Going undercover as a triad member while trying to maintain the honor and rules of the police force has never been more significant than it is in Sleeping Dogs. Published by Square Enix, the title may not sound thrilling as Rockstar Games’ blockbuster franchise, Grand Theft Auto, but it packs quite a few hard punches and treats. Set in a 21st century fictionalized Hong Kong, you take control of Wei Shen, a detective from San Francisco who returns to his native country tasked with infiltrating a notorious triad–Sun On Yee. Based on the real life Sun Yee On who has over 55,000 members across the globe, Wei has to use his detective skills and innate street skills to cripple the triad’s operations from bottom to top. What makes this more challenging is his childhood friends are now in the criminal world as members themselves, and just like the real world, this is not a walk in the park for the young officer.
You will have to earn the trust of the Sun On Yee by completing various story quests. Ranging from the typical drive your friends from point A to point B, stealing crates of counterfeit watches, “collecting” funds from street vendors, teaching other localized gangs a lesson for interfering in your turf and many more, the beginning is a slow start but as soon as you finish missions, the sooner later missions will feel more solid and concrete. The side quests are by the swarm, they will keep you busy and entertained. It is nothing ground breaking but just your typical do this-and-that. By completing either quests, story or side, you are awarded with Cop, Triad, and Face experience points. The Cop meter measures your willingness to play by the department’s books and grants you perks involving gun and car chases. The Triad meter increases with the combat combos and environmental attacks granting you with melee perks. The Face meter is all dependent on side quests. Raising your Face will grant you notoriety like citizens will know your name along with nice perks like discounts on cars.
The voice acting is one of the strong suits here. I do not remember the last game with an Asian protagonist in Asia, but I am aware of non-Asian protagonists in Asia and the voice overs from the Asian NPCs were comparable to those ’70s cheesy Kung Fu films. Wei Shen is voiced by Will Yun Lee and other minor characters are voiced by talented actors like Lucy Liu, Kelly Hu, and Tom Wilkinson, just to name a few. The dialogues are unsurprisingly rich and fluid–expected with a game of this magnitude in Asia.
This is Hong Kong, baby, and the combat system delivers what Bruce Lee did in the infamous Japanese dojo in Fist of Fury. Throughout the near endless side quests and story quests, you will encounter thugs and ruthless triad leaders. Much like the Batman: Arkham Asylum game, your punches and kicks follow the same formula. The combos are sweet eye-candy and the slow motion will have you savoring for more mobs like a lone ranger caught up in a zombie apocalypse. Tap the attack button continuously and Wei will unleash devastating combos. To counter melee attacks and knife attacks, simply tap the counter button when enemies are highlighted in red. Press the grapple button to clinch an enemy and toss him at his entourage. Statues can also be found and turned in to a Kung Fu master to unlock new melee skills. I seriously had a blast testing my combat skills in the fight arena earning Face experience points and good money, of which there are multiple arenas to be found in the world, surviving the max of six rounds playing offense and defense–the latter being highly addictive.
In addition, the environment is as dangerous as the feared Amazon River. Interactive objects like dumpsters, A/C units, and electrical boxes are highlighted red signifying fatalities can be achieved; grapple a thug and run beside the dumpster to lift him up and throw him in. Want the road less taken by a lesser man? Then grab the fool and ram him inside the A/C unit’s fan blade, or toss him out of the roof’s balcony.
The introduction of guns is limited in Sleeping Dogs. With the few opportunities I had with finding a pistol in one of the many lock boxes located within Hong Kong, I had a minimalist approach to using it. Unless if I found myself being target practice, I found it more exhilarating to go all-out Jet Li; the game actually rewards this. Knives, on the other hand, are present. More than once did I have to use a knife or tire iron to stand up to tougher enemies. Pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles are all here, but not to the extent of Grand Theft Auto 4’s “falling out of the sky” aspect. This can be understood since guns are not easily attainable as they are in the States, legal-wise, and I am personally glad they were not with Sleeping Dogs. But when the inevitable comes when guns are mandatory, taking cover is easy with just a tap and aiming is satisfactory.
Just like in GTA4, vehicles are prevalent in Hong Kong to your taking. Stealing a generic Lamborghini remains the same. The police presence is turned almost entirely off, however. This makes stealing cars way too simplistic–a paradise for car thieves. I have only been pursued by cops when I went gun crazy or stole a scooter in front of a cop, and evading arrest was on a kindergarten level as the chase scenes were not challenging at all, but the fun involved of blowing out their tires going 100 MPH and seeing the slow motion aftermath of their cars launching in air is brilliant. There are also story quests where you will have to follow this exact scenario as a get-away driver or passenger. Is it possible to steal another car while you are driving? Yes, and it is amazingly accomplished. Glorious!
You can bet on illegal cockfights and betting in Mahjong. Although side quests can be a little redundant, these are nice musings to the game. You can also go to the karaoke bar and stretch your vocals on “I Ran (So Far Away)” by A Flock of Seagulls and other hit songs. Hacking security cameras and calling in the police on drug activities, taking your girlfriends out on dates, street racing, and buying home furnishings from shady sellers all offers a pleasant niche.
Sleeping Dogs is not a game changer in the open-world genre. The Hong Kong designed in this game is not as grand as San Andreas. The story lacks originality and complexity. Despite its short comings, it certainly delivers hours and hours of fun, and personally the story kept my attention. I immediately fell in love with the characters and honestly, I understood all the honor being preached because I am Asian too. With 35 hours already invested, I really did not care about The Last of Us… WHAT?! Oh, I forgot to mention I bought Sleeping Dogs one week before TLoU’s debut to keep me busy. And entertainingly busy it did, indeed.