Sleeping Dogs, published by Square Enix, is a game that flew under the radar for many people, and although we'd seen one or two mentions, game critics had practically forgotten about it until a month or so before it's release.
The first impression you get of this game is that it's Grand Theft Auto set in Hong Kong - and not in the awful way the Yakuza games tried to do the same kind of thing, except in Japan obviously. Nope, this actually looks cool.
For those of you familiar with the True Crime series, you'll be pleased to know that this is True Crime 3. Literally. It was initially announced by Activision as True Crime: Hong Kong, then cancelled because of budget overruns, and ultimately picked up by Square Enix and renamed Sleeping Dogs because, well they bought the game but they didn't buy the naming rights.
Now, partly because I'm a Grand Theft Auto fiend and partly because there are so many similarities to the iconic sandbox series, my immediate instinct is to compare the two, which I don't think is entirely fair. Nevertheless it seems likely that most people will do the same, so we might as well go with it.
Lets start with the somewhat unoriginal storyline. You're an undercover cop, Wei Shen, sent into deep cover with a Triad gang. Wei has been told to infiltrate the gang and take them down. The story is set in a fictional Hong Kong, and deals firstly with Wei's personal struggles between his duties as a police officer, compared to the tasks he's forced to perform to prove himself to the Triads.
In typical fashion for a crime slash moral choice game like this, he has to complete missions set for him by a Triad boss, as well as a host of other contacts he makes along the way. Everybody wants something! Typical...
The story isn't particularly inspiring, but it's not bad overall – certainly no worse than many other games I've played. The missions are not great, and lack innovation but is this really something we see a lot of in many games of this genre?
Now on to the gameplay. Each mission is scored according to your criminal performance, your police officer performance and your all round kickassness. Yes, I made that word up. Again, nothing original in the implementation of the whole moral code aspect of things, especially since it doesn't really have much impact on the storyline, but certainly enjoyable enough to keep you playing.
The animation is slightly stiffer than the kind Rockstar churns out, and whilst this isn't a major gripe it is something that drops the bar just that little bit. Another seemingly small but ultimately irritating thing is the music. Its not annoying in and of itself, but rather every time you get into a car or onto a bike, it appears to start the same track over again. Maybe it's just me, but I swear if i have to hear the same few opening bars one more time...!
Visually the game is in many ways an homage to iconic martial arts movies, where everyone knows how to kick ass, and only ever attacks one at a time, yelling insanely all the while. It's enjoyable and the fighting style quite clearly owes a great deal to the Batman games, as you attack, counter attack and dodge in much the same manner. Hand to hand combat is more prevalent than gun play, so don't expect to spend huge amounts of time aiming down a scope.
Again, much like it's GTA influence, you can date girls, sing karaoke, and complete a host of side missions to while away the time as you take a break from crime. The story sadly is relatively short, only about 14 or 15 hours in total, which means you can play through in a day or two if you don't have anything else to do with your time.
Back now to our comparison with GTA. I'll use GTA 4 as an example because it's the most recent of the franchise. I've heard many people argue that Sleeping Dogs is visually superior to GTA, and I wouldn't dispute this. GTA 4 is game published in 2008 however, so I would actually hope that the graphics were vastly improved in that respect.
The missions are clearly inspired by not only GTA, but the car chases from arcade racers like Need for Speed for example, but the difference is that Sleeping Dogs does appear to have stitched the aspects of different games together rather well. Yes perhaps the game does remind you of too many different things, but overall you come away with a rather good feeling about it.
If you're a fan of open world sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row, you'll feel a sense of irritation in the first couple of hours of playing Sleeping Dogs. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, you'll realise that you're loving it.
No, it's not the best sandbox game to be released, but it's a fun, engaging and well put together tribute to martial arts and the art of Hong Kong cinema that is not left wanting. Go out and buy it.