Friday, May 31, 2013

GAME A WEEK SLEEPING DOGS




See?  Not ALL of the games I review are indie games, or older games from several years ago!  Today we have an actual AAA title that is less than 6 months old.  And a damn good one too!



What were my expectations going in?
Actually pretty high.  The game looked amazing, and it was very well-received.  Plus the game was published by Square-Enix, and when theyre not churning out "please just let me die" Final Fantasy titles, theyve put out some really great games.  I also knew that this game was intended to be a reboot of the True Crime series, but that wasnt in the games favor; I never played True Crime: New York City, but I thought Streets Of LA was kind of shit.
 
Its so shiny!

So how was it?
Overall, this game was pretty damn good.  It packages some absolutely gorgeous visuals, deep controls, an intriguing storyline packed with twists and turns, and a plethora of things to do in Hong Kong.  I really enjoyed my time with Sleeping Dogs, and definitely plan to continue playing well after I publish this review. 

The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that this game is beautiful.  Absolutely jaw dropping, at times.  The city of Hong Kong feels absolutely alive in this game, with bright lights and neon signs everywhere. The character models are among the more realistic Ive seen in a long time, without quite dipping into the Uncanny Valley.  The game is packed full of so much intricate detail, I find myself getting lost just taking it all in.  A lot of the effects are amazing as well; every time it rains, I stand in awe of the water effects and the reflections they cause.  Sleeping Dogs is actually the first game Ive found yet that my PC cant run on its highest settings, and it didnt take long before I realized why. 

Hes a classy guy, this one.


You play Wei Shen, an undercover cop who has just returned to his home in Hong Kong from America to infiltrate the local organized crime gangs, the Sun On Yee.   Starting from the ground up, Wei must prove himself to the gangs and work his way into their organization, while simultaneously reporting back to his handler and running covert missions from the Bureau.  This is split up into different mission chains, which you can choose to do how you wish.  My only complaint is that the mission structure sort of leads you to believe that you have an actual choice; do your loyalties lie with the cops or the gangs?   Unfortunately, the story is very linear, with no actual branching paths.  Still, its a damn good story, for what its worth.

Much like the True Crime series it was intended to reboot, the game offers a fairly standard Grand Theft Auto clone style of gameplay.  Open world city, driving from mission giver to your destination, usually kill a guy, and so on.  Thankfully, Sleeping Dogs manages to mix it up a bit with a variety of missions, as well as a lot of minigames.  There are the typical shooting and driving missions, as well as stealth and espionage missions with the cops.  You can date women in the game, and your date "missions" actually feel like dates.   On top of this, there are a variety of minigames in the form of hacking, calibrating bugs and wiretaps, even silly stuff like the ridiculous karaoke minigame.  One of the biggest complaints people often have about open worlds is that the worlds feel empty; Sleeping Dogs makes sure you never feel this way.

Taking a break from gangland murders for a little Air Supply.
 
The controls are a mixed bag, depending on context.  The driving controls are incredibly tight and responsive, unless theyre not supposed to be (like if youre driving a shitty car).  The driving implements a very smooth drift mechanic that really improves the experience, without ever making it feel like the game is shouting "OMG LOOK, WE HAVE DRIFTING!" in your face.  I hate when a game touts its own mechanics and forces you to use them; Sleeping Dogs just puts it in there and says "I packed a little extra in there...youll thank me later."

On-foot controls are a little different.  Wei moves a bit sluggishly, for my tastes.  Everyone that I have heard talk about this game likes the combat.  This is a case where I personally dont like it, but I can see how others would.  Im not a brawler.  I dont like combo-based fighting.  SD has lots of different moves and combos, as well as a great counter mechanic.  I personally dont like it, because I suck at it.  The moves are pretty cool though; theres one leg snap move that makes me recoil in sympathetic pain every single time I do it.  However, with the controls so heavily based in combat, I learned the hard way while visiting a temple that X is not the "jump" button, its the "flying kick the Shaolin monk in the head" button.   The monk didnt appreciate that.

One of these monks is about to have a very bad day.

The camera is my biggest issue, though.  I will admit, I am a very harsh critic with camera controls; they can spoil an otherwise perfect game for me.  The camera here derps out all the time, spinning around and getting caught on game objects.  And its mildly infuriating that, when driving, I can move the camera along the X Axis, but the Y axis only goes up.  If I try to angle downward, it instead turns the camera to look behind me.  I have a very specific camera angle preference that I like to drive at, so that my vehicle is not blocking my view of whats in front of me.  Also, when I get in a vehicle, and as the animation of entering goes on, I will always manually orient the camera correctly. As soon as I have control of the vehicle, the camera will go "NO WAIT I HAVE TO FIX IT", spin around in a full 360 circle, and then go "Oh wait no, you were right."   Its not completely broken for the most part, there are just some really obnoxious mini-bugs.

If youve been reading this article and sensing a "But..." coming, youre not wrong.  I really enjoyed this game a lot.  I did!  But there was one small factor holding me back.   While the game offers great visuals, good controls, and a variety of things to do, the one thing it fails to offer is anything new.  Ultimately its a good, solid, fun game, but theres nothing particularly innovative about it.  It plays like Grand Theft Auto IV, Saints Row, and every other game in the genre. Theyve just taken the same old thing, given it a beautiful polish, tune-up, and detailing, and given it back to us.  Its not a horrible thing, but it really makes me look forward to Grand Theft Auto V, when from the look of it, Rockstar will once again teach us how you take the genre they founded, and move it forward into a new era.

Yes, I spent the whole game dressed like Just Cause 2s Rico Rodriguez.

Still, you could do a lot worse.  Sleeping Dogs packs a ton of content into its package, tells a great story, and in case I havent hammered this point home hard enough, its kinda pretty.  Its fun, its violent, its brutal, and you can date throaty-voiced hottie, Emma Stone*.  I highly recommend this game for anyone looking for a good open-world crime drama to hold them over until GTA V comes out this fall.


Play time:  10 hours
Finished:  No, but I definitely plan to.
Recommended:  Very highly
Available For:  PC, XBox 360, PS3 


* - Is it wrong that on one of the date missions, I stole a MUCH nicer car than what I had been driving, just because I was going on a date with Emma Stones character?

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