For an open-world game, Sleeping Dogs is very conflicted. Outside of its Hong Kong setting and Asian-focused storyline, the game lacks much in terms of originality. Almost everything else in the game borrows from others we have played before. A hand-to-hand combat system similar to the recent Batman games; a bullet-time shooting mechanic seen in Max Payne and countless others and different elements from a various number of open-world titles are all included in here. For the most part, the homage to other games works and ultimately, Sleeping Dogs is the kind of game that fans of the genre should enjoy.
Sleeping Dogs is a pretty straight-forward action-adventure game. You play as Wei Shen, a San Francisco police officer who has been recruited by the Hong Kong Police Department to aid in their on-going operation against the various Triad gangs causing havoc on their streets. Although a current San Francisco resident, Wei was born in Hong Kong and has childhood connections to one of the groups, Sun On Yee. After reuniting with his friend Jackie, who also happens to be affiliated with the gang, you get a chance to prove your worth and thus begin your embroiled growth within the organization.
All while rising within the Triads, Wei is still a cop on an assignment and must juggle between both worlds. Interacting with cops and gangs all while trying to keep one secret safe and getting closer to the leaders in order to take them down.
Like the other aspects of Sleeping Dogs, the story isn’t original nor is it surprising. Wei’s progression is obvious and the events that unfold are expected. As the story begins to unfold, you can see well in advance which characters will live, which will die and which you should pay attention to. But even with lack of surprises along the way, the story moves at a nice pace and there are only a few situations where it goes off the rails.
The moments that do go a bit off course are a few of the side-missions. As they are not necessary to progress the story, they do offer rewards that make the later parts of the game significantly easier. A good chunk of the side missions involve characters you don’t care about or that are not developed enough. Specifically, most of the female characters Wei interacts with are relegated to side-story status and it gives off the impression that these were rushed into the game. This is especially the case as they typically involve Wei taking them out on a date, having sex and then forgetting they exist.
The game focuses so much on male interaction and there is only one female character in the game that serves much of a purpose. But even with her involvement in the story, most of your interaction with her is done primarily through phone conversations. The cast of male characters are good and characters like Jackie and your handler Raymond are pivotal to the story but it would have been nice to see more interaction with a greater cast or highlighting the current cast with more detail, especially as your reputation in the city continues to grow.
Another issue with the story is the fact that although the game clearly gives off the impression of a cop struggling to cope with the two worlds he is living in, never once is there a situation where you as the player are given a choice in the matter. There are missions that go could in a number of different ways but we are never given the ability to make a choice that could change the game.
Slight Tangent. When you start the game, Wei Shen begins living in a very crummy apartment in the Central Core. But over the course of the game, he moves into a few other places across the city. Never once does the game actually have you “move in” those new condos. This is especially odd since you will have cut-scenes where Wei Shen wakes up from a nightmare in a new bed. It’s odd that this is never actually explained as most every other open-world game incorporates a move into a mission. It doesn’t really affect the grand story but it will catch you off guard.
Unlike most open-world games where your arsenal of guns is what separates you from the rest, because it is naturally difficult to obtain firearms in Hong Kong, most of the combat is hand-to-hand or melee based. Thankfully though, while the system does incorporate the counter system seen in the Batman games, Wei Shen is a very formidable fighter and can improve his skills through various means.
His improvement as a character is primarily done by completing missions. Each mission has a Cop Meter and a Triad Meter. Not killing civilians, avoiding accidents and being smart will improve your cop meter. Brutal kills, sweet talking and smart use of the weapons that you do get improves your triad meter. As you level up both meters, you will unlock new abilities ranging from more vicious attacks to better defence and resources.
In addition to that, some of the side missions and events can help to improve both aspects but even have their own. One side story involves the interaction with your former Martial Arts instructor. Help him retrieve twelve jade statues that were stolen and he will teach you new attacks to use in combat. Lastly, while in combat, you have a Face Meter, which when filled allows Wei to regenerate health. But the face meter also can be leveled-up and when certain levels are reached, open the door to new tasks, cars, clothing options and other treats.
While the hand-to-hand combat is strong and if you improve Wei’s skill set, becomes even deadlier, the weapon combat is quite serviceable. Missions that do involve a firearm don’t appear that frequently until the second half of the game. While most may be content with the hand-to-hand and melee combat, the missions that do force you to shoot your way don’t feel too disjointed. The controls are pretty spot-on and clearing a room should not pose too much of a problem if approached smartly.
For an open-world game, Sleeping Dogs does not overstay its welcome. The core storyline can be completed in about 20 hours; significantly longer if you decide to find all the collectibles and do all the favours and other side-missions. Although a fictional representation, Hong Kong is absolutely beautiful and those who wish to seek out the extra content will see parts of the city that look incredible. There are so many different routes to take from back alleys to mountain roads. Once you get into a car you enjoy, deciding to go for a joy ride instead of tackling the next missions should be expected.
Again, Sleeping Dogs is not a very original game and could have expanded on certain aspects even more. Thankfully though, a to-the-point story and good combat system make up for most of those short comings. Fans of the genre will enjoy the variety in missions and options available, while newcomers will be able to jump into the game and grasp all its aspects. If there is a potential for developers United Front Games to make a follow-up, hopefully they are willing to take greater risks with originality and deliver an expanding and/or branching story.