True Crime: Hong Kong was the third game in the True Crime franchise, published by Activision. After the many delays in production and the lackluster reception of the second game, True Crime: New York, Activision canned the third game. After six months, Square Enix stepped in and bought the rights to publish the scrapped project. Since they didn’t buy the franchise name, Square Enix published the game under the name Sleeping Dogs. I can’t tell you how happy I am that Square Enix decided not to give up on this game.
Sleeping Dogs follows an undercover agent in Hong Kong named, Wei Shen. After a long stint working in Asian gangs in San Francisco, Shen moved home to China and is currently infiltrating a Triad Gang called, “Sun On Yee”. From here on out, Shen has to balance the life of a Triad, with the responsibilities of being an officer of the law. Unlike most crime games, Sleeping Dogs actually makes you care about Shen and his Triad comrades. By introducing interesting characters, believable missions, and topping it all of with some great dialogue, Sleeping Dogs easily places itself above the competition.
The gameplay of Sleeping Dogs is very similar to Grand Theft Auto 4, almost to a fault. But, if there’s a right way to rip-off GTA, Sleeping Dogs has found it. The controls remain fluid enough to seem real, but tight enough for precision in combat and driving. The city is teeming with life and loaded with free-roaming missions, outside of the main campaign questline. These missions can span from doing missions for strangers and participating in street racing, to taking down drug dens and catching petty thieves. There are countless collectibles strewn across the very large playable map, as well as purchasable items. You have the ability to customize Shen’s wardrobe and motor pool by purchasing items from the various merchants spread throughout the city.
Whether you’re on foot, on a motorcycle, or in a car, Sleeping Dogs‘ action is always fast paced and exciting. Just like in the real Hong Kong, guns are scarce in Sleeping Dogs. Don’t get me wrong, you drop empty shells like Scarface, but those moments are far and few between. The good news is, this opens up most of the combat for the hand-to-hand fighting. Sleeping Dogs has a well-balanced fighting system, relying on attacks, grapples, counters, and unlockable special moves. Also, it offers a wide variety of environment opportunities, such as impaling your enemy on a pallet of swordfish heads, or ramming their heads into speakers and electrocuting them. At first, I was cautious to enjoy the fighting, because I generally hate fist-fighting in open world games. But, after a few tutorials, I was whooping ass left and right; I enjoyed every second of it.
Sleeping Dogs packs a surprising cast for being such a low-key release. With the voice talents of Tom Wilkinson, Lucy Liu, Emma Stone, James Hong, and Will Yun Lee, you’ll never be dissatisfied with the quality of the voice work. The dialogue and the voice acting play very well into each other, creating a believable experience and avoiding the kung-fu movie cliches. The dialogue seamlessly blends English and Chinese, further enveloping you into the environment. Not to mention, Will Yun Lee did a fantastic job voicing the main protagonist.
The graphics within Sleeping Dogs vary in quality from time to time. While the city and surrounding environment are usually rendered beautifully, some of the character models seem stiff and (at times) inhuman. This is easily forgiven, due to the overall quality of the city. For being such a huge map, United Front Games and Square Enix took the time to make each city detailed and realistic. Whether you’re in the heart of the slums, or driving a boat off the coastline, it’s always impressive to stop and take the time to look around.
Another notable aspect of Sleeping Dogs is the soundtrack. Not necessarily the soundtrack, but the songs that are played on the radio stations while in vehicles. Since GTA3, the car radio has been an easy way to infuse humor, personality, and great music into games. While Sleeping Dogs may not have used the sarcastic humor that Rockstar so enjoys, it did inject some fantastic music into their game. I easily spent $10 buying songs that I would hear over the radio, while driving through Hong Kong. Seriously, my hat is off to whoever put these playlists together. My iTunes Library thanks you.
Sadly, Sleeping Dogs has glitches a-plenty. While most of these can be harmless, some are downright depressing. For example, it can be funny to watch an SUV spawn inside of a person and then launch off into the distance. These glitches are funny and forgivable. But, when I’m thirty minutes into a mission and my character decides to pull out his cellphone out and make me die, I can’t be thrilled about it. Now, I realize that Sleeping Dogs is still fresh on the market and has time for the developers to patch these issues, I can’t ignore that what most people are playing right now is a little screwy. Hopefully, like Fallout: New Vegas, they will fix all of the little bugs that are abound in the gameplay.
Another misstep made by Sleeping Dogs is that it entirely lacks multiplayer. With open world games such as these, multiplayer can be the best part. GTA4 and Red Dead Redemption are living proof that it’s more fun to explore these worlds with friends. Sleeping Dogs has this immersive playground to cause mayhem in, it refuses to set you loose in it with a group of friends or enemies. Thankfully, Square Enix has announced a massive campaign to extend the life of Sleeping Dogs through DLC. We may see multiplayer yet, eh?
Sleeping Dogs caught me completely off guard. I had expected nothing but a drab crime game and was given an exciting, polished sandbox with plenty of fun to be had. While it may have its flaws, Sleeping Dogs more than makes up for them with superb quality, replayability, and an achievement list that encourages players to completely flush out all that this game has to offer. Sleeping Dogs is easily this year’s biggest sleeper hit; don’t let it fly under your radar.
I give Sleeping Dogs 4.5 ”Karaoke Kamikazes” out of 5
By Blake Edwards