RETROSPECTIVE: PC (ON RELEASE) / PS4 (DEFINITIVE EDITION)
Waking Cats. An exciting brand new open world game from four years ago, that was pretty good. Probably. I’ll be off then…
Not too long I got really bored of open world games. Bloody strange when you think about it. I got bored of possibility. The open world clones didn’t open the world far enough. Every game was content to change up the formula by a small increment. Again, very strange when you consider that you get to invent a whole new microcosm. A lil’ light bulb flashes above Mr Reginald GameMaker’s head before deciding… let’s make it just like all the others! Maybe chuck in a few mini-games or a tower to climb. I mean, you don’t really need poorly made bowling games in open world games. Very recently that’s changed with some outstanding game releases, including Orcs, Witchers and some Metal Gears, but not so long ago back in 2012 this little gem was released…
… and promptly buried under a tidal wave of new open world games, including Grand Theft V the very next year. The ‘open’ world is the star of the show, and similar games tend to forgot this simple point. A fine example of world building is slightly wonky 2009 game the Saboteur set in an occupied France, World War 2. Makes far more sense to set things in an environment that naturally lend itself to chaos, rather than forcing it.
Most open world games try their hardest to obscure the fact that the player might just want to run around causing chaos, ruining all fantastic ideas that the game developer had planned for you, you ungrateful sod. Then again, sitting through a cut-scene in which the main character worries about his chosen path seems hollow after you’ve mowed down 20 elderly grans minutes earlier; which, lets face it, was far more fun than any ol’ cut-scene. To be honest, Grand Theft Gran doesn’t sound like a half bad idea, with a jet powered scooter and 180 degree handbag attack.
Why do I like Sleeping Dogs?
Sleeping Dogs’ masterstroke is its none-too-subtle and clever use of its world. Also high production values and complimenting mechanics help.
In a surprising turn of events the single player story is pretty good. I know, in an open world game! Shocking isn’t it? For you are Wei Shen, and Wei Shen is an undercover cop infiltrating the Triads and by this very definition we know he’s a conflicted man. Brilliantly this allows for you to drive on the pavement and have a heart, kinda. Wei Shen didn’t annoy like most characters in these types of game as his backstory and motivations are clearly laid out. Wei’s complications helps address the obvious issues of putting your clammy maniac hands in control.
Normally I couldn’t much care for an enforced story, as I’m off doing donuts in a carpark, robbing a convenience store, or trying to break into an airport. With Sleeping Dogs I’d admit to being keen to find out where Wei’s adventures lead to. Befitting Wei’s nature you’re rewarded with separate upgrade points for doing missions as a ‘gang bastard’ and as a ‘cop bastard’. If you run down the general population on mission that’s fine, but you won’t get that sexy cop upgrade you’ve been eyeing up. Naturally, you’ll accrue bastard triad points organically. You’ve a third upgrade tree called ‘face’, in which you do favours for people and are rewarded with the kinda rewards cool people get, like having a car delivered to your erm, pavement area. The whole upgrade system encourages you to fall deeper into Wei’s role. The story is balanced and never overly preachy (Note – If not obvious, this is a computer game plot after all), Wei never feels out of character and Sleeping Dogs never says “no, you cannot go mental, shoot 20 people and steal that car”. Sleeping Dogs allows you to be the Wei Shen you want to be.
A brilliant in-game touch is when Wei Shen wakes up the morning after a tough day. Wei’s muttering, twitchy and conflicted and you can see the effect this life’s having on him. Alone in his apartment he can let his guard down for this brief respite. You’re the bastard putting him through this. Without a word being uttered you’re encouraged not to mow people down, as there’s no real arbitrary punishment stopping you from acting like a dick. You feel like you’re affecting a vulnerable man on edge. Not many games have the potential to influence the way you play it without resorting to crude restrictive practices. Saying that, driving full speed into a scooter and shooting someone in the leg is still tremendous fun thanks to the excellent ragdoll physics. Then again, you might come to conclusion that you’re playing a computer game in your underpants and feel nothing for anyone in Sleeping Dogs. I can’t help you with that. Progression dictates that Wei Shen falls deep into the ‘life’ and Sleeping Dogs is the closest any game gets to the film Deep Cover. Not a bad achievement ‘ey.
Yes, the story dips half way through the campaign, but even in its weakest moments it’s still very digestible. The activities and adventures throughout Wei’s criminal sightseeing are varied and never tire, unless you really hate driving around. That might scupper your enjoyment somewhat. The characters you meet and interact with are memorable, and yes, even the cop missions are pretty fun. The difficulty pleasantly ramps up gently and although never a serious challenge, you’re entertained throughout. That’s half the battle right…having fun, right? RIGHT?
For a game that initially came out on the previous generation of consoles, it still looks mighty fine with the graphical boost afforded by the newer sexier consoles. Mostly because Hong Kong makes for an interesting location. It’s colourful and vibrant with markets, temples and neon. Not grey ol’ New York, or somewhere that really looks like grey ol’ New York. Look… a grey newspaper floats by, exciting! Setting games in locations you don’t ordinarily see or live in everyday, should be the norm by now. I mean that’s surely one of the most amazing things computer games can offer, superior to any other entertainment medium. Apart from travel guidebook pamphlets, but it’s unfair to compare anything to them.
The best compliment I can give to the sound design is that I never once noticed anything odd. Yes, that is very high praise. The voiceover cast is outstanding. We are a long way removed from the seminal sound works in the original Resident Evil. Not a drab performance can be heard. I mean, Lucy Liu and Tom Wilkinson, yeah.
So it would be around…… wait for it…… Now a sequel would be hitting the streets, but that was cancelled long ago and although I remember a warm critical reception on release, it certainly feels like Sleeping Dogs has been long forgotten. What could have gone wrong? Was it open world fatigue? Not grey enough? Considered average in the eyes of the public despite high critical ratings?
When first starting the game I found the vehicle handling was a tad off and strangely too fast, but eventually it clicked and sliding around corners felt pretty good. I could imagine a fair few people would instantly judge and dismiss Sleeping Dogs on this alone. Sometimes it takes a while to attune yourself to different car mechanics to each game, but if you persevere, Sleeping Dogs rewards with solid handling and skidding mechanics, mostly into pavement-humans. Normally in these games I can’t be arsed with the race side-missions, but I enjoyed them here, plus the Ai felt pretty human, smashing up the place and each other. In fact Sleeping Dogs has better race Ai and rubber banding then most propa’ racers.
A wide selection of cars are available to purchase and normally you think, who cares, with all these tasty, available parked cars. It is nice to leave your fake apartment and pick up your fake car from the parking garage, as you can purchase some very nice cars. A bonus touch is that Sleeping Dogs steals a fantastic idea from PSP game Pursuit Force, in which you leap from your moving car, like any decent lunatic would, to hijack another moving vehicle on the road. It’s one good way to avoid traffic jams. There are even trucks to steal when you see ’em, which rewards you (and your wallet) for simply keeping your eyes open. Oh… and there’s a dedicated ‘fuck you other cars’ button, as you can viciously sideswipe or boost into vehicles that have offended you. Yeah, the driving’s pretty meaty. If you really do get tired of it, there are cabs available for hire, but like real life… good luck waving them down.
As Sleeping Dogs was released in 2012 and took a few million years in development, a few of that era’s hangups rear its ugly head. There is a form of ‘dating’ kinda, which amounts to, meet woman, drive her to a place or something, and get sexy reward. Rewards such as revealing collectable things on the map and pretending you are James Bond in your head. There are boat chases, which thankfully, are restrained, as boat things are generally tedious, and we encounter dull mini-games such as Karaoke, which again can be ignored or embraced. These are checklist items for the back of the box and thankfully inspire more of a shrug then any real bother. You might love the Karaoke mini-game, who knows.
Highest of praise goes to the hand-to-hand combat, as it makes you feel like you’re in a slightly slower Bruce Lee film. Much like the driving, it has a real impact, and throughout the adventures I didn’t once sigh when a group of hired goons surrounded me, yet again. In fact I searched them out. What’s not-to-like being Bruce Lee? Throughout the game you improve Wei with fantastic bone crunching moves, which you will go out of your way to find and learn. Unlike most games of this type, you’ll actually use these additional moves. Man… that knee break.
People complained about the gun shooty shooty bits on release, but I think that’s unfair. The kicking people in the face action is so good, the shooting doesn’t compare. But it doesn’t mean the shooting’s shite. It’s merely good. It’s far more fun to break someone’s leg and grapple a foe head first into an industrial fan than it is to hide behind the correct sized wall, popping out to shoot someone in his god damn face. But it’s not bland. Shooting comes with the beloved bullet time, and that this is as good as you’d expect. If you can get your timing right, you can slide over a table, shoot someone in the balls, kick the bloke next to you and shoot his mate running round the corner, all in slow-mo. As I said, it’s pretty good.
I experienced a few problems with the Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition on the PS4, such as a few major game crashes in which I had to power down my PS4, which is shocking when it’s considered the “Definitive Edition, honest guv”’. I would be nice if someone within the game development world would realise repetitive NPC dialogue inspires utter hatred. Will someone please create a clever algorithm to play certain NPC dialogues once a week! I’m happy to have them silent the rest of the time. The only other serious consideration as to whether you’d enjoy a Sleeping Dogs, is whether or not, you are utterly tired of the open world formula.
Last thing… why is it so bloody hard to not drive like a lunatic in these games?
If you’ve had your fill of your Mad Max’s, Far Cry’s, or Assassins Fleas you could do a lot worse then revisit Sleeping Dogs. Lets face it, you’ll pick it up for an excellent price now.