Formerly known as True Crime: Hong Kong, Square Enix’s “Sleeping Dogs” places you deep in the underbelly of the Hong Kong triad crime family.
Playing as Hong Kong officer, Wei Shen, you play a hard-boiled undercover cop whose goal is to bring down the triads, whilst along the way use weapons, martial arts, drive a variety of vehicles and use mechanics that one would associate with classic Hong Kong action cinema.
During the story, Wai is deeply conflicted about where his loyalties lie — is he a cop, or is he a Triad member?
The game has a lot of Hong Kong stylized action, you can perform bone-crunching kung fu style action, drive cars, bikes and perform action-inspired sequences filled with high octane thrills and chases, including “pakour” style free-running.
It also has the standard GTA-clone like objectives called “side-missions”, hidden collectables, and a limited amount of customisation of clothes, and vehicles.
“Sleeping Dogs” is a lot of fun, high-octane action, and has lots of things that keep you interested and engaged, it has amazingly fun fighting, driving, and shooting mechanics, an interesting story and lots of side-mission content throughout.
However, there are things I didn’t like.
The first is that the game is way too short, I counted around 15-20, maybe 25 hours of story mode and never once do you make decisions about your character’s storyline.
For example, the story builds the conflicted loyalty narrative to an apex where you feel it will come to a point where you, the player, will have to decide whether to choose your loyalty between the cops and triads; sadly this never happens and it felt like a wasted opportunity.
Key features from the “True Crime” franchise are missing
A further point to add about the lack of features that fans of the original “True Crime” franchise enjoyed, for example there is no ability to arrest people, or undertake random world events.
A further issue I felt was underwhelming was the feature of “property damage”, where I felt you could cause a bucket load of damage but nothing of consequence actually happens; you never get demoted, you never get reprimanded by the Police captain and you never fail a mission because of “property damage”.
Choosing to play as a “good” or “bad” cop was sold as a feature of “Sleeping Dogs”, but in the end it feels laxidasical and slapped on.
On the plus side, I found the idea of finding Collectables were interesting and rewarding in that they give you advantages such as better fighting, better health, and other RPG-like attributes.
The fighting is also very fluid, and it feels like a lot of fun; my only concern with it is that there only 3-types of enemies and once you’ve figured out the pattern, it becomes incredibly easy to beat the enemies.
In addition to this, you can obtain Jade figurines and new fighting styles; whilst this is fun, it actually makes the enemies feel very cheap as they do not scale with you, and you end up being so overpowered that the enemies seem like pushovers and offer no threat.
That aside, my biggest issue with “Sleeping Dogs” is the concept that “Sleeping Dogs” is a “love-letter” to Hong Kong action cinema.
Frankly, it isn’t.
Love letter to Hong Kong action cinema?
As a major fan of the “Hong Kong action cinema” of the 80s and 90s, I felt “Sleeping Dogs” did not captalize on homaging scenes in movies in the game.
There is no recreation of classic scenes in the games, there is no fight in the mall from Jackie Chan’s 1985 hit, “Police Story”. The shoot-outs might “look” and “feel” John Woo-ish, but you never get two guns. There is no Bruce Lee like level or a fight sequence homaged from a Donnie Yen movie.
Whilst things like the underground fights is on homage to “Bloodsport”, there is no “Enter the Dragon” fight on an island. Sure you get to wear a Banana Suit, but that’s about it.
Jet Li’s Playstation 2 game, “Rise of Honor” had better fights and understood “Hong Kong” action cinema and even homaged the Hospital shoot-out in John Woo’s “Hard Boiled” in one level.
The fighting style is very street-style and the use of street furniture for brutal finishing moves is very enjoyable and a good homage to the old Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, Jet Li and yes, even the more brutal Tony Jaa movies of yesteryear.
In terms of fights, yes they are fluid — but the lack of actual fighting styles was very disappointing. There was no Drunken Boxing, no wing chun, all the fights were street-based and MMA-inspired; you won’t be fighting like Sammo Hung or Donnie Yen in this game.
One final point I wish to add that cements my view that “Sleeping Dogs” is not a love letter to Hong Kong action cinema, and that is — the down-right bizarre choice to have Georges St-Pierre (GSP) not only promote the game, but for some reason include his “moveset” into the game as perhaps the worst in-app purchase for a AAA-game I’ve ever seen.
I’m sorry, but what does Georges St-Pierre have to do with classic Hong Kong action cinema? Why was he even promoting this game? Could Square Enix not afford the likes of Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung or Yuen Woo-ping, the action co-ordinator of the Matrix and a bucket-load of Hong Kong action movies?
To me, I felt the fighting and lack of actual homages to classic action cinema was the biggest let-down of “Sleeping Dogs”; and instead the game was simply set in Hong Kong rather than a “love letter” to Hong Kong action cinema.
“Sleeping Dogs” is a lot of fun, fast-paced action with good missions and an interesting story but it lacks the real heavyweight endorsement of a Hong Kong action cinema superstar and the lack of features let the game down overall.
I’d say “Sleeping Dogs” is an excellent rental for those who want fast-paced action and lots of stuff to do.