Monday, December 24, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs is a game about additions. It doesn’t change much of the open-world crime genre made popular by games like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row. Instead, it adds to the formula with a deep hand-to-hand combat system reminiscent of the Batman Arkham series, grand visuals, and an intriguing story from the opposite perspective of those other games.

The long storied history of Sleeping Dogs, starting out first as a True Crime game, has been told ad nauseam, so I won’t waste your time. But its stumble to release make the final product seem much more satisfying.

The last open-world crime game to take place outside the US was the London expansion packs for the original Grand Theft Auto back in 1999. Sleeping Dogs takes place in Hong Kong, a beautiful vibrant city that could almost be mistaken for Las Vegas if not for the Cantonese all over street signs, storefronts, and pedestrians. While it works well enough on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, Sleeping Dogs was meant to be played on the PC. It takes full advantage of DirectX 11 and with a free High-res texture pack, the streets of Hong Kong shimmer after a night of rain.

The melee combat system is probably the best feature of Sleeping Dogs. Based on the Batman Arkham fighting system, main character Wei Shen freely moves from enemy to enemy, countering and grappling foes into environmental hazards, as well as mixing up special moves to stun or throw. At points, I would rather run into a fight with my fists than a gun. In an open-world game that does so much, developer United Front Games could have easily skimped by with a simple one-two punch mechanic. Instead, they adapted what was already a great system while sprinkling new moves to make Wei feel even more powerful.

Sleeping Dogs also took the normal perspective of a criminal protagonist and added an extra layer by making the protagonist an undercover cop. Often in open-world crime games, the main characters has a sense of reckless abandonment, leaving a trail of destruction behind them as they move through missions, not caring about the consequences. I didn’t get that feeling with Wei Shen. In the mission first introducing guns, killing enemies feels heavy and conflicting. Wei doesn’t want to kill, but to take down the Triad gangs, he has to keep his cover, and that means doing whatever is necessary. There’s an underlying sense of morality, but it constantly bashes head with Wei’s duty as a Hong Kong police officer.

Like Dishonored felt like the 2012 version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Sleeping Dogs feels like the 2012 version of Saints Row: The Third. It may not have the humor, characters, or crazy storyline, but Sleeping Dogs delivers a gorgeous and satisfying game that straddles the line between open-world crime drama, and up-close melee fighter.

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