough to write a “real” review. Thankfully, in my area, there’s a true rarity: an independently owned rental place that rents video games and isn’t Redbox, called Media Wave Entertainment, in Fairfield, CT. My mission: rent a video game, play it for my normal rental period of five days and four nights, and write a review based off of that time.
All too often, promising games get axed before they get to see the light of day; the graveyard of potential blockbusters is so populous that all there is to do is mourn the lost potential within, like when someone walks through a child cemetery. However, sometimes, a company comes along, gives it CPR and a second life, and it goes on to do great things. Such is the case of the critically acclaimed (so far) Sleeping Dogs, which Activision owned as True Crime: Hong Kong before dropping the game as having a low profit ceiling, allowing Square Enix to take over publishing rights.
I rented Sleeping Dogs to give it a shot. The question is: is it worth the platitudes, which allow it a seat at the table with the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row?
Sleeping Dogs puts players in the body of Wei Shen, an undercover police officer with the Hong Kong Police Department, who is embedded with the Sun On Yee, a feared triad in Hong Kong. His initial contact is his childhood friend, Jackie Ma, and he has the challenge of also earning the trust of his triad mates, who have already had their experiences with undercover cops. He also has to deal with his supervisor, a hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners style prick who flirts with breaking the law to “uphold” it, his “handler”, and a HKPD police lieutenant who’s in a bit over her head and uses Wei Shen for assistance. In my few hours with the game, there were a lot of interesting characters to meet, which are helpfully delved into by way of case files, downloadable to Wei Shen’s cell phone, that give background on his triad members, and even Wei himself. The characters, though stereotypical to an extent, are at least engaging. One thing I note is that so far through the game, I actually like the gang members better than I do the police that I’m supposed to be working with. The former are brutal, stupid and don’t trust Wei Shen, but at least they aren’t outright using him as a tool like the police seem to be. Wei Shen also seems to get along better with the gang members who at one point threatened to kill him (like a previous gang member who was also a cop), being outright hostile with his “handler” as I played through.
One thing I found curious was that the game is set in Hong Kong, yet for 98% of the game, characters speak in English, and only use Cantonese for slang and when stressed. The rest of the time, they not only speak English, they speak with a hilarious accent; the entire game sounds like what the owners of your local Chinese restaurant sound like when they’re trying to play up their “ethnic” accent. It’s God-awful, but it does add some flavour to the game.
In general, Sleeping Dogs can be described as Grand Theft Auto: Hong Kong. All of the staples of an open-world game are here. You have main quests, side quests, and other diversions to do and other things to spend your money on. Money so far has been plentiful, and I’ve earned enough to get me going for awhile until I have enough to burn on some better cars. One aspect of the game that acts as a balancer of sorts is the “face” meter, which can only be increased by doing favours (side quests) for people; a low face level prevents Wei Shen from buying better cars and outfits (which give him bonuses when grouped). I guess the intention is to make it so that Wei Shen can’t get the advantages of the underworld without having enough reputation to get the good deals, but it comes across as artificial and gamey.
Combat is comparable in a way to that of Batman: Arkham Asylum, in that it requires that players show a little patience and wait for opponents to attack before countering them and building off of that. In my early gameplay experience, enemies would cue their moves by flashing red before attacking, which is a gigantic “HIT THE TRIANGLE BUTTON” cue, at which point Wei Shen would attack them back. Only later on would stronger, less predictable enemies show up that needed a different approach. Once someone is in an vulnerable position, the fun starts; there are amny opportunities for environmental attacks that range from rough to absolutely brutal. Battles are often unbalanced – five against one, and then some – and there’s little room for mistakes because Wei Shen is kind of fragile, so it’s necessary to be careful in battles, because a few mistakes can be fatal.
Wei Shen gets additional moves via another leveling system, based off of both Cop and Triad experience gained during missions. Triad experience is gained by creatively killing or beating up enemies, either via melee violence, environmental attacks or headshots, whereas cop experience is lost by solving missions irresponsibly, either by hurting civilians or property. There are three levels to each, and here is where the whole enterprise falls apart; a full level has to be gained to get the benefit of it. Therefore, if you scrape another car while in a car chase, you can write off one whole level of cop experience, which can’t be regained later. Some missions make it virtually impossible to maintain a good police rating, primarily involving being chased by the cops who don’t know Wei Shen is undercover. Unlike a game like Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row, the police in Hong Kong don’t fuck around. In melee fights, they take full, lunging dive tackles at Wei Shen, which requires a quick-time event to escape, and if you ever make the mistake of brandishing a gun, expect them to come back and ruin you.
BASED OFF OF A RENTAL, WOULD I BUY THIS GAME? – Maybe at a discount. There are three styles of open-world game: there’s Grand Theft Auto, which is the most intricate; there isn’t anything that players can’t do. There’s Saints Row, which has the best gameplay; there’s a variety of things to be done, and the mission structure is the best of the three. Sleeping Dogs is successful in having the best story-driven game. The game begins slow, but even writing this, I want to pop it in again and get just a little bit farther. It’s never a long pick-up – the missions are meandering, and combat can get boring quickly – but it’s a great game to play to advance in. While I don’t think that will be the case once I beat the main story – I’m willing to play Saints Row 2 multiple times, but not Sleeping Dogs – it’s at least worth a few more rentals to see if I can get past the main story while keeping my ultimate cost below $60.
RENTAL SCORE: B-