One of the most overlooked games of the last generation is no doubt Sleeping Dogs. Originally conceived as a sequel in the True Crime series, the game was rescued from cancellation by Square Enix, which turned the game into its own property, and a worthy contender for the action/adventure crown.
The story follows undercover cop Wei Shen as he works to try and bring down the Triads and end organised crime in Hong Kong: Think GTA but if someone looked a bit disappointed every time you mow down a pedestrian.
The story itself is pretty engaging, by gaming standards. Sure, it isn’t The Last Of Us or something you might sit down to watch on a boxset – but if you can get over the slightly hyperreal masculinity, it is good fun. One of the key characters is called Dog Eyes. Sadly, this is never explained.
Presentationally it does its best to look like a blockbuster – there’s plenty of swearing and violence. The game also apparently brought on board a Hollywood director give the cut scenes some extra oomph, and you can see the impact as the camera jumps about during particular fixed segments (such as when you jump through the roof of a restaurant during the chase).
The game’s strength though comes from its setting: Hong Kong is rendered beautifully – though the game was a last generation title, the graphics have been given a boost here, and the lighting and design really give you a feel for Hong Kong. I mean, I’ve never been to Hong Kong – but it certainly appeals to your expectations. Brilliantly for British players, driving takes places on the left.
I don’t know about you, but when I play a sandbox game I like having a map that is covered in activities, so I can work my way around the map completing all of the tasks. And Sleeping Dogs does not disappoint here: There’s the main story campaign, racing, cop missions and much more to keep you occupied. There’s even a Guitar Hero-style karaoke mini-game, where amongst other songs you can sing along to The Clash’s “I Fought the Law”. Whilst obviously not as expansive as others you couldn’t live in Sleeping Dog’s Hong Kong as you could Los Santos, there’s more than enough for a short holiday to the city.
One thing I also particularly like – and part of the reason I’m so keen to encourage my friends to buy the game too – is that it has gamified many of the sub-game elements, and though there is no multiplayer, a dialogue will subtly pop up comparing your skillz to those of your friends. For example, there’s a ranking for who is best at driving at full speed along roads without hitting anything – a seconds counter appears on screen to encourage you to beat this.
Over all though, the game is not exactly packed with astonishingly new gameplay… but it does take the best bits of other games and presents them really well.
Combat, instead of boring old cover-based shooting is instead mostly hand-to-hand, and as you play through you unlock more skills (on different skill trees) to become a better fighter. This is useful when as the game goes on, the bad guys go from having fists to have guns – so you want to be able to disarm them as quickly as possible. The really nice thing with combat is the various environmental interactions – so if you grapple your enemy close to, say, an air conditioning fan or a meat slicing machine, hit circle/B at the right time and you get a satisfying face-mashing animation.
There’s a great fluidity to movement – not only with the high energy kicking and punching, but environments can be interacted with by hitting X/A at the right moments – so when you’re chasing someone along a street, you can glide over tables and leap railings, just by hitting the button at the right time.
Driving is great too: Whilst like GTA you can pick up cars off the street and attract the attention of the HKPD, it handles a bit more like Mario Kart: There’s specific controls to bash into other vehicles (and if you bash into them enough, you’ll destroy them), and you can even jump from the car you’re driving straight to behind the wheel of another.
The only slightly frustrating bit is that the controls don’t feel quite as solid as, say, GTA – car handling feels a bit wonkier and running a bit looser – though you learn to correct for this very quickly.
So what’s new?
If you’ve played Sleeping Dogs before then you’re not going to find much here. I completed everything in the game on Xbox – and even splashed out on all of the DLC, which is all bundled in here. So compared to, say, the forthcoming GTA5 remastered, there isn’t… anything… as far as I can tell that would lead me to recommend re-purchasing. However – if you’ve never played Sleeping Dogs before then you owe it to yourself to pick up the game, as it is tonnes of fun, and a worthy competitor for GTA’s crown.
Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition is out now on PS4 and Xbox One