Review: Sleeping Dogs
Sleeping Dogs is a Grand Theft Auto clone through and through. You run around a simplified recreation of a contemporary real-world city, steal cars, search for collectibles that in some way improve your abilities, and commit murder often enough to put any television serial killer to shame. But...
Harley Ogier | Tuesday, September 04 2012
Product type: Open-world action game
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Test Platform: PC
Developer: United Front Games, Square Enix London Studios; Publisher: Square Enix, Namco Bandai Games
Brilliant game, great combat system – pity the PC controls tarnish the whole experience.
Sleeping Dogs is a Grand Theft Auto clone. You run around a simplified recreation of a contemporary real-world city, steal cars, search for collectibles that improve your abilities, and commit murder often enough to put any television serial killer to shame.
A key difference between the titles is that in Sleeping Dogs, you play an undercover cop. If that sounds familiar, it might be because that describes the True Crime series, which Sleeping Dogs was at one stage going to be part of. However, a developer change (read: a rescue from the ‘cancelled’ bin) left Sleeping Dogs standing on its own. Personally I’m quite happy with that outcome. The game was conceived as an original property, and it's a nice step away from the ‘moar sequels’ method of game creation.
Sleeping Dogs takes place in Hong Kong – a startlingly non-American venue. The protagonist is Chinese-born Wei Shen, freshly repatriated from a long stay in America... oh, there’s the big nod to the core audience.
Wei Shen is in town to go undercover with the Sun On Yee, a play on real-life Hong Kong Triad Sun Yee On. At least, that’s what the plot says. According to the gameplay, you’re there to break limbs. That’s right: forget GTA’s guns, Sleeping Dogs is all about hand-to-hand fisticuffs. If you go more than five minutes without breaking an arm or a leg, you’re not playing the game right.
The combat system is apparently inspired by Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, neither of which I’ve played. Regardless, the combat system in Sleeping Dogs is awesome.
If someone were to build a dancing simulator, I’d expect it to be like a fight in Sleeping Dogs. Once you’ve got the hang of things, you fall into a rhythm of attack/counter/attack that looks like something straight out of a martial arts movie. The ‘realistic’ kind, not the ‘wire-fu’ sort. It’s all very controlled and lacks the awful button-mashing that puts me off many fighting games.
There are unlockable combo moves that you can splice into the action. A neat ‘environment kills’ system allows you to, for instance, push people into exposed electrical wiring or do awful things with running table-saws.
There’s an odd disconnect between plot and gameplay, however. Early in the game, ‘proving you’re not a cop’ entails killing someone in a gunfight. This seemed odd after I’d been beating people in the head with tyre irons for the last couple of hours. The best I could figure, Sleeping Dogs’ version of Hong Kong has some very strange laws wherein only gun violence counts as murder. Beating someone to death your bare hands, or running them down in the street? Yeah, that’s totally fine.
Apart from that, the story and gameplay meld fairly well. The story is immersing and characters have real depth: it’s easy to get attached to them despite their terrible lip-synching in dialogue. The plot is very tight – in my 22 hours of gameplay, I was offered precisely one decision: whether or not to get a massage before going on a mission. It cuts replayability, but it does give the whole thing a very polished feel – like a novel or well-planned TV series.
Apart from the aforementioned lip-sync issues, the graphics on my midrange gaming PC looked similar to those of GTA:IV, perhaps a little better. There's a lot of room for improvement there, however – I was only running graphics at 'medium' settings, as anything higher refused to run smoothly. I also didn't push the limits of my PC further by downloading the optional high-res texture pack. If you've got the kind of gaming-PC behemoth that's packed with a few thousand dollars worth of graphics technology and runs on the liquified souls of lesser gaming PCs, you'll get shinier visuals than I had.
I enjoyed Sleeping Dogs, but it very nearly died on the rating table. Why? Because the PC version's keyboard/mouse controls were both figuratively and literally painful. You have to use left control/right control to flip through menus (clearly used as substitutes for console-controller shoulder buttons), which is annoying. I got awful hand-cramp from the mouse-button heavy combat. Eventually, I gave in and started playing with an Xbox 360 controller. At that point I immediately forgave the game all its previous flaws with the controls.
That is, until someone put a gun in my hand and told me to shoot something. Sleeping Dogs has a brilliant mechanism for shooting from vehicles, better than I’ve ever seen in a game before. Shooting on foot, in its poor cover-based-combat sections, however is just awful. I had to awkwardly switch back to mouse and keyboard for those parts – a luxury you won’t have if you’re playing the Xbox 360 or PS3 version. I hope the auto-aim on consoles is better than it is for PC with a console controller, because otherwise those parts of the game are going to be a messy, fun-sucking grind.
The PC controls have been improved in the most recent update – mouse sensitivity adjustment has been added, and there are a few more options for mapping keys. It helps somewhat, though the fighting and driving work much better with a controller.
Worth playing? Definitely. If you’re a console gamer, stick to your appropriate console version. PC gamers, make sure you’ve got an Xbox 360 controller for Windows handy, or prepare for a certain amount of frustration.
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