Released two years after Grand Theft Auto III, True Crime: Streets of L.A. was a hit. The sandbox action game borrowed much from GTA but let players play on the other side of the law as an undercover police officer. Where Grand Theft Auto seems to favor the east coast of the U.S., Streets of L.A. recreated 240 square miles of the City of Angels. For the sequel, Activision took the franchise east to the Big Apple where much of the sheen wore off the franchise. A True Crime reboot was planned with Hong Kong as the setting until Activision shelved the idea. Luckily, the ambitious publisher, Square Enix bought the game but without the name and has now delivered Sleeping Dogs.
Still a Grand Theft Auto type game, Sleeping Dogs lets players take control of Wei Shen, an officer of the San Francisco Police Department, loaned to the Hong Kong Police Department. Because of his successes in San Francisco and personal history, the Hong Kong P.D. wants to use Wei to infiltrate a Triad gang, the Sun On Yee, and help take them down. In the game, Hong Kong is divided into four fictional districts which are named after real areas and Wei must live a double life as a gangster and cop. Luckily each mission mostly requires Wei to be one or the other.
The high point of Sleeping Dogs is the hand-to-hand combat. Somewhere between the Assassin’s Creed and Batman games, the combat is dynamic and requires timed counters to be able to succeed. Good luck with just trying to punch everyone in the face. On the Xbox controller, the X button is both a light and heavy strike depending on the length of the button press. B is used to grapple foes which can then be run into environmental attacks like table saws, electric panels, and air conditioning units. The Y button is used to counter an attacking enemy. Pressing it when you see an enemy light up will save you from getting punched or stabbed in the back of the head.
Sleeping Dogs does offer some gunplay a little further down the road, both on foot and while driving. The left trigger will allow Wei to aim and the right trigger shoots. The shooting portions of the game are pretty sparse though and though offering nothing new, I wish there was more. Speaking of driving, for a sandbox game, driving in Sleeping Dogs is a lot of fun. Of course you would expect that from the developer of Mod Nation Racers and the upcoming Little Big Planet Karting. If you’ve played Grand Theft Auto or the like, you can jack a car or bike and drive in Sleeping Dogs. The D-pad even lets you take your pick of local Hong Kong radio offerings.
The vehicles that you obtain by purchase or otherwise are stored in a garage that is always near your residences. Sleeping Dogs’ Hong Kong is a beautiful, bustling, and fairly large city and walking or running isn’t going to get you far. There is also a racing circuit you can infiltrate to earn some extra cash to spend on clothes, more vehicles, energy drinks, or happy endings at the local massage parlor. If you’re not the type for paid encounters, there are a few girls you can woo for in-game perks, though there is no long term effect to plot.
If the driving and fighting in Sleeping Dogs are the high points, the plot execution is the low point. Though an interesting story, there’s not much in it that comes as a surprise. Many of the storylines seem incomplete. This is particularly evident with the girlfriend plots. The collectibles and side missions are set up with a narrative but except for the two main storylines, none of it matters in the end. Maybe, I am little spoiled since playing L.A. Noire but, I expect a better story from single player, open-world sandbox games now. It is worth noting that there are also some forgivable graphical deficiencies but, overall Sleeping Dogs is a lot of fun. As a complete and entertaining journey though, it will probably leave you a little unsatisfied and wanting for more.
Sleeping Dogs is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Use of Drugs. This game can also be found on: PC and PS3.