When our original PlayStation 3 died while my husband was playing Sleeping Dogs, for awhile after I was convinced it was the game’s fault. Sleeping Dogs killed our PS3. On and off before the incident, I had been watching the game with piqued interest. I hadn’t been following closely enough to know the story, but I sure did like the way the game looked. And it most certainly didn’t hurt that the lead character Wei Shen had a Nathan Drake look about him. He was well spoken and easy on the eyes.
But all that went to shit when the PS3 died still clutching the game disc. And the game was a rental. The fates 2; us 0. The operation to retrieve the disc was painstaking (seriously, how many damn screws does one game console need??) but successful, and it left the PS3 in pieces. The game was returned without incident.
Fast forward to last holiday season and a fateful pass by the bargain bin at the local Walmart. In there, among all the Cabela’s and Dance-Your-Pants-Off games was a copy of Sleeping Dogs marked down to a very reasonable price. I picked it up and announced my prize to my husband. His glowering stare was answer enough. He’d never play that game again. Not after what happened to his beloved PS3. But his face turned brighter when he saw that the copy I had picked up was for the Xbox 360. He remembered it was a fine game, a fun game, until… [again with the glowering stare]. Would he play it, I queried? A pause…and then a thoughtful if reluctant maybe was all I needed to relinquish a bit of cash.
Upon loading the game, I was greeted with the sweetest bit of aural excitement and one of the most enjoyable main themes I’ve heard in a long time. It set well the stage ahead: a mix of modern and traditional that defines many Asian metropolises of today. I was ready to take Hong Kong by the balls and not let go until that oh so special moment of…release.
Sleeping Dogs is a compelling game tells the story of Wei Shen, a cop in Hong Kong who’s involved in an undercover operation to infiltrate a powerful gang called the Sun On Yee. During the game, you have the chance to play as Shen the cop and Shen the gang member. But there’s more to the story than just “undercover cop plays gang member.” As Shen works his way up the ranks of the Sun On Yee, his loyalties come into question. Not only does he begin to act in ways unbecoming of a policeman, but he constantly fights off his personal demons that have arisen from the choices he’s made. It’s a fun, interesting, and not all too unfamiliar character study presented in an open world, third-person action/adventure setting. Like Red Dead Redemption, it’s not a moral game – there’s only one ending – and it’s b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. I’ve never been to Hong Kong (I’d love to know from anyone who’s played it and has been if the depiction is accurate), but playing the game made me truly feel like I was there. From the lights and flashiness, to the grit and grime, to the serene and calm, the essence of Sleeping Dogs flowed through the environment, that incredible city.
In my mind, games to don’t need great stories to survive, but in Sleeping Dogs the story absolutely soared. It, alone, was the number one thing that kept me playing. Well…that…and the driving. Oh man…the driving! I’m pretty terrible at driving in video games. I’m even worse at combat driving in video games. But something about the mechanics of driving and shooting in Sleeping Dogs just worked for me. (And that’s saying something because you drove the British way in the game — on the “wrong” side of the road. Confusing yet genius!) I was okay at melee and gun combat in the game, decent enough that the fights weren’t frustrating slogs, but in those moments I had a gun and a car, I totally got off. I think it was the keen ability with which Shen could shoot car tires that really elevated car combat. Also, later in the game, he was given the ability to jump on moving vehicles and take over the drivers’ seats. Yeah, that. All of that was simply awesome.
But I was talking about the story, right? I’m not going to spoil it here, and as I mentioned above, there wasn’t anything particularly groundbreaking about Shen’s story. Honestly, it’s something we’ve probably all seen played out in any number of police/gang movies. But the developers did a really wonderful job in telling Shen’s story. Granted, it was pretty linear, but there were plenty of conflicted and twisted moments that took Shen out of those simple go-from-point-A-to-point-B moments. Sorry to bring up Red Dead Redemption again, but parallels between each game’s storytelling are easily drawn. I don’t say this lightly as the games are from two totally different developers, Square Enix (Sleeping Dogs) and Red Dead (Rockstar), but each presents men with mysterious paths who are given chances to find something greater than themselves. Though Wei Shen’s finality is quite different from that of John Marston’s, they each traversed lines of using and being used by others while they sought their own goals. I like game stories where that kind of manipulation is present and the clear-cut path between good and evil isn’t always so clear. In Shen’s case, it lead to at least a couple interesting surprises, which only added to the game’s appeal.
As much as Sleeping Dogs got right, there remains one negative point that I still can’t shake concerning the game: Shen’s “social” calls. I really don’t want to get into a full-blown argument about the depiction of women in video games, but I truly disliked…I don’t even know how to put it… … Let me start by saying *begin spoilers.* In the game, Shen formed “relationships” with several different women. Upon meeting and/or helping one of the women, she was added to his list of phone contacts. If you called her, she became a “social” quest. After completing whatever it was she wanted you to do, she disappeared forever, except that you got something in return: map markers. Bedding one woman made all the health shrines show up on your map. Dating another brought up markers for hidden statues. All in all, Shen had five “girlfriends,” and the only reason to spend time with any of them was to get bonuses. *end spoilers* And of course I went through the motions to get all the bonuses, but those scenes between Shen and his ladies were gag-worthy, all the way down to the terrible innuendo and whatever unsexiness happened afterwards. Badly-designed afterthoughts they were in an otherwise stellar game.
I still pop in Sleeping Dogs every now and then to pick up a missed side quest (of which there are many) or just drive around the city enjoying the view. I’ve considered picking up the DLC, which I hear is pretty excellent, but just haven’t gotten around to it. For the price I paid for it, I’ve gotten my money’s worth of of Sleeping Dogs, and then some.