Sleeping Dogs PC Review
Most games that are canceled don't come back to life, and those that do aren't usually worth playing once they're released. But Sleeping Dogs is an exception: not only was it brought back to life successfully, but the final result is actually pretty damn good. This open-world action game, which was once called True Crime: Hong Kong, was dropped by publisher Activision last year and put into limbo. When Square Enix picked the game up, renamed it, and had developer United Front get back to work on finishing it, few thought that the result was going to be worthwhile.
I was one of those people. I didn't expect this game to be good, much less great, but it didn't take me much playtime to realize that this depiction of modern-day Hong Kong, with its combination of tried-and-true GTA-style missions along with martial arts beat-em-up action, works very well. The main character, undercover cop Wei Chen, has been assigned to infiltrate the triads and bring them down - but he's got a chip on his shoulder, as his family's history is not exactly great with some of the guys he's stuck dealing with. Quickly he finds out, much like the titular character in the movie Donnie Brasco, that going this deep undercover can bring on some large, unforeseen challenges, especially when your police bosses start showing they're almost as corrupt as the Triads you're trying to infiltrate. But that's all during the main story missions, and thankfully Wei has plenty of stuff to do in between them, making for a very enjoyable with simple but good-looking fighting and plenty of variety as you add abilities as both a cop and as your role as gangland enforcer. From missions to help out the populace to singing karaoke songs, and from racing to helping the local cops catch thugs in the act, there's always an entertaining activity to do around every corner, along with plenty of easter egg hunt-type objectives. Admittedly, I'm not much of a fan of hunting for a hundred hidden little objects or whatever, but some people love them, so it's good to have them in general.
While GTAIV is an iconic game in the way it captured not only the color palette of New York City but something a little less obvious - its overall vibe - I don't feel like United Front got Sleeping Dogs to quite that same level with Hong Kong. The game looks great and runs on both consoles and PC very well, but there's something about the intangible vibe you get in a city that, frankly, is just missing here. It probably has something to do with how you have so few memorable or fun interactions with the city's general populace, and how both the city and its people are more separate and less integrated with everything the protagonist does. Now, I have to admit that I've never been to Hong Kong and have only visited New York City, but even if you have never been to either place, time spent with these games will make it obvious that right now, Rockstar are the masters of open-world atmosphere. United Front isn't too terribly far behind, but it's enough that you'll likely notice the difference. With that said, Sleeping Dogs has its moments, especially when you travel on a main street during a rainy night. The neon colors and reflections in the wet pavement are wonderful, and these really showcase the game's visuals the best.
So while the ambience and vibe of Hong Kong might not be everything it could, Sleeping Dogs does try to inject some of that excitement and craziness that older GTA games had - but in a way that's themed closer to a Chinese action movie. The martial arts moves remind me of a good Donnie Yen flick, while the gunfights often happen in slow motion as Wei is diving over cover or reaching out of a car's window. The difference is that Sleeping Dogs relies much more on its fight scenes and less on guns, as this game doesn't give Wei piles of weapons that are on his person at all times. Firearms are discarded after every mission, and if you need them, they can be taken from the police or from enemy gangsters. Usually, missions that involve guns give you an easu opportunity to get one for yourself and use it for the remainder of the mission. For most of the game, however, you'll be unarmed.
Some of the stunts you can pull, like jumping from one car to another or diving out of a car in slow motion, will remind you of games like Just Cause 2 or the Max Payne series, but what I like is that United Front only borrowed just enough from these games to remind you of their best parts; you won't feel like you're stuck playing a shameless copy. For example, Wei can comfortably shoot from behind cover, but he's got an option to use his athletics to leap over cover entirely, go into slow motion, and cap fools while in mid-air - it's a move that Max Payne has, but he does it very clumsily and heavily in the third game, probably because he's like fifty years old and addicted to Oxy and booze. And that's the difference here: where Max used his dives out of desperation, and he always grunted or winced when his body smashed into a wall or the floor, Wei is quick to move and recover. And once he gets up close to an enemy, his kung fu is almost always a better tool than a sidearm.
Melee combat plays out a little bit like the Batman games, where you've got to use light attacks, heavy roundhouse kicks, grapples, and counterattacks with the right timing on the right enemies to win. Some enemies' attacks won't be interrupted by your own, so grapples work best, while other enemies are very powerful grapplers, so heavy attacks are best. There are many environmental attacks you can use, like grabbing a guy and throwing him into a phone booth or slamming his head in a car door. These attacks are powerful enough that they will defeat an enemy instantly, and you'll get more XP and health regen when using them.
The game does a pretty good job of not constantly pestering you to start up main or side missions, and a click on the left thumbstick allows you to quickly flip through the current missions you could take, with GPS-powered routes for the starting points instantly popping up as you toggle through them. Likewise, death in mid-mission usually means very little lost progress, as the game checkpoints you pretty often. That's not to say that the game is not challenging, but sometimes it's set up with short bouts of higher difficulty with plenty of saves in between - more Super Meat Boy than Super Mario World. Still, I'm pretty sure that veterans of open-world action games will find Sleeping Dogs to be a fairly easy game overall. Luckily, it's also a pretty long, game too, netting a good 25 hours or longer depending on your commitment level to the less-than-necessary objectives scattered throughout the game.
The PC version of Sleeping Dogs is by far the best one, with improved texture quality over the console versions (or at least, once you download the free high-res texture DLC over Steam) and a good set of tweaking options. The Steamworks support for cloud saves and such works nicely, and there's a pretty good set of UI and control configuration options, too. Mouse and keyboard support works fine, although it's not really well-suited for this game considering how often you'll be doing things like driving and brawling and how rarely you'll wind up doing precision aiming with guns. What I found is that hooking up a 360 gamepad was the best way to play most of the game, and seamlessly switching to the mouse and keyboard for firefights actually worked really well. Still, Sleeping Dogs looks and runs much better on a well-equipped PC than on consoles, so keep that in mind if you are debating between the ports. There have been some crashing and performance issues with some Nvidia cards in this game, but I found that these v305.xx leaked drivers solved the issues I was having. As of this writing, Nvidia hasn't officially released 305 drivers for all Nvidia cards, but it's probably only a matter of days before an official release.
Square Enix and United Front Games pulled Sleeping Dogs from the brink of death, and what surprised me is just how good it turned out to be. Some parts of the game will seem unoriginal, but its mix of kung fu action, Hong Kong ambience, and GTA-style missions come together to make something fairly unique. With a focus on fun missions and a pretty solid cops-versus-gangsters story, United Front lives up to a lot of promises that the gaming community didn't think they could actually deliver on, and they've surprised a lot of us in the process. For those who are looking for a fun, kung fu-fueled action romp before the big holiday gaming season begins, it's hard to go wrong with Sleeping Dogs.