A few weeks ago I had posted a blog about how I was finding it harder and harder to sit down and play a game for long periods of time. No matter what the game was, even if it was one of my favorites, I just could not do it. I guess subconsciously I wanted something else; something that combines all of my favorite game elements and could capture my interest and hold onto it for the duration of the storyline. It should also let me play casually and do whatever I want to pass the time. This seems like a tall order for a game, yet I think I have found one that does it.
Sleeping Dogs is a United Front Games and Square Enix game title that had originally been started as a project by Activision/ Blizzard as the third installment of their True Crime series. The project was cancelled in 2011 but then luckily the project was picked up by Square Enix and they changed the name as they did not own the rights to the True Crime title. The game was released in late 2012 and became a hit sensation almost overnight, and for good reason.
In this game you play as Wei Shen, a Chinese-American police officer working undercover in Hong Kong to infiltrate the Triads, the ruthless gangs that run the darker side of the country. You call on your ties with members of the Sun On Yee to get into the organization and then throughout the game you help the police bring down various criminals all in an attempt to cripple the Triads before taking the final blow. The game is set in Hong Kong on a massive open world layout that allows you to explore and complete tasks at your leisure, much like Skyrim or Assassin’s Creed. There are missions that will help you gain the trust of the Triads such as collecting money or roughing up those that oppose them as well as police missions such as busting drug trades and spying on various criminals. The main missions for each faction are obviously linear and often times you cannot unlock more of one until you complete the other. There are also side quests that you can complete at any time such as doing favors for people around town or busting small level drug trades all over town. What I loved is that the missions never seemd to be repetitive like in Saints Row 3 and its constant escort missions. The leveling system is based on your experience points gained in each of three areas: Triad, Police, and Face. Triad and police experience come from completing the respective operations and Face is the public’s general opinion of you. Leveling up in any area allows you to unlock new skills and upgrades to combat.
The combat system of this game was incredibly smooth and I honestly loved it. The hand to hand combat is all martial arts with various combo moves that can be learned throughout the game. There is also a countering system similar to Assassin’s Creed 3 where you can smoothly counter the attack and then hit the enemy yourself. I like how the combat really flows and if you did it right, a one-on-ten fight could look like a choreographed fight scene from a movie. The counter system allowed you to smoothly transition from wailing on one guy to blocking the other and then maybe throwing a meat cleaver at a third.
What the game really sort of ‘lacks’ are weapons, though I use the term ‘lacks’ almost sarcastically. While you cannot necessarily equip weapons and firearms, I found that you usually do not need them. Most of the bad guys you will encounter, at least at first, are not armed except for maybe a knife or a baton and you can easily disarm them. If you need a gun for a mission or a side quest, the game will either give you one or there will usually be one lying around somewhere. At level 10 on the police skill tree, you can unlock cop cars and get shotguns or you can always get a tire iron from the boot of almost any car. If you are feeling lucky, you can take a gun from a police officer but prepare to run because they will come at you hard. When they do catch you, there is a little quick time event to get away but you have to be extremely fast about hitting it. If you do manage to lose the cops, you can hold onto the gun until the next time you die, are arrested or leave the game. I actually like this little detail as it seems to be an accurate depiction of regulation in Hong Kong. From what someone told me, the only people who can buy guns outside of the police are the Triads (illegally) and police officers must return the firearms at the end of the shift. If this is how it really is in Hong Kong, I’m glad they added that to the game (let me know if my information is wrong, if we have any readers from China).
When you do have a weapon however, the mechanics are quite nice. This game is a third person game and like many third person shooter, it is a cover based shooter. One of the big features of the gun fighting is the ability to do this slow motion vault over objections while shooting at the enemy. You can lean out of cover to aim or just fire blindly over the top which is not very effective but cool nonetheless. Your firearms cannot hold all that much ammunition but it is not hard to find it since you can pick up ammo from fallen enemies. Other than firearms you can pick up knifes, batons, cleavers, etc. either from dead enemies or sometimes just lying on the ground. You can also pick up handbags and briefcases that NPCs leave and use those as weapons. You have the ability to throw these things which is really useful with a knife in close quarters as it is an instant kill.
The Need for Speed
One of my favorite parts about this game is the driving mechanic in it. The area you can play in is massive and thus there is plenty of space to drive around. You start out with just a motorcycle but you can buy cars later from a black market dealer. I had bought a few DLC packs so I also had some nice fast cars. I also found that there is a nice assortment of cars all the way from the electric smart cars up to replicas of the Lamborghini just driving on the road that you can hijack. Now a lot of open world games have cars because you need a way to get around, but no other game that I have played has gotten the mechanics as right as this game did. It is hard to explain but driving just feels right and the cars really respond how you think they should. Basically, I felt like I was playing Need for Speed; the driving was that good. I found out later that some of the designers of this game had actually worked on some of the Need for Speed projects so that probably explains a lot of that.
After a little bit into the storyline, you unlock the ability to compete in various underground racing circuits. Again, these had a very Need for Speed feel to them. I felt like it was a comparable racing mechanic and I was quite pleased. The only real complaint that I had was that the game made it obvious that you needed to win in the sense that I noticed cars would slow down near the finish to make it easy for you to pass them. Besides that, I really enjoyed the racing. Some of you might be asking, well if this is so much like Need for Speed, where are the police chases? Well you are in luck, because this game has those too. There is even a system of heat level that indicates how tough the opposing forces after you are. You can ram them off the road by driving into them or, the game actually has a button that makes your vehicle blast to one side or the other for added push.
This game is absolutely incredible when it comes to the graphic fidelity. It was designed on the Havok engine and even on my Intel 4000HD graphics and medium settings, this game looks incredible. The textures and objects are some of the most realistic I have seen in a game and when you add the night time look with the soft rain falling, it is just a work of art. There have been times where I just stand in the middle of the street and look around, absorbing all of the beauty and detail that has been put into the world. I loved how the NPCs seemed to have their own life and plans as you could follow them around and watch them go about their day. If you walk close to them, they either talk to you or you can catch bits of their phone conversations. I love when games do this because it really makes you feel more like a part of this massive world and not like it is just a backdrop to your story. The detail that won me over and made me absolutely love this game was when people reacted to a dead body on the street. I had thrown a knife at a civilian, just to see if I could, and what unfolded blew my mind. Some NPCs stood around it in horror, some started calling someone and one guy even took out his phone to take a picture. I absolutely lost it when I heard sirens pull up beside me and two medics got out of an ambulance and started to attend to the dead man with a knife in his face. It was truly an incredible moment.
Throughout the course of playing this game, it has become my new favorite game. I’ve played this game for hours at a time, throwing myself out of the gaming rut I was in. The level of detail in this game is absolutely stunning and I loved all of the mechanics from the combat to the driving and cruising around the city. If you have not already played this game, I highly recommend that you check it out. I believe that everyone can find something that they like about this game as it really includes elements from many different genres. I picked it up on Steam a few weeks ago when it was on sale for $10 and Steam is always having sales, so there is no reason why you cannot pick up this game for a fairly decent price.