Cops, robbers, bullets, and karaoke. Sleeping Dogs is a blast.
The sun shines
And people forget
The spray flies as
the speedboat glides
And people forget
Forget they’re hiding
It was a song released in 1982 that got Sleeping Dogs’ hooks into me. “Eminence Front”, a song from The Who’s album It’s Hard, slithered from the speakers of the sleek black sports car I had just stolen in United Front and Square Enix’s open-world gangster tale. The deep bass line and the song’s condemnation of greed and cheap facades was perfect for a story about becoming someone else and living in a world where you do not know who to trust, and where cash and power are king.
I passed on Sleeping Dogs several times (originally released in 2012 but re-packaged in 2014 with DLC bundled in) I sort of dismissed it as a Grand Theft Auto clone with a splash of Triads. A good sale helps one take a flyer on a title, so I picked it up used for fifteen bucks at a local shop. The game has many of the features we’ve become familiar with in open-world titles like GTA, Saints Row, etc. There are fast cars to race and morality to be tested. You can gain enough money on jobs (legal or illegal) that can be spent adding to your wardrobe and furnishing your apartment. Side missions (drug busts, surveillance, doing favors for citizens, street fighting, etc.) and mini-games (karaoke) are aplenty. There is a little bit of dating as well, with a handful of women you can spend time with. You can focus on story missions or you can spend hours exploring the city and either looking for trouble to get into, or secretly join in on police raids and rescue missions. I recommend spending some time on exploration and side missions to get your money’s worth with the game and flesh out the Sleeping Dogs experience. It is a very good game.
*Things are slightly spoiler-ish from here*
The drinks flow
That big wheel spins
The hair thins
Forget they’re hiding
In Sleeping Dogs, you are Wei Shen (voiced by Will Yun Lee), a San Francisco police officer who is assigned to go undercover and infiltrate one of the Triad gangs in Hong Kong’s underworld, the Sun On Yee. Through skill and chance, Wei works his way up the gang hierarchy and into a high value role, which inevitably makes himself a target while also trying to maintain his cover. Over the course of the game you discover that Wei might have as much to worry about from his own department (especially his shady boss Pendrew, voiced by Tom Wilkinson) as he does from the criminals he has deeply embedded himself with. Is Wei in so deep he has forgotten who he is and what side of the law he is on, or is he a highly effective undercover cop who just wants to take down the bad guys? It is not the first time this type of story has been told and it will not be the last, but Sleeping Dogs presents it in a compelling, very entertaining way. Wei Shen is also trying to come to terms with his own past, coming back to Hong Kong after spending many years in the United States. He epitomizes the idea of dual identity, both at work and in his private life. Wei is eternally at conflict with himself.
Part of what makes Sleeping Dogs work is the believability of its characters. The writing is strong, and the cast were excellent in their roles. Will Yun Lee portrayed Wei Shen with the appropriate mix of toughness and vulnerability, and was good in the comedic bits as well. Tom Wilkinson brings some veteran gravitas, although I felt that he did not always connect with the character. If it were a live action role it might have come across stronger. Edison Chen, Kelly Hu, James Hong, Lucy Liu and Emma Stone are a few of the other actors that comprised a well-rounded cast.
Sleeping Dogs looks good on PS4. A realistic depiction of a busy Hong Kong city provides the setting for a wild ride of car chases, gun fights, street brawls and police versus gang intrigue. The city is populated just enough with pedestrians and vehicles to make it feel lived in. There are several shops and street vendors, selling clothing, food, or other power-up items. It is just large enough to feel like you are not constantly seeing the exact same location over and over again when you need to drive across town. Rain falls occasionally, adding additional atmosphere to the proceedings.
Fighting in the game borrows from the Batman: Arkham series’ style: a rhythm-heavy, chained combo approach to battle. It is satisfyingly done, with a variety of moves that can be upgraded throughout the game until you can pull off some devastating, brutal attacks. Environmental takedowns (and kills) are possible. Some are humorous, like dumping someone into a garbage bin. Others, like introducing a bad guy’s face to a running circular saw are not so pleasant. I’ll admit I got a kick out of slamming an enemy into a phone booth and then beating him with the receiver. When you do a really nasty takedown, it will make other enemies recoil in fear and/or disgust.
I thought that driving was fun in the game. Each vehicle (sports cars, compact cars, motorcycles, emergency vehicles and more) handles differently, so there is some incentive to buy (or steal) different ones to put them through their paces. Getting better vehicles will also improve your luck in street racing. You really do not want to get stuck in a high-speed race driving the game’s equivalent of a Smart car. For those of us used to driving with the steering wheel on the left, getting to drive the opposite was a pleasant challenge to get acquainted with. The game’s varied and excellent music selection made driving even more entertaining.
The character models generally look great among the featured cast, although their eyes seemed lifeless at times). Character skins were a little too shiny in areas, but not enough to be a distraction. I did like how each character felt distinct and memorable. I would been nice to have seen a wider range of bad guys on the streets. There are various classes of opponents, from scrawny scrappers to bruising bullies. It lends to some strategy in your brawling, but pounding on the same handful of characters pulls away from any immersion you may have been feeling.
I thought that dating could have been implemented better. Dating is primarily used to open up additional objectives or reveal points of interest on your map. I found it far too abruptly have a relationship end without ever knowing exactly why it happened. I thought I was doing fine with Amanda but then I was rigging cameras with Not Ping and suddenly I was stalking Tiffany and then dating was by and large over with. I am exaggerating slightly, but it shows how jarring the experience was in my playthrough. It underutilized some interesting characters.
I felt that there could have been more to spend your hard-earned or ill-gotten gains. If you do a fair amount of racing, side missions and favors, you can amass a nice little nest egg. I wish that there were It would have been nice to have had more options for apartment furnishings or options to buy property or invest in underground business and take a cut if you wanted to really go rogue, for example.
Won’t you come and join the party
Dress to kill
Overall, I spent roughly forty hours playing Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition, covering the main story (but excluding DLC) and a robust amount of side missions. That included driving around town in the newest car I could find, delicious pork bun in hand, while cranking Sagittarius FM and looking for the next karaoke bar.
Eminence Front lyrics by The Who. Images were captured from the game using the PS4 Share/Capture function.