- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: United Front Games, Square Enix London Studios
- ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
- Genre: Open-world Action
- Release Date: August 14, 2012
- Pros: Vibrant Setting, Fun Melee Combat, Deep Gameplay, Great Voice Work
- Cons: Repetitive Side Missions, Underdeveloped Screenplay, Lack of Rising Action
Originally developed by Activision as "True Crime: Hong Kong," the attempted reboot of that dormant franchise was dumped by the company after budget concerns and other rumors of creative problems. Six months later, Square Enix picked up what had been created and shaped it into "Sleeping Dogs." The result sometimes echoes a film that went through the editing process a few too many times as plotlines are underdeveloped, characters disappear, and some of the mini-games masquerading as side missions fall flat. However, it's also easy to see why Square Enix didn't just let this work become part of a future "Great Games That Never Happened" feature. "Sleeping Dogs" features some great action set-pieces in a vibrant setting that open world players will explore for days.
You play Wei Shen (Will Yun Lee of "Bionic Woman" and "Witchblade"), someone so deep undercover in the Hong Kong Triad scene that most officers don't even know that he's not an increasingly dangerous bad guy. He has a shady contact in Police Inspector Pendrew (Tom Wilkinson), a handler (Byron Mann), and works cases with Inspector Teng (Kelly Hu) but the majority of the story missions in "Sleeping Dogs" feature Wei getting closer and closer to the power structure that truly runs the city. You start doing basic missions -- you even drive the bride-to-be of a power figure around to pick up her cake and sneak into a temple to steal the rare flower she wants for her special day -- until Wei is in so deep that it's hard to tell if he's even still a good guy.
"Sleeping Dogs" follows a familiar open world structure of story missions, side missions, and collectibles in a massive setting. The city feels truly alive as you speed around it on your motorcycle and there's often something to do around every corner. You'll progress through story mission ladders on both sides -- Triad & Police -- but the meat of the game is in the former. Not only are the cases that you're trying to solve as an officer often dramatically lackluster but they're clearly just not as developed as the crime portion of the title. Side missions are also a blend of gangster and officer. Throughout the city, you'll find pockets of drug activity in which you have to defeat some enemies to clear the area, hack a security camera, and monitor the proceedings to issue the arrest order for the drug supplier. You'll also be able to sing karaoke, bet on cock fighting, drag race, get a massage, and often just offer a helping hand to people on the street who may need something as simple as help with their broken-down car or as complex as insurance fraud.
Much of the action of "Sleeping Dogs" can be broken down into four categories -- melee, gunfire, racing, and running. The melee portions of the game are the vast majority and are built on a "Batman: Arkham City" model of hitting, countering, and grappling with moves that can be upgraded through experience or training after finding jade statues hidden around the city. In one of the games neatest tricks, melee often includes "Environmental Kills," moments in which you can grab a combatant and use the environment to inflict (often comical) death. In a sequence in a fishery, you can grab someone and throw them into a tank or even impale them on some swordfish heads. My virtual Hong Kong is littered with dumpsters filled with bodies of my former enemies.
Melee dominates much of the first half of the game but gunfire eventually comes in and "Sleeping Dogs" stumbles a bit. The targeting can be inconsistent, enemy A.I. is weak, and there's an oddly-inserted slow-motion system that feels cribbed from "Max Payne 3" and inexplicably comes into play when you're hurtling cover. Like too many elements of "Sleeping Dogs," it's a concept that feels like it was under-developed. You'll also spend a lot of "Sleeping Dogs" racing around the city or chasing enemies on foot, leaping walls, and jumping from rooftops.
If it sounds like "Sleeping Dogs" has a little bit of everything, you're right. It's a game built around the quantity over quality argument and there's something to be said for simply getting this much bang for your buck. I have to admit to being something of an open world game junkie. I love being able to pick up a title and play for a little bit and adjust the intensity based on my mood. Maybe I want to continue the story. Maybe I just want to sing karaoke.
It's not until just over halfway through that you realize that "Sleeping Dogs" isn't adding up like it should or could have without as tumultuous a development process. The story doesn't move in an engaging way as characters disappear for long periods of time and I even found myself skipping a cut scene or two as the game went along. I just didn't care. And the game doesn't build. After a great action set-piece at a wedding that turns bloody, I expected the story missions to increase in intensity but the game doesn't build as much as coast along. Even if that coasting is often entertaining, the lack of rising action or dramatic investment is what holds "Sleeping Dogs" back from greatness.