Sleeping Dogs bears similarities to Grand Theft Auto. That much is clear. Both operate in a sprawling sandbox world with cars to drive, missions to undertake, and an overarching story lending purpose to you travels. Yet Sleeping Dogs has enough of its own flavour to leave a lasting impression. At times it’s even better than the aforementioned GTA; a surprise indeed for a game Activision canned because they thought it lacked quality.
The story is a case of duality: an undercover cop, Wei Shen, infiltrates a triad at the behest of his superiors. It owes much to Asian cinema at large and honours the brutal hand-to-hand combat showcased in films like The Raid Redemption. The story is pure pulp, though it does attempt to explore meaningful themes.
Though it’s changed hands, names and likely endured a difficult gestation, Sleeping Dogs never lacks cohesion. In fact, its success is owed in no small part to intuitive design that streamlines the experience. The cars handle well, the framerate is steady and there’s a degree of polish, a few quirks notwithstanding, that elevate it above other similar sandbox games. All the more, it feels like a game that prioritises fun over all else – none of the main story missions or sidequests are particularly challenging, but you’ll enjoy yourself immensely.
Conversely, the game’s extended stint in development means its graphics don’t fare well under close scrutiny. Low-resolution textures are ubiquitous and character models are uniformly ugly. But providing you appreciate the broader strokes, there’s much to like.
The city, for instance, is beautiful. While GTA has given us interpretations of famous American cities, Sleeping Dogs is set in Hong Kong. It’s not a direct recreation of the city. Who wants that? But the developer’s vision is admirable. You buy into the idea you’re inhabiting a metropolis. As day turns to night and rain slickens the streets, Hong Kong’s cityscape reflects beautifully in the asphalt. Streaking across Hong Kong’s four districts provides a splendid view of the world at large.
Of course, you’ll ultimately buy Sleeping Dogs for its unadulterated thrills — something it delivers in abundance. Critics might mock it as a pretender to GTA’s throne, but they’ll be overlooking one of the finest games of 2012.
Sleeping Dogs was reviewed on a PS3