Friday, 14 September 2012

Sleeping Dogs - a Kung-Fu review!

I love action films, try gritty kung-fu undercover cop films. If you've ever seen 2002's Infernal Affairs (re-made by Martin Scorsese as 'The Departed') then the plot of Sleeping Dogs wont be too far from your mind.  Apart from the mole in a cops uniform story angle its practically the same.
 But lets start at the beginning shall we, I never bothered playing the True crime games, poor GTA clones and besides when you own 'Vice City' and 'San Andreas' you don't need any other sandbox titles do you?  I'd heard about the troubled history that Sleeping Dogs has had, passed from pillar to post, cancelled by Activision and then picked up by SquareEnix to be published and finished by United Front Games.  It's had several name changes - True Crime Hong Kong - (just) True Crime and finally Sleeping Dogs, so when it reared it's fresh face out of development hell I was quite surprised.  It shot out of the gate a few weeks ago to mostly positive reviews so here I'am to chuck my boot in.
We'll go through a couple of points that I think will class this as a review (even though, we don't really do that here.) Firstly and most importantly I need to go all Malcolm Tucker on its length, lets get the elephant in the room out of the way - it has possibly one of the shortest sandbox main stories I've played  - clocking in at around just 13 hours, that includes most of the collectibles collected, cop cases closed, side missions done and the main story smashed. That's fairly piss-poor though isn't it. I'm keeping hold of it purely 'cos I like finding triad scum and kicking their teeth out! And Borderlands 2 isn't released for another week...

So now, because I started writing this shit sandwich review in reverse, I can talk about what I did like in sleepy doggies!
The characters are strong, BIG CAST, great set-pieces, nice fluid combat and the open world of Hong Kong is quite beautiful to look at.  The game had me pulled in from the off - Wei Shen is a compelling character and the game really throws you in at the deep end, you feel his every emotion as Wei's psychological state begins to break down over the course of the story. Tasked with the job of infiltrating The Water Street Gang a feared Hong Kong triad as well as having to report back to his superior officers pushes Wei to the extremes. There are two subplots within the main storyline: the first is Wei's personal struggle between completing his mission as a police officer, and having to commit crimes to prove his worth to the triad. This unique 'I'm a Cop / I'm a triad' game mechanic allows the player to exercise restraint or explore their crazy side respectively.  The skill tree is dependant on XP earned by driving carefully or mashing up some rival gangs Meat Clever style. I found this an interesting take on the normal levelling up scenario by playing both sides of the game.
Wei's assigned by the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau to go undercover and infiltrate the society called Sun On Yee (a parody on Sun Yee On) and take them down.  The other subplot consists of completing missions set out by a triad lieutenant, such as killing triad members who are loyal to competing lieutenants. The island is divided into four fictional districts which are named after real areas.

I love the driving in this game, as you earn HK dollars through missions you can buy some STUPIDLY quick bikes and cars this in-turn allows you to unlock different class levels of street racing. The vehicles are nimble and handle very much like an arcade racer, quick movements and a drift here and there can send you flying across the finishing line in no time!  The combat is smooth and well executed (although not as good as Batman) and by the time you've upgraded all your moves through training it's clear the local Triad's will have trouble keeping you down. I particularly enjoyed learning the 'break-leg' move that makes all enemies in your vicinity wince and cower with pain.

I couldn't get through this review without mentioned the sheer quality of the voice acting - it's stellar cast (Tom Wilkinson, Will Yun Lee, Emma Stone) keep the story ticking along nicely, like I mentioned , it's a testament to the cast that they get the emotional hooks in early on.  Brittle relationships are broken and new friendships blossom. A game like this lives or dies on the strength of it's story and main protagonist, and I'm happy to report I enjoyed playing this sordid undercover and violent tale alongside Wei. Last thing to mention before wrapping this up (it's gone on too long anyway) are the radio stations that are available.  As with all current sandbox titles (GTA, Saints Row etc) a eclectic mix of music is on offer -
Sagittarius FM, Ninja Tune Radio, Roadrunner Records, Warp Radio, H-Klub, Kerrang! Radio, Real FM, Boosey and Hawkes and Daptone Radio.  All the stations have something to offer and if you're like me and love the feeling of stealing a car and outrunning the cops whilst Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker March is playing or attempting a heist whilst Flying Lotus's Parisian Goldfish is blasting out from your super-bike then a jolly time will be had by all!

I did enjoy Sleeping Dogs, it's a pretty game with some nice combat touches, great story based set pieces and an excellent cast. It's on the short side for me and would have liked the main mission to last a wee bit longer. Oh well, cant have perfection....Assassins Creed 3 isn't out for 6 weeks!

Much love, Dr Sanchez


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