As a gamer of Asian descent, I originally thought True Crime: Streets of LA could give me a descent Asian lead character, but all I got was an almond-eyed police officer that was certifiably insane. I don’t know, maybe the writers were trying to go for Mel Gibson’s personality from the Lethal Weapon movies. That was the only thing I took away from the True Crime series, so it’s no big loss to me that it has now evolved into Sleeping Dogs.
Sleeping Dogs presents Wei Shen, an undercover cop attempting to infiltrate one of the most dangerous triads in the fragrant harbour of Hong Kong. The trope-filled plot doesn’t really have you struggling with those pesky grey areas of undercover work, so don’t expect any dramatic confrontations in the spirit of Infernal Affairs. Shen doesn’t have to face any moral dilemmas or make any hard decisions: orders filter down from the top, and he acts on them (if he feels like it). He might experience the odd feverish dream or two, but you won’t exactly be feeling the same level of stress as you would in, say, Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead.
There are two primary experience meters to show your dual-loyalties: one for Cop actions and another for Triad actions, but one doesn’t seem to adversely affect the other. If you are careful enough, you can easily attain a lion’s share of the abilities available to you from the two separate trees.
Your double-life gives you the best of both worlds. On one hand, you can jack cars, make money, do illegal favours for your fellow triad brethren, and cuss out NPCs in cut scenes. On the other, you can shut down drug deals, get access to firearms and better munitions, use police technology to crack safes and hack camera systems, and use your hand-to-hand police training to pacify thugs with all the efficiency and grace of Donnie Chen.
It’s the action that will have you coming back for more. Sleeping Dogs’ fighting system has you taking on multiple foes at once, countering attacks and stringing combos together, albeit without the fluidity of Arkham City. The grappling mechanic is especially nice, and I found it to be a necessary part of my arsenal once mastered. Attackers have different fighting styles, too, so you may be required to throw certain enemies, or use only heavy attacks on others. The addition of contextual environment attacks and hand-to-hand weapons make things even more interesting. All in all, combat was actually fun.
Gun fights don’t happen often and they’re introduced fairly late into the game, but they provide some variety. The mechanic has you taking cover and taking potshots, and it even manages to add a little bullet time to the mix when you vault over cover. Certainly not the game’s strong point, but I suppose it’s a necessary addition.
There are plenty of recycled ideas present in Sleeping Dogs; there’s are dating sub-missions, there are vehicle races, and there are plenty of collectibles to find. The collectibles actually have a purpose, though: certain collectibles will allow you to learn new melee attacks, while others will increase your maximum health or provide you with cash. Side missions aren’t terribly varied and mainly involve escaping police, delivering packages or hitting checkpoints in time, but they’re necessary to gain Face – yet another experience meter that allows you to purchase flashier clothes and cars, and also provides you with additional buffs on the side.
This is all set against a well-detailed backdrop. The stereotypes are fairly typical: knock-off brand clothing, counterfeit DVDs and grey market goods are sold in dark and dingy alleys, while a few blocks over there are “massage parlours” and karaoke booths. Street vendors hawk food, convenience stores stock damage-boosting energy drinks, and tea houses serve up protective brews. As someone who has visited the city numerous times, the game world is excellently modelled and surprisingly authentic, and if you know your Cantonese you’ll be chuckling at some of the insults that people hurl your way. (Who’da thought that learning Cantonese from my parents would actually be applicable outside of a Chinese restaurant?)
Sleeping Dogs manages to condense a considerable amount of content into one package, and while it may look a little rough around the edges, it’s still a decent distraction. A good change in tack from True Crime, and a worthwhile investment if you’re waiting for GTA V.