Big thanks to Rumble friend Nathan for checking this game out for us. Excited to share more of his writing on the site in the near future!
The experiences video games provide are greater than the sum of their parts, and sometimes that makes it very hard to pinpoint what exactly it is we enjoy so much about them. We all have differing expectations for what we want out of the medium, and it can result in a struggle to appreciate the pure craft at play in so many games simply because they don’t have a standout concept/mechanic. I wrestle with my preferences on a near constant basis because as I get older, I find more and more games that are written off due to not being considered “spectacular” or wholly original, and no game personifies why I’m glad I ignored my initial reaction and gave something a chance more than Sleeping Dogs.
Sleeping Dogs was originally conceived as a spiritual successor to the True Crime series at Activision, and after typical publisher waffling was unceremoniously canceled. Thankfully the project found new life with Square Enix, due to their shift in priority to more Western-oriented titles. The game throws you into the shoes of undercover cop Wei Shen as he attempts to infiltrate and cripple the HK Triad while trying to keep a shred of his integrity as an officer of the law in tact. The further down the rabbit hole he goes, the more his character is drawn into question by both his handlers and his cohorts in the underworld. It’s an interesting take on a classic crime drama (drawing heavily on cinematic classics) and while it takes a bit to really get to the emotional core, it does not relent. It resolves itself solidly, and surprised me with how sincere it became and how invested I was in the characters by the end.
The gameplay draws many influences from other very successful games, and while it doesn’t bring anything particularly new to them, they are executed in such a satisfying and functional way that you almost take for granted how every other open world game flounders with at least some aspect of the core game mechanics. The combat is similar to the Rocksteady Batman titles in the emphasis on combo/parry melee, which is extremely fun without getting too repetitive due to how frequent you unlock new skills. Every environment is littered with areas that you can initiate brutal finishers that manage to freshen up just about every encounter. There are segments further in that force gun combat on you which are definitely the weakest part of the whole experience, but they make up a small segment of the story missions and are still quite functional that it is only a minor quibble.
Meanwhile the driving controls are some of the best seen in an open world game, and trump anything from Rockstar Games by far. (That can be attributed to the fact that the development team was comprised of a good amount of former Need for Speed people.) Missions move quite briskly, and just about every task you complete has a solid reward for your time.
I make no apologies – this game isn’t perfect and not very original in any significant way. There is something about the experience of exploring a vibrant Eastern metropolis to the tune of an extremely diverse, yet fitting soundtrack as you practice martial arts with your kung-fu PopPop and try to keep thisÂ bizarreÂ crime family you’ve grown attached to from killing each other that might not captivate everyone or make any damn sense to others.The sheer ambition and competancy at play, however, more than offsets the areas it stumbles or shows its influences a bit too much. I hope games that are Jacks of All Trades can continue to get made and find audiences, for the sake of the industry. We could stand to have more Sleeping Dogs in our lives.