|Platforms||Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows|
|Genre||Don’t cross the line, pig|
|Buy from Amazon|
I like freedom in games. That being said, I love open world games-the ability to run around a virtual world, doing missions whenever I please, and I will give any open-world sandbox game a chance, from Toy Story to Saints Row. I fondly remember the “undercover cop” GTA rip-off True Crime series so ridiculous it was almost hard to take serious about ten years ago-yeah, the one that let you play as Snoop Dog. I soon found out that Sleeping Dogs, seemingly released out of nowhere this month, was the once-titled True Crime: Hong Kong, only having changed names due to legal reasons after switching publishers from Activision to Square Enix. While it may have once belonged in a line of True Crime games, TRUST ME - In no way, shape, or form is this anything like what I remember the True Crime series being like. (In a good way.)
With Square Enix’s reboot, remastering and renaming of the True Crime franchise, now Sleeping Dogs, they have tooled what could prove to be one of the biggest surprise smash hits this year with tight gameplay all around and with a story more compelling than most of Rockstar or THQ’s gangster tales have ever felt. Here is my review of Sleeping Dogs for Xbox 360.
In Dogs you play as Wei Shen, a cop in Hong Kong who has gone under cover into a triad gang called the Sun On Yee. For the most part, the game plays just like a Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row game: third person, mini-map on the lower left hand of the screen, hijack cars or call a cab to get around, complete missions and side missions whenever you want, etc. Just like in those games, there are plenty of things on the side to do to keep you busy like taking girls on dates, buying new outfits and cars, playing poker mahjong, betting on cock fights, hacking security cameras around the city so you can bust drug dealers, or any number of other activities you can get involved in around town. Creating a virtual Hong Kong is something the creators of this game really did well, whether it’s the bustling crazy traffic in the congested twisty streets or the way that everyone talks in half-english/half-chinese, the atmosphere is really pulled off amazingly. Something that doesn’t hurt is the voice acting, talent that is top-notch thanks to the help from the likes of heavy hitters like Lucy Liu and Emma Stone in the mix. The story those voices are telling you is actually something you’ll want to hear also, as the deeper into cover Wei gets, the more and more intense it gets, and the relationship of him as a cop and being a Triad at the same time, and the writing makes it a story and relationship that you actually get really involved in, something I thoroughly enjoyed and found rare in games’ stories today.
Another aspect where this game really stands out is the combat. You can always find the rare hand gun scrounging around in the game, but guns and anyone-you or your enemy using them is never really prevalent until about three fourths of the way into the game-until then you will be using good old-fashioned hand-to-hand martial arts. For me, this is one of the parts where the game really shines. Rather than feeling like you’re just going through hundreds and hundreds of enemies like they’re nothing to you-like in most games, each individual enemy requires unique button presses, and combinations to put into special attacks to take them down. Every time I got through with a rival group of gang members, or an enemy boss I felt a real sense of achievement that I don’t seem to find anymore just by shooting senseless rounds into the enemy. The combat system feels a lot like that from the latest Batman games-only a bit more intricate once you start earning upgrades and extra moves that require extra button strikes. Something else I found maybe not unique-yet altogether exquisitely and thrillingly pulled off-is the use of environment in Sleeping Dogs’ combat- in every fight you will find plenty of phone booths to shove people in, air conditioning fans to cut peoples heads off in, and dozens more creative and altogether fantastical ways to carnage opponents using your environment.
Something that contrasts perhaps just as well with the hand-to-hand combat is the controls in-vehicle. For a couple missions you need to get inside the underground street racing racket, and afterwards racing becomes an extra activity you can do on the side, and the racing feels perfect, the handbrake drifting is tight and feels varied just right between the different types of cars, and the competition is very stiff yet fair, keeping in check I was always at my A+ game before I could come out with a win. The racing is a good time and a great way to earn fast cash, but what impressed me the most with the game’s driving mechanics was the different offensive maneuvers you can perform while in a car. If you ever catch heat from the cops, or find yourself in one of the many high speed pursuits that exist in the game, all you have to do to ram the vehicle with great force is press the analog stick in the direction you want to ram and press a button. Now, this may not seem like much, but when both of you are going 100-something miles an hour, swerving back and forth and you manage to ram them a few times you cause their car to explode, flying backward in a tailspin of smoke. Trust me, it’s a thrill.
Another thing that Sleeping Dogs got right about car combat is shooting out the window of a car and driving at the same time- I cannot name how many games I have been in a car chase and stuck my head out the window, tried to shoot something and things just go awry - either I pull off into a wall where I’m trying to aim, my foot simply lets off the gas, or some other frustrating thing like that happens. Well, in Sleeping Dogs, no such thing, while chasing other cars, this is one of the few times in the game where you actually do get access to firepower and I was pleased to find that everything is pulled off with pure bliss - shooting while driving while steering - and I must admit, it is a blast.
The final aspect that really stood out to me about Dogs’ driving is that they give you the ability to do something I find really cool, something that I’ve only ever seen in one game before (Pursuit Force for PSP)- that is the ability to jump from the car you are driving to the top of the car in front of you while it is still driving, and hijack it-all while both of these cars are still moving. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to do that?
The meat of the game is found in the missions-missions can be started whenever you chose to go up to the icon on found, located on the map, and are divided into either Cop or Triad missions. Cop missions are usually things like planting bugs on phone lines to help your handler get closer to busting some drug dealer or taking pictures of evidence of a murder you have just witnessed so that the murderer can be arrested. Triad missions can range anywhere from surviving a hazing initiation into the gang, to setting some misguided brother triads straight... with a knife, all in a day’s work when you’re playing as undercover Officer Wei Shen, something I found a complete and total blast for the entire 20-something hours it took me to complete Sleeping Dogs.
Clocking in at just about a day, Dogs defiantly doesn’t even come close to the longest game, but I did finish with plenty of side missions left to play, and everything that is there is absolutely phenomenal. They have also promised at least six months more of DLC, something I am much looking forward to.