Hello all! Last week’s game was an underrated gem that is a bit better than it’s made out to be.
Today’s game is a bit more recent than I usually go with, but it’s a game I’ve wanted to talk about for some time.
(Note: today’s game was supposed to be Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, for GameCube, but as you know, JRPG’s are lengthy, and it takes me a while to play enough to be comfortable writing about one. And I couldn’t find my GameCube memory cards. It will be next week’s title)
So. Sleeping Dogs is an open-world, GTA-style action game developed by United Front Games and published by Square Enix. It came out just three years ago, in 2012. (Fun fact: the game was originally developed as a third entry in Activision’s slightly-underrated-but-still-kinda-flat True Crime series. In Dogs, you play as Wei Shen, an undercover Hong Kong police officer (recently transferred from San Francisco) who is tasked with infiltrating the Sun On Yee, a Triad crime organization.
Right off the bat, Sleeping Dogs presents its story with more force than other, similar free-roaming games of the era. It maintains this philosophy throughout; most games of this type, like GTA or Elder Scrolls, have the plot recede into the background. Which works as well, because those games are all about doing what you want anyway.
There’s a real sense of place.
But sometimes, stories in free-roaming games suffer because of that freedom. There’s a distinct lack of urgency in games like this, because the story often fades away, getting lost somewhere between street racing and collectible finding. I’m not gonna say Sleeping Dogs avoids this pitfall, because oftentimes it doesn’t. But it certainly does better in this regard than most games, because the plot extends into the gameplay itself, as well as the world it takes place in.
Sleeping Dogs plays about how you’d expect, at least on a surface level. You can drive around Hong Kong in a variety of vehicles, and the combat is a familiar, if simple, variation on the Batman: Arkham series. One thing you notice about Sleeping Dogs after a while (and one of my favorite things about it) is the near-total lack of gunplay. There’s so few shootouts in the game, they’re practically instanced events. It’s great, because it’s different from the usual shoot-everything nature of GTA-style games. It all plays well, if a little simply.
There’s RPG elements that set Sleeping Dogs apart as well. Wei Shen can gain different types of XP depending on his actions, which lead to different abilities. This drives you to act in whichever way you choose to gain the ability you want. It’s unique, even by today’s standards, and it makes you feel like you’re walking a line between police officer and criminal. Which, of course, is what the game is about.
The fighting engine is simple but fun.
Then there’s the world. Hong Kong is an area you don’t really see a lot of in games, and that’s pretty odd, considering how popular and somewhat video game-like Hong Kong gun-fu cinema is. Here, in Sleeping Dogs, it’s a fully realized city that feels alive. You feel like you’re in a city instead of a game world. It’s not Skyrim huge, but it’s a good size, and there’s a good amount of things to do. Like karaoke!
The word that comes to mind regarding Sleeping Dogs is “cohesion.” It’s one of those games where all the parts come together in a perfect way, and the game becomes more than the sum of those parts. My favorite part of the game is how it successfully tells a story while remaining an open-world, do-what-you-want game. Everything about this game just works. It’s hard to find such synchronicity in games today, but Sleeping Dogs, although somewhat simple, nails it.
Next week, Baten Kaitos, finally. Promise :)