Taken out of the modern gaming context, “Sleeping Dogs” would be an absolute masterpiece of a game. In a world without franchises like “Grand Theft Auto” and “Saint’s Row,” this would be an almost unbelievable rendition of an open-world experience.
But taken alongside games like 2008’s “Grand Theft Auto IV,” “Sleeping Dogs” is clearly a game with some strong influences. Despite the fact almost all of the game’s mechanics are ripped-off from other titles, the developers at United Front Games have done an amazing job in creating a world and a story that are both inherently believable and incredibly fun.
With urban Hong Kong as the backdrop for a story about an American cop going undercover as a member of the Sun On Yee triad, this is a game not afraid to confront the many stereotypes surrounding Asian culture. United Front Games manages to ride the line between parody and accuracy, as it successfully recreated a world that just feels right.
The game balances incredibly grim scenes and scenarios with a story filled with interesting characters. Wei Shen is an undercover police officer with roots in the Sun On Yee, and he represents a lot more than just a skilled fighter. He’s a man with serious problems who always seem to catch up with him. His history with various members of the triad is long, and he isn’t able to forget it. He juggles all of these insecurities while pretending to be a loyal member of one of the most dangerous triads in Hong Kong.
The open-world nature of the game works perfectly with the story as players are given the choice of taking on either police missions or triad missions at any time. Although these aren’t the most varied, the strong story helps to keep the game on track.
Most of the gameplay in “Sleeping Dogs” is built around a melee combat system almost exactly like the system in Rocksteady Studios’ Batman games. Wei Shen is a Kung Fu veteran, and combat is based on countering enemies and retaliating with combos, grabs and environmental attacks. These attacks are really the highlight of the fighting system, as Wei can grab enemies and throw them into objects strewn across the environment. In one area, Wei is able to push enemies onto a table saw, all of which the game portrays without any hesitation or censorship. When coupled with overall controls that feel great, the game doesn’t stop you from enjoying it.
This game is the result of years of open-world experiences which have always left something to be desired. “Sleeping Dogs” lifts mechanics from other successful games liberally and without reservation, which results in a near-perfect experience. Story, gameplay and environment meld together in a game that is far from original, but is still an absolute joy to play.