Sleeping Dogs was a great game roughly 10 years ago, something I was reminded of when I did my “Games of the Decade” list. When Cyberpunk got delayed to right before Christmas I passed on it for now (and as it turns out I dodged a bullet there…) so I didn’t have a new game to play in late November and up to the holiday, so I looked through my digital collection of mostly Playstation Plus games I’ll never play but I added to my library “just in case” and saw this sitting there. It was under £5 at some point and I brought it for the hell of it, and combined with it still being on my mind I decided to play through it again, plus play the DLC for the first time. So what’s it like in 2020, and given there is very little difference, what was it like back then? Let’s find out! (note that all pictures are from the PS4 version as I can actually get screens from that console…)
That’s a kick done by running up a wall… looks a lot “cooler” in motion…
Sleeping Dogs was released on the PS3, XBOX 360 and PC in August 2012, then two years later the upscaled “Definitive Edition” with all the DLC bundled was released digitally for PS4 and XBOX One, specifically October 2014.
Sleeping Dogs is very much in the mould of GTA: an open world setting of a modern city, you do missions for various gangsters and crime syndicates, and you can do lots of side missions and activities around the map. Where it differs the most is the setting, as it’s based in Hong Kong and you’re actually an undercover cop, and although you still do some pretty bad things to “keep your cover” you also do missions for the police… which is a rather stupid thing for an undercover cop to do, but hey-ho. Gameplay-wise the game is vastly different to GTA, but not always in a good way. The hand-to-hand combat is fluid and extremely satisfying, with brutal hits, great looking counters and environmental attacks like ramming people’s heads into a fish tank, beating them to death with a phone booth phone or hanging them on meat hooks, with some special hand-to-hand finishes added when you enter a special mode achieved by countering and hitting without taking damage. The combat is pretty much the ONLY reason to play Sleeping Dogs and even in 2020 I can say it’s still extremely fun.
Sadly where differs from GTA in the wrong way is… pretty much everything else. The driving is stiff and unresponsive (though the Burnout-style ramming system is fun!) and the shooting is frankly awful. The cover system is fine, but the aiming is twitchy, the hit detection is worse and it has that emersion-breaking “bullet sponge” effect where if you don’t score a headshot people just stand there taking 100 bullets to the chest before finally dropping. It’s the only part of the game that feels out of date, but it feels it badly. I only managed to get through the shooting sections because if you jump over a table or short wall and press the fire button you go into a cinematic slow motion mode which means you can actually hit headshots very easily. Thankfully a good portion of the game is based around hand-to-hand anyway, so it’s not too game breaking, plus the story is fun to follow, if a bit basic, so those two things carry you through it.
This certainly makes the driving sections look a hell of a lot more exciting than they are…
As for side missions and the like? Well, there are your usual open world stuff like street racing (good luck with that! Though the ramming helps at least…), fight clubs (one of the best parts of the game, frankly) and collectables aplenty, plus some RPG style side quests where you just meet up with a random person or gang member and do a quick mission for them, plus extra police missions like breaking up a riot, taking out a hostage-holding thug via a sniper rifle, that sort of thing, stuff that presumably isn’t canon to the core story… After you do each mission (main or side) you’re graded on Cop Score and Triad Score, and as you level up each you can pick certain upgrades, though frankly it’s way too heavily favoured for Cop Score as I reached the maximum level 10 about half way through the game and ended the game with Triad level 9. You also have a “Face Meter”, which basically means how famous (or infamous) you are in the underground society and as it levels up you get preset upgrades each level, and some new combat moves you unlock by collecting jade statues and bringing them to your old dojo master (who apparently will only teach you if you bring him statues, which seems a bit harsh of him…)
Throw in some extra stuff, like carjacking by jumping from car-to-car in cinematic fashion, and a karaoke mini-game in a bar which is actually quite fun (if your left analogue stick wasn’t twitchy when flicked upwards, anyway…) and you have a fun free-roaming GTA-like game, though again focus on the combat as much as possible to maximize the actual fun parts, there were missions where I nearly sighed angrily because it started with me in a crouched position behind a wall with a gun, like “Damn it, I just wanted to fight a large gang of thugs hand-to-hand, not this crap…”.
Graphics and Sound:
Leaping over something in slow motion: the only way to actually hit your target!
This is the only part of this review where there is a difference between the two versions I’m looking at. The original XBOX 360 version obviously looks worse, with less resolution and metallic and wet surfaces not reflecting light like the PS4 version does. In general though, there isn’t a whole lot different between the two and the game generally looks and runs fine.
Sound is okay, satisfying punchy sounds and the voice acting is of high quality, but some of the car engine sounds are obnoxiously loud and the radio music is completely forgettable.
Wei Shen move to the US when he was young and his mother was worried about the influence of the Hong Kong nightlife was having on her two children (though sadly Wei’s sister still died of an overdose, just in America instead). Wei became a police officer and eventually transferred back to Hong Kong in order to go undercover and take out the Triad group known as the Sun On Yee from inside. He ends up a trusted advisor to high-ranking member Winston, sees Winston get gunned down seemingly by rival gang the 18K and then ends up helping out Sun On Yee head Uncle Po escape wounded. Wei then sort-of becomes the new Winston as he helps out sub-boss “Broken Nose” Jiang become the new overall boss after Uncle Po dies, both being worried about the unstable “Big Smile” Lee becoming the new boss instead.
With the final confrontation with Lee Wei Shen’s cover is blown, so he rejoins the Hong Kong police proper, while also taking down Police Superintendent Thomas Pendrew, who had put him undercover in the first place but was actually allied with “Big Smile” and was the one responsible for killing Po. Jiang, now head of the Sun On Yee, decides to leave Shen too it, assuming he remains favourable to her… Then in one of the DLC story packs set after the main story, cop Shen is responsible for taking down a crazy cult who try and set off several bombs across Hong Kong. Sort of felt like a straight-to-video sequel to the original in its smaller scope and weaker plot!
So while it didn’t have the great writing and sharp satire of a GTA, it was a perfectly good action movie plot.
I’m trying to remember if this screenshot is from one of the DLC campaigns or not… I THINK it is…
There were three DLC chunks released back in the day (that are all included with the Definitive Edition at no extra cost): “Nightmare in North Point” is an amusing supernatural spin on the setting, complete with hopping Chinese vampire/zombies and the like; “Zodiac Tournament” is actually on the main map of the story and is basically a parody of the old martial arts / tournament films from the 70s / 80s, complete with grainy filter, cheesy music and amusing characters (plus plenty more use of the great combat engine!); and “Year of the Snake” is the aforementioned post-main story … story involving Chen taking out a cult of bombers.
There were also many smaller pieces of DLC, like costumes, moves and a super sports car you can add machines guns and like to, but they’re all just part of the main story section, so it’s now hard to know which was and wasn’t DLC at this point…
Wei helps “train” a dojo student by breaking his leg and ruining his life forever… Hooray!
I loved Sleeping Dogs when it came out. Being 2012 the poorer combat and driving were less of an issue (though still inferior to GTA IV) and man, the fighting was so good. It was one of those games I kept playing to find every little thing, in this case just so I can encounter some random thugs and get to fight with the hand-to-hand engine again. I loved it.
“You’re under arrest!”
Well, to my surprise, it’s still very fun to play… the fighting part. Thankfully the hand-to-hand combat makes up a good majority of the game and the plot is still fun to follow. Still, I can’t overlook the awkward driving and poor combat compared to modern games, it’s the part of the game that reminds you it’s nearly a decade old, that’s for sure. I’m leaning towards a 4 because it was still so much fun to play for the majority, with just a few shooty main missions dragging it down. In fact, that’s what I’ll do! Dropping one point in ten years isn’t so bad, really…