In Sleeping Dogs, players take on the role of a streetwise malcontent with a past almost as troubled as the development of United Front’s sprawling, open-world action title itself. Originally intended as a reboot of the disappointing True Crime series, publishing giant Activision mothballed the project after deciding that United Front’s work would not hold up against the likes of Grand Theft Auto and other blockbuster action titles. In swooped Square Enix, who picked up the rights, gave United Front a reassuring pat on the ass and released the game with a new title. So the real question is; will Activision be kicking themselves?
In short, yes. Sleeping Dogs has not reinvented the wheel, nor pushed the standard of modern gaming to dazzling new heights, but it is an insanely fun romp, set in a world that is both immersive and exciting.
As undercover cop Wei Shen, players begin the game in a fictionalized version of Hong Kong. Starting out as a low-level lackey in one of the Triad gangs, Wei must work his way up the gangster ladder, proving himself to the mob bosses, and appeasing his police handlers at the same time. Thanks to the game’s open-world setting, you’re free to explore the bustling streets, dingy alleys and neon-drenched thoroughfares, indulging in side missions, mini-games, or old-fashioned sightseeing. And if that makes Sleeping Dogs sound a lot like GTA, that’s because the two are inherently similar. But United have also made some subtle improvements on the formula. The free-flowing combat system bears a striking resemblance to the phenomenally entertaining brawling in the Batman: Arkham games – and is a welcome change from GTA’s often-nonsensical fight mechanics. But the star of the Sleeping Dogs show is the city itself. The Hong Kong of the game, while not geographically faithful, manages to capture the bustle and intensity of the city in exquisite detail. In-game worlds are often pale imitations of their inspiration; usually populated by cookie-cutter characters and endlessly looped snippets of dialogue. But take a stroll – or a sprint, your choice – through the night market, or loiter on the corner of Club Bam Bam and you’ll enjoy the kind of people-watching opportunities that can, on occasion, distract you from the fact that you’ve got a syndicate to bring down.
Sleeping Dogs may have had a troubled childhood, but now that it’s here, the title has emerged as a real contender. There’s potential for a vast, beautiful and engaging franchise – one that could keep the GTA team on their toes. Activision have every reason to rue the day they let this one slip through their fingers.