Let’s get this out of the way; Sleeping Dogs isn’t a bad game, it just really isn’t a good one. Sometimes, it really is best to let sleeping dogs lie. Unfortunately, United Front Games and Square Enix felt the need to resurrect last generation’s True Crime series of open-world action games, rather than letting the mediocre series fade into obscurity as it should have. Where some long-forgotten series manage to rise from the ashes as a phoenix, Sleeping Dogs is nothing more than a poor-man’s version of Grand Theft Auto IV that had a baby with Batman: Arkham City, but for some reason it still costs $60.
The story begins with Wei Shen, an undercover cop who gets arrested after a botched drug bust. While stuck in a holding cell, Shen successfully scores a connection to one of Hong Kong’s gangs via an old friend. Tasked with infiltrating the organized crime syndicate, Wei Shen sets off on a quest to prove himself as a valuable member of the gang, while also trying to maintain his reputation as a good-natured police officer who is willing to help citizens in need. Over time, there is much more to learn about Shen’s motivations, but the story is, for the most part, very cliche, though in the right hands it could have proved to be interesting. Sadly, the voice acting is far from acceptable, featuring a heavily (and poorly) accented version of English mixed with traditional Cantonese, effectively distracting you from any emotion that could have potentially made its way into the dialog.
The poorly-written and terribly-delivered dialog could have been overlooked if it wasn’t for the character models, which are some of the worst seen in this generation. Outside of cinematics, animation and characters look great, but in cutscenes, character animations come off as very unnatural and clunky, and everyone has an odd blank expression, as if people are in fear of showing any kind of emotions. It really is a shame considering the impressive texturing and attention to detail. The vehicles and environments, however, look very good, and you can easily get lost in just driving around looking at the scenery. Just don’t expect much in terms of exploration.
When it comes to gameplay, Sleeping Dogs attempts to take some of the best elements from well-established franchises and turn them into its own unique experience, but ultimately falls short in almost every respect. For an open-world game, there is very little to see and do outside of buying new clothes and learning new abilities, or finding shrines which increase your maximum health. Sure, you can go on dates with specific girls, which can grant you bonuses, but ultimately you will find yourself driving from one objective to the next without much distraction. Luckily, driving is the game’s strong point, as Sleeping Dogs favors a more arcade-style of driving rather than a realistic approach. Most vehicles in the game are fast, and handle very well, making races much more enjoyable than most open-world titles. Players also have the ability to do car hijackings by jumping from vehicle to vehicle, which never gets old.
While you will see the occasional gunplay, Sleeping Dogs is all about hand-to-hand combat. The fighting system is taken straight from Batman: Arkham City, which is usually never a bad thing, but it never seems to work properly here. Even with the ability to upgrade combos, combat comes down to button mashing with the occasional counter-move when an enemy flashes red. There is a heavy focus on using the environment by grappling an opponent and slamming them into a fish tank, speaker, or throwing them over tables, but after performing the same finishing moves over and over, it loses its charm rather quickly.
From a technical standpoint, Sleeping Dogs remains fairly bug-free. However, there were a lot of instances where the game would slow down while driving at high speeds, or when in combat with a large number of enemies.
Now, it should be noted that Sleeping Dogs is fun, and can be a very enjoyable experience to fans of the genre. Personally, I found the game to be worth playing, but only because it was a rental. That being said, there are just too many issues that prevent it from being a “good” game. With inconsistent graphics, poor voice acting, and gameplay that gets stale after slamming one-too-many security gates down on common thugs, Sleeping Dogs finds itself in the land of mediocrity, much like its predecessors.