Tuesday, 11 September 2012

I Finally get to review Sleeping Dogs!

Ah Sleeping Dogs. To say I have been waiting a while for this game is an understatement.

Announced by Activision as early as 2009 in the form of True Crime: Hong Kong, the game was cancelled in February 2011 along with its planned release of a new Guitar Hero.  Despite promising looking demos and showing an almost complete product, the publisher still let it go down the drain. The company's reasons were that the game was not of sufficient quality to compete in the open world genre, and as a result would not turn around as much of a profit as its other IP's, namely the obvious Call of Duty moneymaker and its own expectations for the game.

You crushed my soul Activision

The reasoning behind this still baffles me to this day; Why not just release a game thats 99% complete anyway, just to get SOME money out of it instead of letting those years of development go to waste with nothing to show for it?

Thankfully, Square Enix saw that the game was well worth bringing out, and after picking up the publishing rights,  released an announcement trailer in February this year, that really brought its presence in with a bang. Afterwards, its been a long enough wait, but finally last week I got my copy, and played everything it has to offer.

Was it worth the wait?

in short, yes.

From playing it through to the end, I can say that the best things about the game are that it takes familiar mechanics, blends them all together very smoothly, and tops it off with a solid story in a setting that has not been done to death in the sandbox genre.

You play as officer Wei Chen, a member of the San Francisco Police Department that is returning to his native homeland of Hong Kong, tasked with an undercover operation. He must infiltrate a branch of the Triad criminal organisation, under the Sun on Yee branch, and break it down from within. Throughout his story, you encounter a variety of characters from both sides of the law, including his Superintendant Thomas Pendrew
, old friend and member of the triads Jackie Ma, the leader of the water street gang Winston Chu, and even the Sun on Yee Dragon Head, Uncle Po.
All of these characters give Wei tasks that further progress the story and his standing in the gang, in a similar vein to the Grand theft Auto series. The story ultimately is a rather solid, if predictable undercover cop drama, that also pays homage to the martial arts genre. It fits well between the seriousness of the GTA4 tale, and the goofiness of a Saints Row 'story'. My biggest gripe is a lack of consistency with the timeframe of it all. I felt with the story than it could have been set over a few weeks, though it should feel like its over many months, just to make sense of the time infiltrating the gang. A slightly smaller gripe is the relatively short time it takes to complete the game. Whereas GTA4 would take an achievement of beating it in under 30 hours, Sleeping Dogs would clock in at roughly half that before the side missions.

Where do your loyalties lie?

The missions themselves run the usual of games in the genre, ranging from street fights to shootouts to infiltration and loaded with minigames, all with a lot of driving. The distinction Sleeping Dogs gives though, is a specialised melee system, upgrades and a solid arcade racer.

The melee combat takes up a large part of the action. The mechanics are similar to the recent batman games, but incorporate a lot of environmental attacks, and a lot of gory possibilities that come with it. Hand to hand is inspired by martial arts, and additional abilities can be gained by finding collectibles, such as health shrines for extra hitpoints, or statues for additional button combos.

When firearms become introduced, they change the dynamic of play by putting in a cover system, as well as bullet time effects when vaulting obstacles. While they are rather decisive when its a gang of gunmen against you, you can still put up a fair fight against a few enemies with martial arts, with disarming abilities, and the environment is still yours to use...

the baddies should have never placed hooks and swordfish there really

Running through the games missions and quests is an upgrade system, where you gain abilities from Police, Triad and public face experience. Points are gained from the police Exp by not killing civilians or damaging public property, Triad Exp is earned from impressive combat techniques, and face Exp is earned from helping citizens around Hong Kong and being considered a popular figure. These all add to bonses, such as price discounts, melee abilities or extra bullet time. It fits well into the split loyalties theme.

Getting around Hong Kong is a breeze rather than a chore. You can travel on foot, utilizing a parkour movement, or get in the plentiful vehicles around the city. While the climbing is more contextual, and admittedly fun, it is disappointing that you cannot simply jump freely rather than wait for the indicator. On the other hand, driving is one arcade style blast of fun. Blending a mix of Burnout Revenge and Need for Speed Underground, the driving is fast and not in the slightest concerned with realism. This works to the games advantage, as open world games usually have dead boring street race events. Here, they are short and sweet, and you have a variety of vehicles, from the speedy motorcycles to a chicken van. Along with driving you can ride shotgun in vehicle shootouts, or stuff baddies in the trunk. And if you really feel adventurous, why not jump out of your car to hijack one beside you?

No sandbox game is without sidequests and minigames, and Sleeping Dogs is no exception. There are the usual "beat up this guy cos he said my hat looked gay" or the theft of vehicles, but the more unique ones involve Wei's undercover job. Hacking cameras, triangulating signals, planting bugs and cracking safes are part of the job. If Wei is a bit more on the Triads side, he can indulge in some cock fighting or  gambling in the dens off the island. Karaoke should really be avoided though...

When it comes to looks the city is the star of the show. While it isnt a real representation of Hong Kong, it captures a lot of the essence, with vibrant streets, vendors waiting to sell you pork buns and counterfeit clothes, and the neon signs dominating the streets. 

Close up however, the characters don't have the same level of detail as a Rockstar blockbuster, but do give a strong taste of the east with the voice talent. Mrs Chu speaks entirely in Cantonese, and a lot of the early dialogue has the same language, but its obvious that it turns into broken english in accented chinese. Still, its a different sound, especially with the oriental themed score.

I stand by that this game was worth the wait. While it does not surpass its obvious roots with contemporaries, it does the mechanics very well, particularly driving and fighting. The choice to visit Hong Kong was a big reason I waited for this title, and its as refreshing as I thought. Its rare to find a game that caters so much to my tastes, but when it shows the love of the Asian culture, has Need for speed driving, Streets of rage meets Arkham asylum fighting, and a story that can be taken as a great alternative to GTA4, with all the minigames added in, I cant help but like the game. Its overkill that they knew I would like a Pat Benatar classic in the karaoke, but steady on its still not a save for the karaoke.

I strongly recommend you give this game a look, if not for a buy then rent for a good week. It will please those who like the Asian action films of late, and those who want a solid sandbox adventure to play during this admittedly long gaming drought. Even if you just want a game thats fun, this could satisfy your needs, so try it out.