Sleeping Dogs wasn’t on my must play list, in fact it wasn’t on any lists of mine. I was happy to ignore it, because it sounded like a try-hard Grand Theft Auto rip off that was going to suck. But it has been a slow time for games, so I figure I’d give it a go. If it really sucked that bad I could always go back to trying to complete the post apocalyptic Russian horror, Metro 33.
At first, Sleeping Dogs lived up to my expectations. But not in the way I had imagined. Instead of being a GTA clone, it seemed to be a very linear errand boy game with plenty of kung-fu fighting and having to go everywhere on foot.
But that was only the intro level, a level I’m guessing, to get you used to the important mechanics of Sleeping Dogs. These mechanics being the semi-parkour ability of your character and your kung-fu fighting skills. Although your fighting skills are limited to begin with, you will get to improve them over time with some semi RPG character up skilling.
Then you get given a motorbike and you realise that your world is more than just the local markets and pretty soon you’ll be car jacking like the best of them. Now we were into the Grand Theft Auto territory I was expecting, only a hell of a lot better than I was expecting. Sleeping Dogs was fast becoming addictive and a whole lot of fun. It was in fact shaping up to become the best Grand Theft Auto game I’ve played on the 360, and yet it was only supposed to be a cheap rip off.
What sets Sleeping Dogs apart from Grand Theft Auto is a number of things, the first being the story-line. You’re not some simple character with obvious motives and a predestined story-line, rather you’re an undercover cop infiltrating the Hong Kong Triads. As such, your character has a nifty little leveling system, which gives you points in three areas: Cop, Triad and Face. The Cop and Triad points often being awarded at the same time for completing a mission, depending on how careful and ruthless you were. Be careful as you drive around and don’t damage property or kill any innocents and you’ll get Cop points, brutality toward your enemies will gain you Triad points, each working towards leveling up different aspects of your character.
Face points are a little different. You get these from helping the innocent civilians of Hong Kong, by being a good samaritan, be it getting rid of drunks or running errands.
This leveling system gives Sleeping Dogs an edge over the competition. It injects the possibility that your character may not turn out the way the story – or you – intended.
Another thing that sets Sleeping Dogs apart is the general lack of guns available outside of the occasional gun-centric missions. Hong Kong it seems, cracks down on errant gun use, and this probably explains the fantastic combat system that allows you to up-garde, giving you new moves as your progress. It’s ultimately more rewarding to take down a gang of thugs with your physical abilities rather than the number of guns you can afford. That’s not to say that guns aren’t available. You will have numerous missions that involve all manner of gun play, but in a weird glitch (probably deliberate) of the game, you generally don’t carry you guns past the end of the mission.
The cops do have guns however, and you can disarm them and steal their weapons, but they you’re in for a whole world of pain, as the entire Hong Kong police force will descend on you.
Being a undercover cop also introduces other elements that make this game stand out. Missions will involve using your tech skills as you hack surveillance systems, plant bugs and crack safes.
Then there’s the driving. Developer United Front Games may have designed a balanced and varied combat system that makes you feel like a kung-fu master, but they were sensible enough to know that driving should be like a Hollywood movie, and so it is in the world of Sleeping Dogs. Hold the hand-brake and stamp on the accelerator as you turn the wheel and you’ll turn on the spot. Hit the hand-brake as you approach an intersection at speed, and with practice you’ll slide through the corner just like Dominic Toretto. It’s the perfect balance between driving and fun.
And that could sum up the game as a whole. It is the prefect balance between having fun and being kept on the edge of your seat engrossed in the story and riveted to the action.
To put it bluntly, Sleeping Dogs is the best Grand Theft Auto game that Rockstar didn’t make.