Review

Sleeping Dogs

King Of Hong Kong

Sleeping Dogs builds on the skill set of the cinematic Hong Kong gangster.

By Drew Toal • August 16, 2012

A friend who is really into Hong Kong gangster movies told me there are two things an undercover cop needs to do in order to successfully infiltrate the Triads: Learn how to effectively slide across flat surfaces while shooting two guns at once, and kill a cop as soon as possible. Surviving in Sleeping Dogs requires a slightly wider skill set—wearing the right muscle tee, knowing the best street food vendors, learning creative ways to snap limbs in twain, and driving like you’re an extra in 2 Fast 2 Furious.

In Sleeping Dogs, you play the role of Wei Shen, a cop with a murky past who is recruited to help take down some local crime lords. Shen has been in America for several years—his law enforcement identity isn’t common knowledge in Hong Kong—so on his return, he’s tapped to infiltrate the feared Sun On Yee Triad. After linking up with an old criminal friend and getting an introduction to the local boss, Shen begins his new double life.

In addition to proving his loyalty, Wei Shen must also show his criminal worth. He does small favors for locals, like paying hospital bills, facilitating insurance fraud, and delivering lunches. He also gets Triad brownie points for beating up rival gang members. Helping out around the community gets Wei Shen “face” points, which translates to Hong Kong street cred. Get enough face points, and you get access to all the perks of gangster life—fancy restaurants, fancier clothes, and flashy rides.

Sleeping Dogs

You do a lot of driving in this open-world game, and it’s great. I say this as someone who A. generally hates driving games and B. lives in New York and champions public transportation. For Wei, sometimes it’s just aimless joyriding down by the water. Other times, it might be steering with one hand and firing an Uzi out the window on the way to collect gambling debts (payable in the universal currency of a trunk full of heroin). Wei Shen is down for whatever, and that attitude, combined with a reckless disregard for basic driving safety, is going to take him a long way in his chosen fake profession.

Hong Kong is a much wilder place than John Marston’s old west ever was. When you shoot innocent people in Red Dead Redemption, the law comes down on you like a farrier’s hammer on your big toe. In Hong Kong, if you run people over or take them hostage, the police will give a cursory chase, and soon enough you’re back to being a criminal big shot. You get docked a few “cop points,” but that’s about it. Counterintuitively, this tacit condoning of violent crime cheapens human life in the game to the point where a killing spree doesn’t seem worth the effort. After a couple of early vehicular manslaughters—backing over food cart vendors, mostly—I now generally follow traffic laws. I even prefer hailing a cab to carjacking a Honda.

Sleeping Dogs

But sometimes Wei Shen must fight, and he can’t always just run his problems over with an out-of-control sedan. Wei’s martial arts skills are considerable, and he must use them all. Often. Whether it’s beating up junkies under the overpass and hacking street-level surveillance equipment while wearing his “cop” hat, or impressing his new Triad buddies by muscling rival gangs out of the local karaoke establishments, Shen’s survival depends on your mastery of counters, strikes, and grapples. Most of his moves are simple—not unlike those employed by Batman in Arkham Asylum—but it takes a bit of practice to groove the moves well enough to take on small gangs singlehandedly. You can learn new moves by discovering stolen jade statues and returning them to your old kung fu master at a local martial arts club. My favorite technique is the grapple/face-punch/leg-break combo, meant to intimidate nearby attackers with the spectacle of their buddy’s screams and shattered tibia.

Sleeping Dogs

Comparisons to the Grand Theft Auto franchise are natural, and warranted. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Wei Shen would trash Niko Bellic in a fight, and I’m not saying he wouldn’t. But he would.

As Kotaku comics guy (and friend of Gameological) Evan Narcisse points out, Sleeping Dogs owes its soul to a long, bloody list of Hong Kong gangster movies. The game is inevitably cinematic, but not laboriously so as in, say, Max Payne 3. It follows the Woo formula—you can’t trust the bad guys, and you definitely can’t trust the cops. I think Wei Shen should’ve been made less pretty and more hard-bitten and haunted, but the formula is still a compelling one. Cheap, rumpled cop suit or expensive, bright yellow gangster tracksuit? The battle for Wei Shen’s soul has begun.

Sleeping Dogs
Developer: United Front Games, Square Enix London Studios
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: PC—$50; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360—$60
Rating: M

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  • Fixda Fernback

    Well, thanks to @Merve:disqus and his jerky habits of being positive about video games which he’s currently enjoying, I went and picked this game up just shortly ago. Just finished installing… about to finally play it! I’ve not been this excited for a game in quite some time… as soon as I saw it getting positive reviews everywhere, I pretty much instantly rushed out to buy it. And considering that I hadn’t budgeted to spend any money on games this month (Just simply had forgotten there was anything worthwhile coming out), that’s a pretty big thing for me. Last games I bought new with little hands-on first were Dark Souls and The Witcher II.

    • Fixda Fernback

      Okay, so, I’ve only made it into the very beginning of the game, but I absolutely am loving the song I’ve heard the most so far (It may have been multiple songs even, not sure). I think it was the Cantonese Opera or something? Very cool, ambient-jazz style stuff, reminds me a lot of Erik Truffaz. Everything everyone’s said about the atmosphere is spot on, I’m already in love with the setting. Also, I’ve laughed pretty hard a few times so far… definitely glad I ran out and bought this.

      • http://twitter.com/donaever DonE

         FOUR TET?! FUCKING *SOLD*!

        • Fixda Fernback

          On that note, I also just heard a radio announcer say they were playing some Bonobo (I assume you know them if you dig Four Tet… if not, check ‘em out) coming up. Very solid selection of instrumental music. Just one of the many ways the atmosphere was made incredibly fucking solid in the game.

    • Fixda Fernback

      Oh, also, since I’m apparently one of the first one on 360 with XBL that has been toolin’ around on a motorcycle, I’m ranked number 1 globally for high speed runs! (Out of 1, but still, fuck you! I want my moment! It reminds me of buying Burnout Paradise on release and feeling like a badass for setting all sorts of records, haha)

    • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

      @Merve:disqus , get in here and tell us more about Sleeping Dogs!  Also, I can’t find you on Steam!  (and seriously, the ‘ranked 1′ (of 1) stats collecting is so dopey)

      I just learned the grapple and leg break move, which has made the ‘beat up a gang, hack a camera’ side missions a lot easier.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I tried searching for you on Steam but couldn’t find you either. My screen name on Steam is the same as it is on here, but with a 3 tacked on the end.

        I can’t say much else about the game yet. I’m loving the atmosphere so much that I spend half the time just aimlessly wandering around on foot or in a car, doing favours for various people. I haven’t progressed much through the story yet, but I’m enjoying it so far, even though it’s a little over the top.

        • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

          Are you in the Gameological Society Steam group?  Maybe I can find you there…  I should be listed under ‘Sulaco’.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @twitter-495079299:disqus: Friend invite sent. Now we have a long list of 2 people against which to compare scores!

        • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

          Pow!  Apparently Steam won’t show your name if I search for you with an uppercase M.

        • The Guilty Party

          @twitter-495079299:disqus  There’s a Steam group? Hot diggity daffodil!

        • Effigy_Power

           There is. I think John promised to make an article about our Steam/GS handles, but I guess his Viscountship was busy. :P

        • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

          Also, if I may, I’d like to post a (related) personal link that I’d love to see some Gameological Society submissions for:

          http://starttocrate.tumblr.com/ 

          Sleeping Dogs really serves up a winner.

      • doyourealize

        Once found, you get the “Less is more, more is @Merve2:disqus ” Steam achievement.

    • dreadguacamole

       Damn all of you americans for getting this earlier than me, and then being all positive about it. I’ve still got a whole day left until I can play it – do you have any idea how much time that is in mildly anticipated videogame time?

       It’s like twenty-eight hours. That’s how much time it is.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       Are there places to ramp your car off of scattered evenly and commonly throughout the city? Because in all seriousness that can make or break an open-world driving game for me.

      • Fixda Fernback

        Haha, there actually are. Construction sites with dirt ramps, things of that nature.

  • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

    This game doesn’t truly represent Hong Kong accurately,

    but it does give out the “bokeh” when describing Hong Kong.

    I like it, but the fights can get tedious.

    The car chases and Cantopop karaoke side-missions are the best parts of this game IMO.

    • http://twitter.com/NickPetrilli Nick Petrilli

      The developers have stated numerous times it’s not an actual recreation of Hong Kong, just that they borrowed from the city to create the environments (North Point has aspects of Kowloon, etc. etc.) And the best part is definitely the writing and dialogue. Great fucking voice acting, and GREAT choice to get Cantonese actors.

      • AHyperkineticLagomorph

        I’m personally loving all the Cantonese in the background, with some (subtitled) Cantonese thrown into random dialogue.

        Well, it doesn’t make much sense that so many people randomly speak to you in English for really no reason, but it’s entertaining enough and I’m aware how many people dislike playing games or watching shows purely subtitled.

        • http://twitter.com/NickPetrilli Nick Petrilli

          Considering English is the official language, and everyone things you’re some Americanized dude now, it’s not exactly that farfetched. 

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph

          @twitter-109603349:disqus Apparently, my extensive knowledge of Hong Kong has failed me.

          And by extensive knowledge, I knew it was a place, in China, once somehow tied to the U.K. and that’s about it.

  • http://twitter.com/NickPetrilli Nick Petrilli

    This game is so, so welcome in the summer. I’m halfway through the main story (one antagonist has finally become clear) and the writing and dialogue is just a joy, as well as the fighting. Thank god this game didn’t get saddled with the True Crime name. Although I am kind of disappointed at how the female “dates” or whatever have just fucking dropped off the face of the earth. Emma Stone for like 15 minutes of game time? WTF.

    • Aaron Riccio

      Yeah, I was confused about this, too. After I got berated by one of my “dates” for two-timing her with Not Ping, I started to wonder if I’d done something to make all my virtual conquests desert me. But no. There’s just a lack of things to do with them, and there are many, many threads simply left hanging in the game. 

      Not that this should dissuade you from buying/playing the game; it’s a lot of fun, even if it gets repetitive toward the end.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

    It’s not like I don’t welcome similar good games.

    Yet if I don’t think there’s a substantive difference between the Chinese and Japanese gangster movies that inspired them, is there any reason to play this over a Like A Dragon/Yakuza game?  That series has already pushed the gameplay really far (if not as far as Spike’s Brawling Hoodlum/Kenka Bancho) and offers a ridiculous amount of activities.  Does the clone do anything better?

    • http://twitter.com/NickPetrilli Nick Petrilli

      The story, writing, and acting isn’t complete shit, for one.

      • Binsbein

        And the Missing the Point award goes to…this guy.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          *nods affirmatively*  And, frankly, I’m pretty sure that the game owns its self-seriousness and depiction of various Japanese regions.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rgi96wUrkJw  If Sleeping Dogs touches on the weirder sexual fetishes of the peninsula, I will happily recant.

        • itisdancing

          Anyone who doesn’t value the products of glorious Nippon is missing the point, obviously. Who could say less.

    • ryanthestormout

      I’d say that to call this game a clone is sort of missing the point. I love Yakuza, but it’s very much its own animal. The best way I ever found to put it is that it’s 3D River City Ransom. Sleeping Dogs, on the other hand, is a much more directed, much less silly, and much more structured game built around a set of different modes, much more like the Grand Theft Auto games. That’s both a plus and a negative. You lose a lot of the spectacle but you also gain the feeling that you’re inside a John Woo/Ringo Lam film. Which is wicked super rad. Basically, calling Sleeping Dogs a Yakuza clone is sort of like back when people called Yakuza the Japanese GTA. They’re very different in a lot of very important ways. So you might actually hate it a lot. Can’t say.

      • Aaron Riccio

        Wasn’t Yakuza just a Shenmue clone? In any case, I’d say that Sleeping Dogs is closer to Batman: Arkham Hong Kong than Yakuza — freeflow melee combat, gadget-based mini-games, “cases” to solve, and pop-up events throughout the city. 

        • ryanthestormout

          When it’s the same dude, it’s a spiritual successor.

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph

          Yakuza is what you get when you take Shenmue, take out most of the “let’s talk to people for 20 hours, with maybe 2 brief fights somewhere in there” bits, and focus on randomly getting into brawls.

          In other words, it’s incredibly awesome. There’s still an overabundance of cutscenes, but they’re generally entertaining, and the characters are great.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        Ah, great breakdown.  It doesn’t sound like it’s for me, but I understand the differentiation now.

        The music looks pretty good, too.  1 of the things it must have inherited from True Crime is having oddly brilliant licensed soundtracks.  (Seriously.  True Crime: New York City might have the best licensed soundtrack ever.  They must have blown a ton of money on it.)

        (And if you do want to play the actual successor to Kunio/River City Ransom, Atlus localized the 3rd game in the series I mentioned above as Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble.  http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%96%A7%E5%98%A9%E7%95%AA%E9%95%B7#.E5.96.A7.E5.98.A9.E7.95.AA.E9.95.B7.E3.82.B7.E3.83.AA.E3.83.BC.E3.82.BA  All 6, a successor where you play as the teacher who beats up delinquent students, and a a strategy spinoff are amazing, especially because you can customize your deep moveset and appearance far more than is necessary for a beat-’em-up.)

        • dreadguacamole

           Most games with virtual radio stations get it right at least some of the time. I often get the feeling that they let music fans in the studio put the playlists together.
           Well, except EA games, who seem to be partnered with some really shitty music promoters; if fucking DJ atomica shows up, that’s a pretty bad sign.

           And I’ll agree on the TC:New York soundtrack, it was pretty awesome.

        • ryanthestormout

          I actually played the one for PSP (which I’m pretty sure is the only one released in America thus far), and I couldn’t get past the controls which I found to be clumsy and awkward and not all that fun. The content was spectacular, with a goofy sense of humor and a lot of customization, it just wasn’t that fun to actually play.
          But then again, I only played the one. I’d love to be surprised by a different one.

        • Mike Ferraro

          dreadguacamole, I worked at EA a long time ago and you are correct. You can look up EA Music Group and how they approach their creative responsibilities: “creating new promotional opportunities and revenue streams for every title.”

    • Cornell_University

      I’ve only played Yakuza 4 but mannnnnn, that thing rivals Metal Gear Solid 4 in the whadaya mean you want the gameplay?  here’s a 20 minute cut scene!  EAT IT! department.  I really liked the actual play of that game, but if I’m going to watch a Japanese gangster movie I’m going to put it on my Netflix queue, nahmean?

      what I’m getting at is if the ratio of gameplay to cinematics is more skewed to the former (and it sounds like it based on the review), this might get the leg up.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        This is why I’m so disappointed that they didn’t bring over the Black Panther handheld subseries.  They figured that a large number of handheld fans would play it while traveling, so they shortened the mission length and streamlined the story.  I mean, there are still the motion comic cutscenes, but they’re limited like, well, like the Metal Gear Acid series’. 

        Not only that, but they’re made by Syn Sophia, formerly known as AKI, the people who made the Nintendo 64 wrestling games.  I’m not sure if the same people are there, but it feels like it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJetKzppqQc    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHS9_BjbzrY  That means there’s a deep mixed martial arts mode that plays like a combination of that series and No Mercy.  It’s…It’s marvelous.

        • ryanthestormout

          Black Panther was a lot of fun. I’m still holding out hope that they localize it and the sequel in one package for the Vita. I see literally no reason why that would be a bad idea, especially with the game drought that’s happening with that system.

          As a Vita owner, we will play literally anything to justify that purchase.

    • SuperShamrock

      You’ve answered your own question – how can anything be as good as something from glorious Nippon?  Why play a game, when the game isn’t Japanese and isn’t even based on Japanese source material?  sou desu, kawaii desu ne!

      • Binsbein

        In being so subtly facetious you’ve revealed the actual hidden truth: Nothing can be as good as something from Japan. Them’s the breaks, kid.

  • Shain Eighmey

    This makes it seem like the open world sandbox genre is finally growing up a bit. Good for them! 

    • Aaron Riccio

      I have to say, I was a little unnerved when I first started playing and realized that the entire city was open from the get-go (especially before I realized that there were cabs/had money to use them); but yeah, the biggest sign of maturity in Sleeping Dogs is that it’s not filled with endless crap for endless crap’s sake. There are side-quests and optional things to purchase/collect, but none of it’s really hidden (the game goes out of its way to add icons to your map as you progress), nor difficult to manage/complete. You can 100% the game without going crazy/losing a year of your life.

      Now . . . breaking into the top-ten leaderboards in the Social Hub, especially since I still don’t quite understand how points are awarded for combat/shooting (I know that you can chain, but still don’t really understand what’s worth what at a base level, nor how variety plays into it), THAT’s where the replay and longevity cleverly lies.

  • rvb1023

    God, this sneaked up on me earlier this year and looks so good it might become my first impulse buy since Deus Ex last year.  And that turned out great, maybe I can go 2 for 2.

    • Aaron Riccio

      My impulse buys are almost always reserved for the Steam Sales these days. That said, I have pre-ordered Assassin’s Creed III, and I’m on the fence about buying Darksiders II, though I may just wait until a GOTY version comes out.

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph

       Speaking of Deus Ex, this was also a Square Enix published game. I’m not really feeling like a fan of their developer branch’s Japanese console games anymore, but as a publisher of PC games, I think they’re starting to build up a good track record.

      • rvb1023

         Helped in part by their acquisition of Eidos, I’d agree.  My favorite games the past years with SE’s name attached they have been strictly publishers, which includes even the Japanese games I enjoyed like Nier.

        Seems to say on the business side they seem to know what they re doing, at least to some extent.  If only that carried over that level of common sense with their development studios.  They did just recently announce they plan to outsource development of major titles now so they seem to be taking on a more major publishing role anyways.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Yeah, with Sleeping Dogs, DX:HR, and the flawed but fun Quantum Conundrum, I’m really starting to develop an appreciation for Square Enix. It gives me high hopes for the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot.

    • yerfatma

      My exact reaction as well. Finally gives me a reason to finish up Max Payne as there’s something to look forward to other than killing myself to get to the last level of Spelunky.

      And I think my last impulse buy before Max Payne was DX:HR:MAC:ADDRESS

  • Afghamistam

    Your ancestors called – they’d like to disown you.

    • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

      Seriously, I could listen to the gym trainer guy all day.

  • HobbesMkii

    Did you like this game, Drew? I mean, I get the general sense that you did, but I’m not sure if it was a “I would happily play this game over and over again for the next year” or a “Yeah, it was pretty good, I guess” sort of like.

  • lanqiu886

     http://tinyurl.com/84zrtck

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     http://lnk.co/I2VI9

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Johnson/501651 Kevin Johnson

    The comments for the Destructoid review just had a bunch of pictures of sleeping dogs.

    I’m ashamed to admit I laughed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/leonardo.aucar Leonardo Aucar

    I became a big fan of these Hong Kong movies after seeing Infernal Affairs and since then I had high hopes of a GTA in Hong Kong. Now that we know GTA is going back to San Andreas Sleeping Dogs is the only game capable of fulfilling my dream! =P

  • The Guilty Party

    Does this game have the patented GTA ‘Do it again, stupid’ gameplay?

    By that I mean, when you are given a goal to, say, ‘Stop this guy from escaping’ are you allowed to gun him down, run him over, chase him, cut him off, etc, or are you forced through what amounts to a pre-scripted sequence that you only discover after failing each step?

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      Yes and no. The missions are pretty scripted, and there’s usually only one way to do them, but that one way is usually very obvious, so failure never seems unfair. Moreover, if you’re about to wander out of the “mission space,” the game gives you fair warning. Think of it more as a non-annoying GTA than a game with emergent gameplay.