True Crime: Hong Kong almost didn't see the light of day. Developed by United Front Games, it was supposed to be Activision's foray into the current generation of open world action games, but it didn't turn out that way. Activision didn't think this entry in their True Crime franchise was going to be able to hold a candle to the likes of titles such as Grand Theft Auto IV, and they couldn't have been more wrong as Square Enix picked up the game's publishing rights and got United Front Games to continue to develop and polish the game we know now as Sleeping Dogs.
What Is It About?
Sleeping Dogs puts players in the shoes of Wei Shen, a Chinese-American looking to make ends meet after traveling to Hong Kong from San Francisco, where he was one of city's top police officers.
Upon being arrested during a drug heist, players learn that Shen is actually on duty in Hong Kong and is assigned to investigate the triads and gangs responsible for all the crime and corruption going on in the city. To Shen's luck he comes across Jackie Mah, a childhood friend, who has ties to a powerful triad called the Sun On Ye.
After being beaten and hazed into the Sun On Ye, Shen carries out mundane tasks for his triad that start to have more and more impact as he continues to help. Shen does all this while being the best investigator for the police, living a dangerous life as both a gangster and a cop in a city that is far from safe, knowing that his cover can be blown in a multitude of ways.
The main gameplay revolves around Shen completing missions both as a cop and as a member of the Sun On Yee triad. Of course, in typical sandbox fashion, you aren't limited to just moving forward with the story. Hong Kong is a big city, and there's plenty of stuff to do and people to meet.
Why Should I Care?
The most obvious, of course, is the setting. Sleeping Dogs doesn't have the New Yorkish, Chicagoish, or whatever big American city in-game places like Grand Theft Auto's Liberty City tried to portray. The developers did a great job showing that Hong Kong is a different monster. From the obligatory carts of street food and the tourist vendors holding just about every good you want to the karaoke clubs and Chinese folk festivals happening in the heart of town — it may not be the real Hong Kong, but it's as close to it as it gets.
Another difference is with the game's combat. Unlike the most dangerous cities in the United States, guns aren't as plentiful in Hong Kong, so criminals are left with nothing but knowledge of martial arts. To take advantage of this, United Front pretty much took a page out of the Arkham-themed Batman games with a third-person brawling and countering system.
The combat system is fairly simplistic, as it's just about mashing on the attack button and tapping the counter button as soon as you see an enemy flash red. But to add more excitement to it, players can also act even more violently with environmental kills.
One of the moves Shen has in his arsenal is the ability to grapple and throw people. Fighting in the back alley? Throw an enemy in the dumpster and shut it. Fight happening in an abandoned car shop? Open any car's hood, throw your enemy in there, and smash his skull with the hood. One of the more interesting fight scenes in the game happened in a night club that used an aquarium for its interior decorating. After breaking the fish tank's glass with an enemy's face, we also took a fish and beat the living hell out of another enemy. It's all mindlessly gruesome and hilarious, but it's really interesting discovering new ways to kill people in the game. It's like being in control of a kung fu film, and Wei Shen is pretty much a man made up of Jet Li's attitude, Jackie Chan's fearless stunting, and Tony Jaa's bone-shattering fighting style — all summarizing the kind of pain that Shen's enemies will receive when crossing him.
Even with the game's few gun fights there's some kung fu etiquette to it. All the shootouts are cover-based as you'd expect from a sandbox title, but one of the cooler features is the ability to leap over your cover and shoot while in midair. During the jump, the camera goes in slow-motion like in Max Payne, which gives players just enough time to get a few aimed shots on the target.
The kung fu vibe even ends up in high-speed car chases, and to add more excitement to grand theft, Shen can leap onto and into a vehicle right in front of him and take over the wheel. Not only is it cool-looking, it's also a useful maneuver to help get rid of cops.
The game also has an RPG-like leveling system that allows you to learn more abilities after finishing each mission. Similar to inFAMOUS, you'll be given points in two categories depending on how you complete a mission. If you handled yourself well by doing things such as not stealing cars or even vandalizing property, you'll get more cop points. If you're a total rogue who vandalized and killed every civilian you saw, you'll lose points and earn more as a triad. So the system is like inFAMOUS in the sense that you can learn moves from two paths, but it's unlike it in the sense that you can go both paths rather than just one of either good or evil.
All that being said, Sleeping Dogs essentially plays like a Chinese Grand Theft Auto. The foundation is all there, but everything is done a little bit differently. Instead of eating hot dogs, you eat pork buns. Instead of shooting pool and playing darts, you play mahjong and bet on cockfights. And instead of beating someone to a bloody pulp and then shooting them for fun, you beat someone to a bloody pulp and hang them on a meat hook in a slaughterhouse.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
If there's any gripe anybody can make with Sleeping Dogs, it's with the game's production values. While the game isn't the best-looking (definitely not Square Enix's), it might probably be because of the fact that it's been on and off development due to Activision's uncertainty of the game when it was True Crime.
The game's soundtrack is a mixed bag. Of course, being in Hong Kong, there'll be a lot of Chinese and other Asian music featured in various facets, but since the majority of the game is in English, it would make sense to have more English stations in the game's car radios. One of the car radio stations features classical music. There's nothing wrong with that, but Beethoven's symphonies don't exactly scream, "I'm a badass gangster cop."
On the other hand, the voice acting is great. There's a lot of Hollywood talent that went into the game's cast. The weird part is that the biggest actors didn't even play key characters in the story. For example Emma Stone, the ever-rising starlet who played MJ in The Amazing Spider-Man, plays Amanda Cartwright, a blonde American girl who's featured in two missions before Shen has some mature fun with her. Will Yun Lee (Wei Shen), Edison Chen (Jackie Mah), Tom Wilkinson (Inspector Pendrew), Kelly Hu (Inspector Teng), and a few others round out the game's superb voice talent.
A great narrative, likable characters, fun missions, and the kung fu focused combat all make Sleeping Dogs more than a worthy alternative to the more popular Grand Theft Auto series. The only dark spot in the game that makes Grand Theft Auto better is with its length. Sleeping Dogs only has 30 required story missions as opposed to Grand Theft Auto IV's 60-plus and as a result can be completed in a little less than 12 hours if you're blazing through, making it more than possible to beat it during a rental.
But that's the thing. It's really easy to blaze through the game, because it's just that good.