Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Review: Sleeping Dogs (PC)

The term development hell is something familiar with those interested in film.  Many films have suffered from this either because the director leaves, a star who was attached drops out or the production suffers some setback that grinds the entire film to a halt.  Games can suffer the same problem.  A recent example of this is Sony studios the last guardian, the next spiritual sequel to ICO has been on the cards for years now yet progress is difficult to measure and at times has been speculated to be canned altogether.  Sleeping dogs is a game with a similar problem, originally starting life as the third game in the true crime series of sandbox police games, it was dropped by its publisher and left in limbo for a few years as work continued on the game.  Several publishers had been named and left until finally square enix picked up the title and released it this year after a long development cycle.

Wei Shen brings the pain in numerous ways
The story is a mash up of hong kong cinema police films and hollywood style undercover cop stories.  You play as Wei Shen, a chinese born american cop who has come back to hong kong after years in the states.  He has an axe to grind with the local triads and to do this he has taken on a deep cover assignment for the hong kong police force.  Essentially this allows the player to engage in criminal activities for missions based around triads and police work for the other side of the coin so to speak.  Expect haunted spectres of Wei's past, side missions requiring Wei to utilise his talents for violence and shooting to assist the local populace and more.  The problem with the story is that the twist and turns are obvious around the mid-point of the plot and the story isn't terribly original, but perhaps thats the point since it gives you the chance to play out those hong king cinema scenes you may have watched in the likes of police story and rumble in the bronx.

The outcome of these missions give you experience on two seperate bars, one for the police the other for the triads.  Police experience unlocks john woo style slowmo gun abilities, faster car stealing and better weapon accuracy, while the triad experience adds new martial arts moves, extra damage and resistances.  There is a third experience bar called 'face' which can be increased by completing side missions.  Face experience unlocks in game functions such as highlighting all map collectibles, giving you a car valet to deliver vehicles whenever you need them and so on.

Other activities around the world include street racing which works well considering that some of the team that made need for speed worked on this, cock fighting (a first for me in gaming personally), karaoke, gambling and fight clubs.  Completing any of these give experience for various meters throughout the game.

The enviroment can used as weapon along with items such as fish
One of the main highlights of the game is the martial arts.  Wei is a pretty proficient hand to hand combatant and went to the arkham asylum finishing school of brawling.  When you get into a battle enemies will gather around you and glow when they intend to attack you.  On the PC you press right mouse to counter these attacks while left mouse handles the attacks.  Holding the attack button will initiate stronger attacks, while mixing up heavy and light strikes will see Wei performing different moves, such as leg sweeps, roundhouse kicks and so on.  Melee weapons such as knives, tire irons and the like get used at times and can quickly clear large groups of foes.  The combat is still pretty fun regardless of the system used here.  Unlocking new moves keeps things fresh and make you want to seek out new victims on the streets of hong kong.

Enemies come in a few flavours from skinny quick fighters who use more flashy techniques such as spinning kicks, larger brawlers who prefer to straight up lamp Wei and fatties who can't block but like to grapple you.  You will face plenty of these identikit baddies throughout the game who will sometimes bring guns into the fray, but mostly prefer to try and beat you to death instead.  If you ever get tired of kicking fools, you can simply grab them and slam them face first into air conditioning fans, air vents, phone booths and more for a cinematic style kill.

Guns are probably the weakest aspect of combat.  They feel very weak and you can tell the game was never really built around running and gunning, unlike GTA.  When guns are required, more often than not you will find a gun nearby to even up the combat as even Wei can't dodge bullets.  In some respects it may have been better had they suspended disbelief and kept guns out of the game entirely.

Always open up combat with a flying kick.  Looks cool and it hurts
As mentioned earlier driving is very arcade like but thats good.  The need for speed development experience comes into play here pretty well as cars respond fluidly and quickly to your inputs and keep events such as police chases, racing and just general travel fun.  I always had a problem with GTA and its more realistic approach to driving mechanics when missions required you to chase down targets and the car could quickly become your own worst enemy.  There is a pretty good variety of vehicles, but don't expect to see planes in the game.

On the PC version graphics are far and away the best version of Sleeping dogs available.  Steam has a free high resolution texture pack as a download and the difference is quite noticable, especially on character models and parts of the enviroment such as building signage and the like.  The enviroment can still look a little dated in its quality compared to its peers.  This is generally accepted in the sandbox genre, but sleeping dogs does feel a little dated at times visually.  Shops that are inacessible have pretty rough textures for their windows, NPC character models look low res compared to the main cast and even the enemies.  Still the game has some impressive lighting and shading effects which bring hong kong to life at night when all the neon signs come on.  Pop in as virtually non existant which is something alot of sandbox games struggle with, but here its rare to see regular pop in during play, although this may due to the processing power available on the PC compared to the consoles lower end hardware.

Driving is very smooth and responsive
There is some pretty famous faces providing voice work here with the likes of Lucy Liu, Tom Wilkinson, Will Yun Lee, Kelly Hu, Robin Shou and many more.  The budget for voicework must have been quite high here and the result is worth it as everyone delivers very good performances throughout the game.  The game features a mix of cantonese and english although I would have liked an option to here all of the dialogue in Cantonese in a simialr way you could play Assassin's Creed with al Italian dialogue.  There is a huge list of musical tracks from numerous radio stations in game, ranging from native chinese groups and western acts such as Queen.  Every genre of music is catered for here and is probably the largest track list I have seen in a sandbox game before.  The genral sound effects for weapons and vehicles are all fine here and the crunching sound of fist to face style is satisfying as you literally kick ass.

Overall Sleeping dogs doesn't do anything new or original for the sandbox genre instead featuring more of the tried and tested gameplay seen in other titles.  Although it offers nothing new, it does offer a fun experience with great combat, well delivered dialogue and a nice change of setting from the usual united states.  Pick it up if you enjoy sandbox games.  This would also be a good game to introduce new players to the genre as it plays it safe throughout using features that have already been tried and tested many times before.

SCORE: 7.6/10


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