STAFF REVIEW of Sleeping Dogs (Xbox 360)

Thursday, December 13, 2012.
by Brent Roberts

Sleeping Dogs Box art In the world of video games, various categories have arguable favorites. If you question a gamer about top sandbox style games, you will find that the list consists of Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption and less than a handful of others. This is because only a few games have managed to balance the harmony of open world exploration and action packed entertainment. Recently United Front Games and Square Enix have developed and published a title aimed at one thing, to be regarded as one of, if not the premier sandbox game. Originally planned as a reboot of the True Crime series, this game ended up being cancelled in 2011, however Square Enix saw the potential and thanks to Square Enix, we get to enjoy an absolutely fantastic and entertaining game. Now given the competition that is staring at it right in the face, does Sleeping Dogs shy away with its tail between its legs, or does it come out swinging in a nonstop onslaught? Let's take a stroll through some of the back alleys of Hong Kong and find out what Sleeping Dogs is all about. Buckle up; this is going to be one exciting ride.

The secret ingredient that all the top games in the sandbox genre share is a fantastic story. It's the story that keeps gamers glued to the set for days upon weeks and helps provide multiple reasons why you want to go explore such a massive map. The story of Sleeping Dogs is without question the gem in this game's crown. Yes you may have a lot of "favors" that you will have to do for the locals that will have you exploring all over Hong Kong, however the main story itself is done very, very well. From the beginning you are put right in the middle of a drug deal gone south and you come to realize quickly that you play the role of an undercover officer who walks a hazy line between upholding the law and succumbing to the other side of the tracks. Working your way through the criminal underworld of Hong Kong is essential for your career as an undercover Hong Kong police officer, but at what price?

Navigating throughout the massive city can be a bit difficult at times, and thankfully the control scheme of Sleeping Dogs allows some very fluid mechanics to help you out. Driving vehicles for instance, provides a very arcade style sensation by making quick turns and car control very simplistic and easy. There are successful gameplay elements though that really shine through and that rests in the hand to hand combat of Sleeping Dogs. Modeled almost exactly from the Batman Arkham games, Sleeping Dogs allows gamers to attack, throw, and counter with minimal frustration by incorporating one button controls. When you see your enemy glow red, press the Y button and your character (even with his back to them) will counter the oncoming attack with one of your own and open up the combat for continued assaults, throws, and more. There is through an unfortunate gameplay mechanic that tends to take the wind out of this enjoyment and that is our old enemy, the camera. Not only will you find it somewhat frustrating when tackling groups of enemies, but there are times when you are driving that you will end up cursing it entirely. This though isn't the only downfall of Sleeping Dog's gameplay. While the control scheme is fairly straight forward and very easy to use, the responsiveness seems to feel a bit sluggish at times and that can be irritating when you start various missions and without knowing it you vault over some railing and fail the mission.

Without question, United Front Games has worked diligently on the gameplay mechanics of Sleeping Dogs but what really helps make this game stand out are the various skill trees that you can level up throughout the game. The three skill trees are categorized by police, triad, and face. Each tree provides bonuses and unlocks for your character which can range from decreasing the damage you take, stronger melee attacks, disarming armed opponents quickly, and more. The way you unlock points to spend in these skill trees comes from your performance during missions. If you don't cause a lot of collateral damage and people seem to escape alive from your driving or shooting, then you will find your police meter increase. With that being said, to increase your Triad meter, you pretty much have to go to the darker side and take out anything and everything in your path. This whole leveling system incorporates a much deeper attraction to gamers as you will find yourself completing every side quest in an attempt to max out these skill trees and unlock everything for your character. This little surprise packs a serious punch when it comes to creating a game that will have you mesmerized for a very long time.

One facet of video games that have taken a huge leap forward in recent years is the graphics. There have been sandbox games that have blown gamers minds with the high quality attention to detail. Sadly though Sleeping Dogs isn't one of them. While the city itself is large in size, the graphics feel outdated and you can't help but think that while it would be a monumental task, if United Front Games had put just a bit more attention to detail, Sleeping Dogs would have been absolutely beautiful. There are some plus sides however as the character modeling and facial movements seem more realistic and border on the quality of L.A. Noire. Sleeping Dogs, while lightly slacking visually, does manage a good job with the sounds of Hong Kong. The voice acting is done well, and the variable soundtrack goes a long way to help bring to life such a vibrant and deep rooted culture. While not a knockout blow, Sleeping Dogs still manages to stay planted on its feet.

While playing Sleeping Dogs you can't help but to naturally compare it to the other sandbox kings, but when you add in innovations to the gameplay mechanics, all the other faults of the game tend to take a back seat. This is a great thing because the story of Sleeping Dogs is one that shouldn't be missed and with the upcoming DLC we can hopefully expect more great things from United Front Games and Square Enix. Sure it may not be Grand Redemption or Red Dead Auto, but once you get locked into the story of Sleeping Dogs, you will find such an in-depth and entertaining game. So what are you waiting for? Here are the keys, let’s go for a drive.

Overall: 8.6 / 10
Gameplay: 8.8 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.7 / 10


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