Review by TKDBoy1889
Great sandbox that could have been so much more
So many sandbox games have arisen since GTA 3 broke the mold on consoles for the genre. It's become hard to really be unique in the genre, but it's still very possible. Sleeping Dogs has proved that. A game that went through years of a development crisis, the result was a great game with it's own flavor. Unfortunately, it's not as great as it could have been as potential was skipped in many areas, but overall it's fun and it's got potential as a franchise.
Honk Kong is just beautiful. The design of the city is amazing and the attention to detail is some areas is exquisite, with different neighborhood's given different feels from the high-end shopping districts to the rundown apartment sections. I especially liked the way rain works, because it looks really cool. First storm I experienced in the game just had me in awe. Character models are really good too, looking fleshed out and each character looking unique in some way. And the scene of Hong Kong and night is just breathtaking.
The one thing I don't like is the "painted" background a lot buildings have to make it look like there's an interior when there isn't. It looks really tacky and terrible compared to the rest of the game.
Dialogue is really good in this game. The voices and emotions are fantastic and I really give credit to a lot of the voice actors for bringing life to their parts. Sound effects are good as well. The fighting sounds brutal, and when you smash someone against your fists or any object you can really feel the impact. The music is okay with some really good tunes, but I admit the overall selection of radio tracks isn't my favorite. Overall I just isn't as good as a lot of other games I've played of this genre.
The story of Sleeping Dogs is one it's low points. A story of an undercover cop has so much potential because of the possible twists and turns, but here that didn't happen. The first half of the game honestly has the most intriguing story moments, as it feels like Wei is becoming torn between loyalty to the badge and loyalty to his "family" in the triads. Unfortunately, Nothing really comes of it. This would have been a great moment to have a branching story based on choices but that never happens. And no real plot twists or shockers happen either. The story builds up well but too fast, and in the latter half seems to fizzle out and drag, leading to a very bare-bones conclusion that feels very anti-climactic. As far Wei Shen as a protagonist, I liked him but I think he was far too snappy a lot of the time. It felt unjustified sometimes. In truth I found many side characters to be more interesting, although some are just annoying. Overall the story isn't really bad, but it's pretty disappointing.
Sleeping Dogs has one big thing that makes it unique, in that it favors hand-to-hand combat over gunfights as it's primary gameplay. I honestly like that, because it makes the game different from similar games. And the fighting system was well done, in my opinion. It's a free-flow style with timed counters, different enemies that have different methods of attacks and different ways they should be attacked. And the fighting features QTEs that actually work in it's favor because they are dynamic. Plus you have environmental kills that let you one-hit kill or KO enemies on specific objects, which is really cool and can help even the odds. Now there are a good number of gunfights as well, and they're done well too. There's a cool bullet-time mechanic that activates if you jump from cover during a shoot-out, and I think it works well. The free-running system in my mind was kind of cool, but ultimately not that engaging. Essentially you just tap the a button when prompted and that's it, so chase sequences felt way too basic. Exciting to an extent, but not ultimately that great.
Aside from that, there are a lot of cool mini-games that are interesting. While some lockpicking are not interesting, many are. The game has a hacking feature which, while not the most interesting, is pretty decent. There is a cool mechanic for planting wires and bugs (A common occurrence since you're undercover), and an activity for triangulating a phone signal to track it's source that's really fun. Plus, you have the ability to ram cars on the streets as well as jump from one vehicle to another and hijack which I found to be pretty awesome whenever missions called for it. If anything, I felt like these activities should been utilized more because they don't occur outside the main story at all nearly.
The last aspect that is cool for Sleeping Dogs is the ability to do both crime-based and cop-based missions. In most games like this you solely do criminal activities. Here, you get to do some true undercover work and missions that solely focus on busting criminals. It's not fully balanced, I'd say only about 25-30% of it is more police-based, but it's cool to do work attributed to both sides of the coin.
The one big thing I found underwhelming was side activities... or the lack therefore. The most interesting ones were the fight clubs, I found out. There is racing too, which is fun but a little too easy. Other than that, the side activities were not engaging to me. There was karaoke, which was super easy and kind of boring, Mahjong which was confusing and not worth it since there's only one place for it way out at sea, and placing bets on chicken fights which is purely luck-based and not entertaining. There are favors you can do scattered throughout the map, but they are mainly tiny objectives achieved in a minute or less and many of them are copy-paste versions. The most varying side event was a series of ransom collection jobs, each using a different method to complete. Unfortunately, there are only a total of five. There are drug busts you can do, which involves clearing a section out, hacking a camera, and busting a deal in action. Those are kind of interesting, but get stale after a while. There is a dating system, but it's mostly shoe-horned into the main story and basically involves one quick date with each woman and... that's it.
I found the replay value to suffer largely thanks to the the anti-climactic second half of the story, and the lack of interesting side-quests or activities. The game's fun factor gives it some replay value but I really wish they incorporated more of the mini-game concepts into side activities, that would have helped immensely. And while there is customization and upgrades, you'll usually either always max out upgrades easily or barely do so by the end of the main story. Upgrades require respect meters based on reputation int the city, from the force, or from the triads, and while the police and triad ones can fill quickly, your general face reputation takes forever to build up. A branching story ability, or more interesting side activities with both more longevity as well as consistency would have helped a lot in this area.
In the end, Sleeping Dogs is a really fun game with potential but there was a lot it could have done better. The story started good, but fizzled out quickly. There are a lot of fun and interesting mini-game mechanics, but they aren't utilized nearly enough. The general gameplay is really great though, the fighting system is fantastic and a lot of missions are incredibly fun. In the end, it's a really good sandbox game that has the potential to be better.
Replay value: 6/10
Length: 14-16 hours
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Sleeping Dogs (US, 08/14/12)
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