Sleeping Dogs: Big Trouble in Little Hong Kong
Once upon a time, before it went through development hell and got traded off through developers multiple times, this game was called True Crime: Streets of Hong Kong, and was scheduled to be another game in the "True Crime" series.
Following the trend of increasing video game budgets the game has a slew of famous voice talent including Emma Stone, Lucy Liu, and Tom Wilkinson.
Sleeping Dogs takes you through the streets of Hong Kong as undercover officer Wei Shen, as he attempts to build a case and take down the Sun On Yee triad family from within and cause a bit of damage to their rivals the 18k as well. Both the Sun On Yee and 18k are loosely based upon real triads Sun Yee On and 14k.
Throughout the game's storyline Wei Shen works his way up the ranks in the Sun On Yee, while secretly working with his handler in the Hong Kong Police Department. Along with the main storyline you also have the ability to do more side missions with the police solving crimes.
Let me stress that this game is not for children! The storyline of this game goes down a very dark and bleak path. There is an excessive amount of violence, swearing, and sexual situations in this game.
Graphics and Immersion: Ooooh pretty.... *CRASH!*
Quite literally the first time I got in the car and drove around I noticed the immense level of detail the developers put into recreating the urban beauty of Hong Kong. I was so busy looking at all the signs that I accidentally rammed through a steel barricade and plowed through a plethora of pedestrians. I am so sorry!
I've never been to Hong Kong, but from what I've heard this game isn't Hong Kong. They've captured the atmosphere and feel of Hong Kong, however in the game the streets are too wide and there aren't enough people walking the sidewalks. The map is also not laid out like Hong Kong. This is all right since they optimized the game for frame rates and playability, because despite what you've heard it's no fun sitting in gridlocked traffic. They did pay homage to this by including a joke in the storyline about being late due to traffic.
The developers made sure to present a large amount of detail when recreating the feel of Hong Kong. Brightly-lit signs decorate the buildings, sometimes blocking out the view of the sky almost entirely. Pedestrians have conversations and play with their cellphones, and every time you cut off someone in traffic they swear at you in Cantonese. There are shifting day and night cycles with corresponding foot traffic levels. There is occasional rain, soaking everything in sight and causing people to open their umbrellas. There are many back-alleys, gardens, parks, and small islands to explore, and it feels like great care has been taken to put everything in place by hand.
Helping to add to the immersion is the massive number of shops and street hawkers selling just about everything you could want. This is Hong Kong after all. Unfortunately you can only interact with a limited number of them, which makes sense. Wei Shen has no need for a cellphone case or bootleg DVD's. The ones you do interact with give you temporary boosts to your stats. You have energy drinks to boost your damage, tea to boost your damage resistance, clothes to give you various bonuses.
And then there's the food (e.g. curried fish balls, chicken on a stick, squid). There's a lot of food and all of it provides the same benefit, which is to restore health. The hawkers all have their own colorful ways of attracting you to their stands, however my favorite is the pork bun guy. He screams out in a very nasal accent "WHY YOU NO HAVE PORK BUN IN YOUR HAND?" and "MAN WHO NEVER EAT PORK BUN IS NEVER A WHOLE MAN!" There is another pork bun man, but this impostor pales in comparison to the pork bun master. When purchasing pork buns never settle for second best.
Most of the hawkers and shops are listed on the map, however there are several people not on the map you can find for one-time transactions to upgrade your apartments. Some of them seem pretty legit like a new mattress or a pretty bird purchased from a stall in the Night Market. Others not so much such as the air conditioning unit I bought in a dark alleyway, or the sofa set I got from a guy at the docks.
All the upgrades for your apartment serve no purpose other than to make it looks nicer and give you an achievement bonus for collecting all the pieces.
Gameplay: Hong Kong Phooey!
From my experience while the PC version of this game is playable with a mouse and keyboard this game is played best with an XBox 360 controller. I have my XBox 360 controller connected to my Windows 7 machine and it works perfectly for games that support it. All the controls are customized for it, and the game will guide you with specific joystick and button directions.
In this version of Hong Kong there doesn't seem to be a lot of guns available. Sure there are many missions where you have to shoot at enemies from behind cover, shoot at enemies from a moving vehicle, or shoot at enemies to prevent your friends from getting killed. However, you seem to lose your gun not long after that. You have the ability to stash a pistol by sticking it down the back of your pants, but if you get killed or arrested then you lose it and there aren't any gun stores to stock up like in the Grand Theft Auto games.
Most of the combat revolves around martial arts, and I have to say they spent a lot of time perfecting the combat system. The large number of moves Wei has at his disposal are taken from a variety of martial arts styles, giving the player the feeling of a modern day martial arts action movie.
Throughout the game you have the ability to learn new moves by collecting jade statues and increasing your triad levels. You can increase your triad levels by doing rather underhanded and unexpected things during missions like countering someone's attack, using the environment to finish off enemies in gruesome ways, and shooting a large number of enemies. It is highly recommended that you learn the new moves, as they'll be invaluable when you're going up against a large number of enemies later in the game.
There will be times when you have to chase someone down on foot, and it's going to involve jumping over tables, climbing fences, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, and just trying to avoid a plethora of pedestrians. Having just finished playing Mirror's Edge I was a little disappointed at the simplicity of free running that Sleeping Dogs had, but as a small part of the main game it is adequate.
Another important part of the game is driving. Many times these just involve picking up someone and taking them to their destination. Of course this is an action game so generally something is going to go wrong and you'll need your superior driving skills to get them out of harm's way.
I'm happy to say that the driving controls are very smooth, sometimes unrealistically so. Many vehicles can use the handbrake to swiftly make a 180-degree turn, and even the most top-heavy truck doesn't flip over when taking an ultra-sharp corner.
Sometimes you're the passenger in the vehicle, which means they're probably going to shove a gun in your hand and you'll need to fend off a barrage of oncoming enemy vehicles. With the number of rival triad enemies you take down in your missions it seems like the 18k have far greater numbers than the Sun On Yee.
During storyline and police side missions you have the ability to gain police levels. These can help you in driving and shooting missions. To get police levels you need to complete your missions while acting like a respectable member of the law meaning don't destroy property, don't hurt innocent bystanders, and don't stumble over obstacles in chase scenes. Get enough of these levels and you'll get a key that allows you to grab a shotgun from the backs of parked police cars.
Face: Time to Play Dress-Up!
In Sleeping Dogs something that will help you out immensely is your face... well that's actually true in the real world too. I mean who can resist a pretty face? Anyway in Sleeping Dogs your face is your charisma and notoriety. You can increase it by doing well in competitions, helping out citizens in need... even if they just blew up a police station and need to get away, and kicking ass most proficiently!
For some reason going to massage parlors gives you a temporary boost to raising your face levels. I understand the value of a good massage, however the back-alley massage parlors in North Point give me the impression that their business model is just a nice way of saying "brothel".
Gaining face levels nets you special abilities including extended duration for boosts, reduced damage in combat, purchase discounts, and even a lackey to bring a car to you. I would recommend to raise your face levels as soon as possible, as they help you out a considerable amount and the level 10 face bonus is a whopping 40% discount. This is helpful to chip away at the ridiculous prices the back-alley dealers charge for luxury sports cars.
Some articles of clothing, especially the nice suits require a higher face level to wear. Most articles of clothing do nothing except add to your wardrobe. If you collect all articles of a particular special clothing set you can unlock bonuses. Some sets increase the amount of police, triad, or face experience you gain. Other sets give you a lower profile allowing you to escape the police easier. If you manage to purchase every article of clothing in the game you're obviously a fashion victim and the game will reward you as such.
All your acquired clothing can be put on in your apartment, or if you're getting ready for a date and your clothes are soiled with dried blood you can wash up in the bathroom sink to make those stains disappear almost instantly. Yes, there is a bathtub / shower in three of your four apartments, but there is no way to actually use it.
Mini Games: A Game In a Game!
What Sleeping Dogs review can be complete without talking about the mini games, and boy are there a lot of them! In many games the mini games are a chore since they're something the developers just seemed to add in at the last minute. In Sleeping Dogs they spent a lot of time on them to make sure they weren't tedious.
You'll do each mini game at least once while playing through the main storyline just to introduce them to you, however other than that you don't have to complete any of them. However, that would severely detract from the experience as each completed mini game helps you in some part of the game. Some mini games are straight-up brawls or races, while others have you finding hidden collectibles, solving puzzles, or gambling.
Health Shrines - These are scattered throughout Hong Kong, usually found next to a building or in a place with a lot of foot traffic. If you pray at enough of them your maximum health will permanently increase.
Jade Statues - These are on display in several wealthy establishments, some of which cannot be obtained until you reach certain main story missions. Bring them back to your former martial arts master to learn new moves.
Lockboxes - These are also scattered about throughout Hong Kong, usually found stuffed in a corner of an alley or something. You may have to dispatch a few thugs before you have access to the lockbox, and some lockboxes are secured with a combination lock. Each one usually contains at least $5000 HK, however some have guns or articles of clothing. I found my Bruce Lee kung fu banana suit in one of those boxes.
Martial Arts Clubs - Survive six rounds in a brawl of traditional kung fu fighting, with the number of enemies increasing every round until it seems you're up against a small army.
Races - Grab your car, get through the checkpoints, and get to the finish as fast as you can. Each race only allows certain types of cars, so the more cars you have in your garage the more options you will have.
Cockfighting - Two angry roosters are about to get in a fight and you bet money on who you think is going to win. There is no way to tell beforehand as the match is randomized.
Poker Mahjong - A one-on-one poker match using mahjong tiles instead of cards.
Bugging - This one I've only seen in the main storyline and police missions so far. Remove a vent cover, calibrate the bug, and put the vent cover back before the time expires.
Hacking - Guess a randomly-generated four-digit number sequence to hack into cameras, computers, and anything else that needs to be broken into.
Karaoke - Show off your singing skills by lining up the joystick to match the bars of the song. Since this is a game for Western audiences all the songs are traditional American rock n' roll songs.
Lock Picking - Trip a set of tumblers in the right sequence to get a door unlocked. Usually this is accompanied by a time limit as well.
Phone Tracing - This is another I've only seen in the main storyline and police missions. Determine the location of a person's cellphone by triangulating the signal and attempting to find where the signal is the strongest, all the while keeping the person on the other end busy talking.
Safe Cracking - Usually found on lockboxes, however sometimes you have to crack a safe in a mission. Turn the dial to get the three numbers to open the combination lock.
In some respects Sleeping Dogs is a Grand Theft Auto clone. Many of the controls are the same as GTA for familiarity. You can steal any car that's on the street. You're forced to do many crazy missions in the course of the story.
However, Sleeping Dogs adds some extra elements that separates it from the flurry of GTA clones on the market. While not entirely unique the advanced martial arts system puts a nice spin on the game. Also the superfluous supply of mini games almost puts it in a category on its own.
Playing through the game is slightly shorter than other sandbox-style GTA clones. I was able to complete the story, all the police missions, collect all the jade statues, and hack most of the security cameras in about 30 hours.
Overall I do recommend this game for anyone who enjoys Grand Theft Auto, police dramas, or martial arts action movies.
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