Sleeping Dogs caught my interest when a friend described it as a “Grand Theft Auto” clone. Replace the Mafia with the Triads, US cities with Hong Kong, and beef up the melee fighting, and he was pretty much right.
Your character, Wei, is a native of Hong Kong who returns after a time in the US. The first few missions give you a little background, as well as being tutorials. Wei, it turns out, is an undercover cop trying to infiltrate a Triad. His “dual allegiance” to the Triad and the Police is (at least so far) at the heart of the story. The core world is a cut-down, sandpit Hong Kong that you can wander around mostly freely- at least once the first few missions are done. As you’d expect from this kind of game, there are a lot of things to keep you busy between main story missions. There are people to help out, drug busts, hacking cameras, searching for Shrines and lock-boxes, beating up rival gang members, and just exploring in general.
Wei is quite a nimble fellow (for the most part) and is able to run, vault, run up walls, swim, and perform all manner of violence against other people. The controls are (again, for the most part) well handled. Though I have to say, if you’re not a fan of the “combo” style of fighting (X + B + hold X etc) then you’re not going to enjoy the violence at all.
I did say he was nimble “for the most part” and there are times when he’ll just jump up and down in place, or run against a wall like an idiot. The bits of landscape where you can vault or wall climb aren’t always clear, especially when you’re being chased. Sometimes it required a shuffle two feet to the right to leap over a barrier onto a highway. Other times it’s just easier to leg it up the on-ramp because i couldn’t make Wei vault at all.
New abilities and upgrades mostly come from two paths. The first is from your reputation with the Triads, and the second is from your reputation with the police. There are a few other ways to gain abilities, such as collecting lost Jade statues for your old Sensei.
Before Dishonored came along I was having a fair bit of fun with Sleeping Dogs. Truthfully, though, most of my fun was in the little side missions and in simply exploring and finding shrines and the like. Perhaps because of this. the story really hasn’t caught me that much. On the other hand, the way the two parts of the story are handled (cop vs Triad) might be the problem. Wei is infiltrating the Triads, and yet at the same time he’s doing what he can to help another cop try to control the drug trade. That just seems suicidal at this point. He’s new, and therefore barely trusted in the Triad, so anything that might even vaguely damage that trust is to be avoided. This has already been brought up once in one of the Triad missions, and was handled reasonably well, but still didn’t help sell me the story.
The other part of it is that there seems to be far too many police missions compared to Triad missions. For someone infiltrating the Triads the balance seems far too skewed and this keeps knocking me out of the story. Having said all of that, most of the missions have been quite fun, and the game slowly introduces the various concepts from melee through to camera hacking. Most of the characters you meet are also interesting, and while the main story arc isn’t dragging me in, I am curious to find out how some of the other characters fare.
Besides that, it is a lot of fun to wander around the world and explore. The world feels right, and has the right atmosphere – at least from my limited perspective of never having been anywhere near Hong Kong. I especially love how characters drop in and out of English and Cantonese (in a similar way to how many of my bilingual friends behave).
While a lot of the mechanics of the world work, the one area that really doesn’t seem right to me is the vehicles. Something about their handling, and the way others react to you, just seems “off”. I can’t quite pin it down beyond that, unfortunately. I also find the camera choices they’ve made when you’re in a vehicle are just nasty. You seem to be able to tweak a lot of the camera handling, but I can never get it to do what I want “instinctively”, which puts me off.
Will I return to Sleeping Dogs after I’ve finished Dishonored? I really have no idea. While I’ve had a lot of fun, it doesn’t seem to be drawing me back the way that Grand Theft Auto IV did.