Sleeping Dogs Review

By Alex Rubens - Posted Aug 14, 2012

Sleeping Dogs pits players as an undercover cop attempting to infiltrate the Sun On Yee Triad in Hong Kong. Using any means necessary, players must bash, shoot, and drive their way to earn the trust of the Triad so that they can bring it down from the inside out. It comes together exceptionally well and makes for one of the most fun open world experiences in a long time.

The Pros
  • Beautifully acted story
  • Tight driving mechanics
  • Emphasis on up-close-and-personal combat, it's not all about the guns
  • Amongst the dark Triad war, there's still some genuinely funny moments
The Cons
  • The story is a tad short for the genre
  • Simple attacks don't do much to later enemies, so I often found myself waiting for a chance to counter

Sleeping Dogs Review:

Sleeping Dogs is an open-world undercover cop drama that takes place in Hong Kong. As Wei Shen, your mission is to infiltrate the dangerous crime syndicate, Sun On Yee Triad, without blowing your cover. That might sound like the typical undercover cop story, and that’s because it kind of is, but it works well in Sleeping Dogs due to the “no holds barred” approach that Shen takes to the job.



He’s In Wei Over His Head

He’ll do whatever it takes to maintain his cover, even if that means killing in the process. Wei begins to feel that he is really one of them, naturally upsetting his superiors and himself. His determination to bring down the Sun On Yee begins to mix with his personal feelings about the tribe, making for a really interesting balancing act of your loyalties to the Police and to the Sun On Yee. The story flows exceptionally well and sets a perfect pacing, though it was a bit disappointing that it only lasted 16-18 hours, which is a tad short for games of this genre.

The combat system in Sleeping Dogs works brilliantly and takes the fighting style and counters from the Assassin’s Creed series to a whole new level. Standard light attacks are simple, but don’t do much to damage enemies. The majority of combat boils down to heavy attack combos, counters, and environmental attacks. Even with the advanced combos learned at the local training dojo, offensive attacks don’t do much to damage enemies. When an enemy is attacking, they will turn red, allowing you to counter their blow if you manage to time it correctly.

This is an advertisement - This story continues below

You Just Killed That Man With A Car Engine. . .

That’s not even the best part of Sleeping Dogs’ combat system, as that title goes to the environmental kills. There’s been few times that I’ve been more giddy than when I saw a new environmental kill in Sleeping Dogs. It’s not that using the environment as a finishing blow is anything revolutionary, but it’s just plain fun. Whether it’s smashing a head into an air vent, dropping a car engine on someone, throwing them onto a pallet filled with swordfish heads, or impaling them onto a meat hook, there’s at least one environmental kill to make everybody smile.

Sleeping Dogs

Weapons are handled differently in Sleeping Dogs than they are in most games, in that, they aren’t there for most of it. Don’t let that turn you off though, it’s actually a refreshing change. You don’t have a gun for most of the game, and that’s actually a factual priority, as guns are widely outlawed in Hong Kong and despite them being criminals, they’re still not very prevalent.

Weapons are a personal experience in the Triad, so you’ll find that most of the weapons are melee weapons, like knives, machetes, and crowbars, things of that nature. They add a sense of distress to the gameplay, as you’ll usually have to disarm an enemy to get your hands on one, and even then, it only last for a while. Once you have them though, they work beautifully. Gunplay is extremely sharp and feels like a main focus on the combat design despite accounting for less than 25% of the actual combat situations.

Sleeping Dogs

Choose Your Side: Cop or Triad.

Throughout the entire game, you’ll accrue separate Cop and Triad experience points for every mission regardless of the mission type. Triad experience is earned during fights, with punches, counters, combos, and environmental attacks all counting toward your Triad level. If you’re good at mastering the combat system, you won’t have any trouble earning all three levels of Triad during a mission.

The Police experience is a whole other story, as you start with three levels and lose experience based on destructive actions, like hitting innocent civilians with your car or destroying a street post. It’s very easy to crash into other cars and drive on the sidewalk during high-intensity missions, making it near impossible to end the mission with full Cop experience.

At the end of the game, I was only a level 7 Cop, despite maxing out my Triad experience at level 10. With each progressing level, you’re able to unlock another skill that directly enhances your experience with that style of play. With the Triad unlocks, your unlocks pertain to melee combat, while Cop unlocks tend to give Wei access to some of the advantages that Cops have, like gun stashed throughout the city.

Sleeping Dogs

“Hey! It’s A. . .Generic Car.”

Sleeping Dogs boasts dozens of unlicensed cars, bikes, and boats, but don’t worry, they’re similar enough to the real thing that you can tell what’s what without much work. The vehicles handle incredibly well, featuring sharp controls and fun evasion mechanics used during police chases. The Police chases never last long, as two hits with the vehicle ram attack and they’re down for the count. If you happen to have a gun on you while you’re in a car, you can smash out the window and hang out the side of the car shooting enemy vehicles in slow motion. It doesn’t matter how many times I do this, it still manages to be fun every time.

Action Jacking is also a major component of the vehicle sequences, allowing you to jump from car to car in order to change vehicles. It’s mostly used to take over an enemy’s vehicle while chasing them, but it’s still neat none the less. I found it extremely fun to Action Jack vehicles from a motorcycle. The image of the character doing a wheelie and standing on the seat before jumping to a different car is laughable and fun to see. Another important element of the road is the minimal and elegant navigation system that displays just the right amount of arrows on the corners, rather than drowning the entire road in a wall of arrows.

Sleeping Dogs

Hardcore Triad Parkour

Chase sequences develop that require you to scale objects while running after your target. It’s a simple system that requires you to time your button press as you approach the object. The better you time the button press, the more swiftly you complete the action. It’s not as elegant as the wall scaling system in Assassin’s Creed, but it works quite well in close, urban environments.

Things are surprisingly easy to hack, or at least that’s what Sleeping Dogs would have me believe. It’s not that I’d expect players to sit through ten minutes of brute force hacking, but most of the hacking sequences are timed situations, making time of the essence. Despite this, I found the hacking minigames to be fun and actually require some thought. I quickly devised a system to solve the security camera hacking puzzles that gave you nine tries to solve a four digit combination, though I’m sure that there were plenty of other ways to solve the same minigame.

Sleeping Dogs

How's It All Put Together

With a cast featuring big names like Lucy Liu, Emma Stone, and Tom Wilkinson, the cinematic direction of the story flows wonderfully, creating a pacing that kept me engulfed in what would happen next until the brutally-violent final act. Between the wonderfully acted story and the tight car and gunplay, Sleeping Dogs is an exceptional open-world crime drama that ups the ante for cinematic story presentations -- and execution moves -- in games.

Want more information on how we score reviews? Read the "How G4 Reviews Work" article here. 

Editor's Note: Sleeping Dogs was reviewed using a PlayStation 3 copy of the game; however, we also played the Xbox 360 and PC versions, and found no differences. If further investigation reveals any differences between the PS3 edition and the 360 and PC editions of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.