So who loves Grand Theft Auto? I love Grand Theft Auto – especially GTA 4, the most recent release. What a vibrant, detailed environment Liberty City was – a real tribute to the gritty glory of New York. But you know what would be even better? If a game was made like Grand Theft Auto, but the setting was an accurately modelled city. Somewhere urban, densely populated, crowded, dangerous and exciting… Like Hong Kong.
It’s a relief to see that this game made it to release… Sleeping Dogs very nearly didn’t see the light of day at all. It went through many incarnations in its development – first starting out as an original title, then it was re-tooled to be a new instalment in the True Crime series of games. Then Activision cancelled the game mid-development and it looked as if that was that.
However, Square Enix boldy picked up the rights to complete the game, minus the True Crime franchise. So it was re-tooled with an original set of characters and a new name – Sleeping Dogs. Our hero is undercover cop Wei Shen, tasked with infiltrating the powerful Sun On Yee Triad organisation. The format is pretty familiar – speak to characters, carry out missions, fight people, steal and drive vehicles… All good fun.
But what a backdrop Hong Kong provides! The city has been semi-accurately modelled – from Central to Victoria Peak to Aberdeen. Driving at speed through these neon streets takes real practice and precision – as an undercover cop, running over civilians like the Hare Krishnas from the Grand Theft Auto games brings hefty penalties to your Cop Score.
This is one of the game’s three XP scoring meters – Cop, Triad and Face Scores. Completing missions to prove ability and loyalty to the Triads ranks up the Triad meter and general feats of kindness and helpfulness rank up the game’s Face Meter. Point is, major too strongly in one area and you will not be able to rank highly in the others. So the game provides a moral balancing act throughout – be an effective undercover asset, without breaking the law too badly oneself.
The graphics are good – very good on the PC version. Square Enix have allowed PC users to benefit from high-res packs and various other performance increasing tweaks to make for an even better experience. But even on the consoles, the visuals are a big step forward from the graphics of GTA 4. They are also better than the recent Saints Row The Third – this game’s closest competitor I guess?
There is a huge selection of vehicles to drive – sports cars, buses, trucks, vans, motorbikes – all the usual suspects. There is a healthy selection of music too. As is the norm for games in this genre, the vehicles all have radio stations. In this game there are stations such as Warp Records Radio, Kerrang Radio, Roadrunner Records and more. A good selection of music then, almost as good as GTA 4…
Combat-wise, it’s virtually all unarmed – usually with multiple opponents in groups. The game feels a little like Batman: Arkham Asylum here, with a button each for controlling attacks, counters and grapples/throws. It works pretty well – but mastering the timing of counters is vital to survive attacks, as is learning to grapple and throw enemies into helpful environmental hazards, such as plate glass windows and dodgy electrical fuse boxes.
And the campaign, combined with a little side-questing, is good for at least 20-30 hours of compelling fun. So it’s a decent little game. It plays like a slightly more modern GTA, with the backdrop of one of the world’s great cities and a plot that could have been lifted wholesale from such awesome Hong Kong films such as Infernal Affairs or Hard Boiled.
I enjoyed Sleeping Dogs a lot and I’m very glad it got the chance to finally be released. Well worth checking out – there is also a free demo available to try on Xbox Live and Playstation Network.
Sleeping Dogs is out now for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC