When gamers discuss games that could be considered the Game of Last Generation (GoLG), the usual suspects are more often than not: Fallout 3, Elder Scrolls Series (Oblivion/Skyrim), Uncharted Series, The Last of Us, Mass Effect Series, Halo 3 etc etc etc. What I am suggesting and hoping to show here is that United Front’s Sleeping Dogs deserves a spot amongst the heavy hitters of last-gen.
Let us remember that Sleeping Dogs almost never saw the light of day. It was originally named True Crime: Hong Kong, the original True Crime games somewhat faded into obscurity with larger competitors such as Grand Theft Auto and the emerging Saint’s Row series. This resulted in Activision pulling the plug on the franchise and cancelling the third instalment. In a rare moment of genius by Square-Enix, who saw the potential of the game, picked up it’s publishing rights renaming it Sleeping Dogs. I would also argue that this, in turn, is another great move guaranteeing a franchise should it prove successful and avoiding the stigma of the True Crime series.
Whilst the triple A gaming industry was busy churning out rehashes of the same genres or the same games with slightly improved graphics, Sleeping Dogs was somewhat a breath of fresh air. A game based in Hong Kong had not been done since Shenmue 2, whilst the Triad theme has been largely neglected since Chinatown Wars. A relatively untapped avenue is very attractive to gamers like myself who are becoming disillusioned with the triple A market. Despite this however, Sleeping Dogs received little to no hype especially compared to the main candidates of the GoLG.
Calling out to all Martial Arts fans with this slick trailer.
What Sleeping Dogs does is everything very well. Most games suffer from having one aspect being fantastic, whilst lacking in other departments. Sleeping Dogs should be elevated to GoLG level because, like all games at that level, everything is almost perfect.
The story of Sleeping Dogs is amongst the most compelling stories I have come across in games and certainly the best in a long time. You play as undercover cop Wei Shen who infiltrates a large Triad organisation, starting from the bottom to becoming a boss at a branch of the organisation. During that progression, the player is consistently presented with moral questions between the justice of the law and the brotherhood of the Triads. I found myself contemplating what I would do in those situations, often seeing the blurred lines of right and wrong. It is this level of immersion that truly elevates Sleeping Dogs. You feel concerned for Wei’s sanity, from avoiding being compromised to the emotional aspects surrounding plot twists and Game of Thrones-style killing off of characters.
Characterisation is very strong, supporting characters such as Winston and Jackie portrays the brotherhood aspect of the Triads excellently, showing the player that it is not only about organised crime but also loyalty and honour, all very important aspects of Chinese culture that I feel has been captured here. Antagonists are also very well developed, as suggested before Sleeping Dogs can be an emotional experience. The antagonists have a way about them that makes the player dislike them on an emotional level; again this level of immersion is very rare.
Gameplay is undoubtedly the strongest feature of Sleeping Dogs. It is concentrated on hand-to-hand combat with some gunplay on the side. Combat is exceptionally smooth and satisfying, you can use most of the environment to defeat enemies in classic Hong Kong martial arts cinema-style. Every hit seems powerful, some ending in bone-crunching animations. Whilst the player is encouraged to use hand-to-hand combat gunplay was not neglected. Aiming and shooting was arcade-like but fun. However, the cover system is what really defines Sleeping Dogs gunplay. You can use most objects as cover and blind-fire over the top or shoot round the corner, everything is smooth and responsive. Occasionally, you can activate a slow-motion mode when leaping from cover similar to Stranglehold or Max Payne games allowing for some cinematic moments which are also very satisfying.
Use the environment for extra points and extra fun.
Sleeping Dogs also has a GTA system of hijacking cars for personal use and a police wanted system of which I feel United Front has implemented just as well as Rockstar. Driving is again, arcade-like and fun with a good variety of cars to buy and hijack.
The controls of this game are great, everything is responsive and accurate, the biggest test of the controls come from on-foot chase sequences which Sleeping Dogs pass with flying colours. Chasing through crowds, jumping over walls, obstacles etc. are well executed and at no point seemed to be jerky or glitchy.
The graphical fidelity of the Sleeping Dogs world is lacking compared to those on the GoLG list however, I believe this was an artistic choice. While the textures can sometimes look dull, United Front went for a more realistic representation of the streets of Hong Kong with some structures in game looking like structures in the real world. Facial movement is also very impressive; the emotional aspect of the game is further enforced by realistic facial expressions during cut scenes.
The Big Lee, modelled after the famous Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant in Hong Kong.
The sound library in the game really stand out as one of the best I have experienced in any game. The in-game music gives an accurate representation to the East and West fusion of Hong Kong society as represented by a variety of songs on the radio stations in the game. Sounds during combat are also outstanding and contributes to the overall feel of landing hits or finishing off an enemy with a powerful move. Voice acting is unparalleled, I am not certain if there is any game that delivered a performance and a script quite like Sleeping Dogs. An all-star Asian cast was selected and it shows, everything was delivered perfectly as expected from film stars and that really added to the overall experience of the game.
Sleeping Dogs excels in every category without the budget and without the hype, a true underdog. This is why I feel that it rightfully deserves a spot amongst the heavy hitters of last-gen. I have always wanted a Triad-centric version of GTA, while Chinatown Wars did touch upon that, it was not the full console experience I wanted, nor was it set in Hong Kong. This game however, met all my expectations and gave so much more. It is possibly the most perfect game for me.