Imagine if you had a game that combined elements of Saints Row, True Crime, Batman Arkham Asylum, Max Payne, and Assassin’s Creed. Imagine if that same game was a sprawling action RPG hybrid being fronted by Square Enix. Sounds too good to be true, right? Strangely enough, Sleeping Dogs seems to combine all of these elements and more and with a few understandable bugs, but all the same manages to pull it off.
Available For: PC (reviewed), Playstation 3, X Box 360
Developer(s): United Front Games, Square Enix London Studios
Publisher(s): Square Enix, Namco Bandai Games
Release Date: 2012
Archetype: Action, Adventure, RPG
Before I get started, there are two things I’d like to say. One, I do like this game. No, really. Later on, you might not think this, but I do like this game. It has just enough faults to truly piss me off at times, but its core concepts, how they come together, and the story are all magnificent…when they work. Two, SOME of the issues I have with this game may be either a bad PC port or the fact that my PC isn’t exactly “up to date.”
I’ve discussed the latter in another article, but honestly, it’s surprising that a game that doesn’t exactly push the graphical boundaries of my PC could suffer in such a way. Further, if you do research into various crashing issues for the PC version, I’d say it’s more likely that it’s a shoddy PC port that…hopefully…will be fixed with upcoming patches. Again, hopefully.
So what is Sleeping Dogs? Well, as I suspected and have now confirmed, Sleeping Dogs is effectively the third True Crime game, at least if Wiki can be believed. This is important because while I thought the original True Crime was alright at best, the second was pretty fucking terrible with all kinds of glitches and hiccups…in the console version. This is important because this means it was fucked from moment number one.
It makes sense, both for trademark AND marketing reasons, that they wouldn’t call this True Crime at all. United Front also seems to have learned quite a few things along the way while making this a game that tries to do absolutely everything. There are, of course, two problems with this. One, trying to do everything means falling flat on its face at times.
Oh sure, it’s cool when you’re chasing after some bad guy with the parkour stuffs, jumping and sliding over things…but it’s not so cool when you’re just trying to fight someone or simply move around in the world and you keep accidentally tapping a wall and trying to pull off some bullshit monkey wall running stuff…especially when you can’t wall jump or flip behind an enemy or whatever…so it actually serves no purpose and makes you look…and feel…very stupid.
The second problem is it doesn’t feel original. Okay, you’re jumping and sliding over things. Yeah, that’s done in Assassin’s Creed, Saboteur, Gears of War, Bulletstorm…I mean, I could go on. Oh, you’re doing bullet time special effects stuff? Sure, that’s never been done before…least of all in almost every game since the year 2000. And I’m not saying it’s bad that they threw so much stuff at us; more like they didn’t do any of it particularly that well or at least enough to stand out.
There are a number of things I can praise the game for…and they’re coming…but you really need to understand how terrible this game can be first before dropping serious cash for this like I did. There are really only three things you have to remember about this game that could prevent you from enjoying it: it’s cheap, it doesn’t explain shit half the time, there are mission glitches, and there are graphical glitches.
Yes, that’s four things, but there’s kind of an asterisk on the last one. See, since I’m playing this on the PC and with mine being somewhat inferior to the standard market’s, I can’t help but wonder if that’s the main reason why sometimes it’ll crash upon loading or randomly lock up. I’ve been to varying forums and they’ve provided good hints, but it’s still hit/miss at times.
So here’s what I mean by cheap…and I guess it ties in with the other reasons, so here goes. The brawling in the game operates like a cross between Yakuza, Batman Arkham Asylum, and The Godfather. What I mean is it’s fairly simplistic having basically two face buttons (or in my case two mouse buttons), one for attacking and one for counter attacks.
Holding down the attack button releases a heavier attack that, if trained properly, can stun, knock down, incapacitate, etc. The problem is often your timing for counters has to be spot on and you can’t simply button mash. There’s almost a delay of sorts, so you have to be exact…and sometimes the game itself isn’t exactly “exact.”
At times, especially in larger fights, you’ll feel it’s intentional. Really, this is a minor complaint, though, as it’s mostly through combat that this occurs. The mission glitches really piss me off. Alright, so there are multiple missions that have you chasing someone down and trying to get them to pull over without hurting them. The problem is often they do this in such a way that you’re trying to chase down a CAR on a MOTORCYCLE, so you may see what the problem is here.
Now in a car, you can actually ram stuff…not so much in a motorcycle. Furthermore, you can shoot up the car, but then you risk injuring the driver. It doesn’t help any that shooting out the tires does NOT slow the car down. No, in fact it seems like it just drives faster, which makes no sense. This makes these missions a chore, but worse still, often the chase engine fails.
What I mean is often you’ll only be a few meters away from the suspect, but a timer will pop up saying “catch up to the suspect!” Uh, DUMBASS, I’m right there. Other times you’ll be a few hundred meters away and this isn’t tripped. I actually failed a chase once because I passed the suspect on the bridge and it said I lost him. This is just plain bad or a lack of beta testing.
By far the worst aspect is when the game doesn’t explain shit. There are very few tutorials in the game instead opting for “on the go” training. Don’t get me wrong, normally I like this method. It keeps things at a brisk pace and works well…when it’s ACTUALLY explained. There was one mission where I was supposed to catch up to a truck and “action hijack” it.
Effectively action hijacking is when, during a high-speed pursuit, you jump from your vehicle to theirs, shimmy around to the side, and force commandeer it. Cool stuff, but…I didn’t know that, the game didn’t explain that, nor was the game telling me what or how to do it. So I pause the game, go into the controller layout and find the corresponding button, but I still can’t get it to work.
It was only after lots of trial and error that I figured out for myself how to do it. This is bad game design. No, it’s not old game design where you have to figure out different puzzles or how things work, it’s BAD game design because 1) it’s a modern game and that’s what we expect, 2) there was no reference manual or tutorial for this, and 3) this was the first time this concept was being introduced and there was no effort whatsoever to even explain what the hell it was or what I was supposed to be doing.
This wasn’t the first or last time this occurred within the game either. So surely, with these things in mind, you can write this game completely off, right? Not so fast. This game is both brilliant and very fun. Frustrating at times, but yes, fun. Now I’m going to get into the aspects that make this game great. First off, remember all those games I referenced? Yeah, it plays like them and it WORKS.
The environments are huge, the graphics are very nice, and the only time the game EVER slowed down for me was in the karaoke club where it was trying to render a ridiculous amount of AI models at a given moment as well as lots of different interesting lighting effects. The combat is actually very fun and though simplistic, offers layers of depth as well.
You can drag people around and fuck them up with the environment, disarm and attack people with weapons, break bones, counter, and even make use of a special meter…all with just a few button presses here and there. Really, the weakest aspect of combat is guns and that’s mostly because the bullet time aspect in the game is very finicky…but even that’s okay because then it plays more like Gears of War or The Godfather.
Chasing people down doing all kinds of free running is very fun and never really gets old, though there isn’t enough of it. Of course, I suppose that’s a good thing because then it means it’s in small, contained sections rather than forcing you to scale giant structures again and again just to get around a la Assassin’s Creed.
You can also be a total clothes horse or car nut in the game with it offering you the ability to customize your entire look and buy up all kinds of clothes and cars. This is pivotal, however, for two reasons. One, you can use clothes to increase your toughness or amount of gained experience with certain activities. Two, buying certain cars means unlocking more and more challenging races.
There are three types of experience in the game: cop, triad, and face. Now, the cop and triad aspects make sense…you’re an undercover cop trying to infiltrate the triad, but face is a little weird. Basically as you do stuff for the general public, you get face experience. Unlocking higher levels of face increases the amount of clothes you can buy and wear as well as various other effects like having a car delivered whenever wherever and so on.
Cop and triad experience both provide upgrades that increase your toughness, attack power, and so on. You can also collect statues that can be provided back to a martial arts studio for increasingly more powerful and brutal martial arts techniques. And finally, the story. The story is really incredible and I would totally ruin it if I told you more than I already have, which is nothing.
At the end of the day, Sleeping Dogs is an incredibly fun title that becomes frustrating because of things that should have been ironed out in testing and would not exist with a better designer at the wheel. It’s still a great game, but the flaws it has may prevent you from enjoying it as time goes on. Still, it has a pretty good run until it becomes truly frustrating, so there is that.