Top critical review
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A lot of potential, but a lot to work on
on April 1, 2013
Sleeping Dogs does a lot of things right, however it does too many things wrong for it to be considered great. The story is decent, combat is fun and varied, the voice acting is phenomenal, and the world is beautiful with an eye for detail and it's citizens are brimming with personality.
It revolves around you as Wei Shen, a cop who goes undercover in a Hong Kong triad as you to try and take them down from the inside. The plot is passable as it is, the story doesn't stray too much from your objectives, you almost always have at least 1 "cop" mission and 1 "gang" mission to accomplish as you wade through the game. The issue with the missions is that there simply wasn't a lot of variety in them. Most of the time it's drive somewhere, beat up or shoot some people, and drive back. It follows a formula made famous by Grand Theft Auto, and while the missions themselves are fun, it fails to capture the charm that GTA often does. And the game also sets up a lot of interesting side plots but never really gives them any conclusion. For example, early in the story, Wei meets 3 different girls and takes them each on a date. Doing this opens up hidden items on your map which is nice, but the developers missed a chance to try and flesh out the characters and show a different side of it's protagonist. After your initial date with each, you don't have more contact than an occasional phone call and a couple of "she cheated on me" side quests. It stumbled on something that could've been a nice diversion from the main story.
The game also add a couple of side quests you can do at any point. One has you go steal a specific car and take it to a chop shop and the other is to be a debt collector for the triad. These are both good ways to make money in the game but are still essentially doing the same thing 20 times each.
The main problem with SD is something that, sadly, a lot of games still suffer from...a poor camera system. You can't adjust it permenantly, moving the right thumb stick with turn in up, down and around but it flashes back to normal as soon as you start to move. This is especially vexing when you're driving. The game does a terrible job of getting the camera turned around so you can see yourself back up a car to the point where if you try to align it before you take off, the camera will occasionally swing wildly and do a 360 around your car. It's annoying when you spend at least half the game driving places that they didn't take some more time to smooth out this issue. It causes you to inadvertently hit people or other cars which can ruin your mission score or send the cops after you. You also can only have one view, no inside the car or on the hood view like a lot a driving-centered games, which is odd because there are about 15 street racing missions, which are a lot of fun, but I wished for the ability to change the view to inside the car, just my personal preference and won't bother a lot of people.
Now, enough criticism of the game, here's what worked for it. The combat is pretty great, imagine either of the Batman Arkham games and you've got the idea. You learn moves by collecting statues for your "sifu" which I guess is Chinese for sensei. Combat is often mixed up by adding different ways to beat your opponents. Like dropping them off a pier, throwing them into a garbage dumpster, and my favorite, beating them up with a giant fish. You can punch, grapple, block, and finding the right way to beat your opponent has a paper rock scissors feel to it as each opponent is a little different.
The version of Hong Kong built here is lively and fun, it's not too big that you can't get around quickly which is nice because unlike a lot of sandbox games, you can't fly anywhere, you're strictly set on boats and cars. Getting from one end of the island to the other takes about 3 minutes or so.
In the end, SD is a bad animal you just can't stay mad at. It's got a lot of charm, it's well acted and is like watching the violence of a Quentin Tarantino film without the wit. Doesn't mean you should pass it up, definitely worth a purchase if you can get it for around $15.