The best way to describe Sleeping Dogs is that it’s like a combination of Grand Theft Auto and the Arkham games – it takes the best open world features of one of Rockstar’s best-known franchises and mixes it in with the undercover bare-knuckle fighting style seen in Rocksteady’s brilliant game adaption of the Caped Crusader, Batman – and it works perfectly. Quality wise, Sleeping Dogs rivals GTA’s beloved games and to be honest, I think it’s even better than them.
Set within a contemporary Hong Kong, you play as Wei Shen: An undercover cop from San Francisco whose been sent to investigate the conflict between two of the city’s biggest gangs – the Sun On Yee and 18K Triad.
Story-wise, I think Sleeping Dogs has a fantastic story. It’s emotional and doesn’t shy away from showing the massive consequences of conflict within organised crime as well as the juggling of being an undercover cop. There’s only a select few side missions in the game, but that’s less of a concern when the main story knocks it out of the park and gets you invested with great level design, great cutscenes and great tension-building gameplay.
The balance of being an undercover cop and a gang member is not only shown in the story either; each mission has a “Cop” and “Triad” score which helps you level up skills and progress further. However, these scores come with challenges such as the triad score depending on your fighting ability and the cop score making sure you stay within the rules of the law (e.g no stealing cars, running into pedestrians or breaking railings and lampposts). Especially with the cop score, these can be tricky to keep on three bars as you high-speed chase to catch rival gang members.
One of the things that makes Sleeping Dogs standout from other games such as GTA is that its fighting system is more focused around melee battles, although there is some gun fighting involved (while being limited, is also very fun). Much like games such as the aforementioned Arkham series as well as Yakuza, there is a strong focus on melee-based martial arts combat – grappling, using combos, utilising weapons available to you – the game gives you a lot of freedom with how you approach combat situations.
As you progress through the game, there’s unlockables that make fights more easier in the later game; statues can be found across the world that unlock training classes that teach you new combos that you can perfect to stun or knock-out an enemy, or outfits can be unlocked through game progression that make counters easier or make you take reduced damage. Not only is the hand-to-hand combat fun in this game, but it’s satisfying and can be hard to get the hang of at the start, but once you get a feel for it, it’s really great. Sometimes counters don’t register despite hitting the button, but that’s only a minor issue and it’s pretty easier to recover from a small mistake like that.
Like I mentioned before, there’s also a focus on guns in the second half of the game’s story and it’s not just aimless shooting – there’s only three or four guns that you can use, and it’s so much fun to use guns when paired with the slow-motion action vaulting that comes alongside it. Guns aren’t just used to kill enemies of gangs though, they can be used while driving to shoot a vehicles tires and incapacitate the driving ability of a truck or car that’s chasing you or shielding an important object or person that you may need. There’s not really much to say about the gunplay – it’s fun and refreshing from most games in the genre, although the reloading can be a bit tedious and led to me failing a few times during missions, but that adds to the fun and the idea that you’re meant to be a skilled US Agent trying to infiltrate this intense gang rivalry.
There’s also races that you can compete in throughout the game which is great because the driving in the game is really fun. Some of the missions require you to ram into vehicles to destroy them or to win a race. Luckily, there’s also drifting which makes these races and tense high-speed chases fun to play through, even if it takes a few attempts to get right. You can also shoot from the wheel of a car as well to destroy cars. Mixing the gunplay and driving mechanics of the game was one of the best decisions this game has made – I’ve never had so much fun in other games taking part in high-speed chases while having to keep track of who I’m trying to catch as well as having to deal with multiple cars shooting at me at the same time.
Sleeping Dogs really brings together Hong Kong as an amazing, fascinating city. You can find vendors just on the street who’ll provide buffs to your character in exchange for a small amount of money, there are taxis that you can hire to fast-travel, karaoke places where you can practise your singing as well as errands to run to help out the local people. Although the game doesn’t have much in terms of side-missions because of the incredibly layered and compelling story, the missions that are available are a lot of fun – including the police cases that you can do to uncover hidden plots such as kidnappers, murderers and drug dealers. There’s also smaller tasks like “drug bust” where you take out a group of hostiles, hack the camera, and catch the drug dealer. These are really fun, despite being short side missions and breathes some life into the game world outside of the campaign.
Overall, Sleeping Dogs has a lot going for it, and deserves to be praised and talked about just as much as its contemporaries in the same genre. There’s a great story, fun missions, interesting characters and a great overall setting and world design, although the game sometimes falls apart because of the weird camera locking in places such as driving – it’s not hugely noticeable and doesn’t take away from the experience. Plus, the additional DLC (Year of the Snake and Nightmare in North Point) does a fantastic job of covering for the lack of side-content after the main game.