Here’s what you didn’t know: When Sleeping Dogs was first released, I felt exactly the same way Activision did.
Much like the Sun On Yee, the very gang Wei Shen is set on infiltrating throughout the Infernal Affairs-esque story presented in Sleeping Dogs, I didn’t initially have much confidence in what I was being shown. I didn’t know who that puk gaai Wei Shen was, or what he wanted from me, and I had a feeling that no amount of fancy Kung Fu was going to change my mind.
Fortunately for me, the ridiculous PC graphics were enough to get me to slow down, have a pork bun, and give Wei Shen a chance.
Having thoroughly enjoyed every chapter of the Grand Theft Auto series (but especially the Liberty City Stories mini-spinoffs, The Lost & Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony) as well as the neo-noir crime drama L.A. Noire, I don’t think I am wrong in thinking that anyone who attempts a stab at the open world genre has a mighty impressive Rockstar shaped shadow to contend with. Even Saint’s Row: The Third, with all its self-aware bombastic flair, still somehow managed to feel like second bananas, when stacked up against the detailed characters and environments now routinely presented by the big “R.”
Imagine my absolute shock with a few hours into Sleeping Dogs I found myself thinking that the folks at Rockstar might actually have to step their game up (as it were) when GTA V comes around.
Why, you ask? Well, a lot of it has to do with what the game has done with its story and characters. In Sleeping Dogs, you are Wei Shen, who is not by any means a blank slate. Wei Shen is a reformed gang member, turned undercover cop, who as I mentioned, is set on infiltrating the very gang he left behind: the Sun On Yee.
As it happens with some of the best crime dramas on any medium, (think The Sopranos, Donnie Brasco, Goodfellas) the conflicted, flawed protagonist puts us in a position to relate to unflinching criminals in the same way we would relate to everyday people. Because you know, they kind of are everyday people, believe it or not.
As they are presented in these works, these typically unsavory individuals hold their relationships, values and loyalties in the highest regard. So much so, that by comparison, those representing law and order come across as cold hearted jerks with no morals. Personally, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt when completing some of the cop missions. The irony is not by any means unintentional, and as a tried and true storytelling technique, it is just one of the integral pieces of the Awesomeness Frankenstein that is Sleeping Dogs.
On paper, you could say that Sleeping Dogs is an open-world game akin to the Grand Theft Auto series, with a heavier focus on hand-to-hand combat, which borrows heavily from Arkham Asylum. In practice, Sleeping Dogs is flawlessly rendered open-world game, with the smoothest implementation of combat mechanics I’ve seen thus far. Yes, I am talking about Kung Fu. As the game goes on, Wei Shen becomes increasingly skilled at it, and by contrast more determined in his mission. There is also some Karaoke, for good measure. See? Like I said. Awesomeness Frankenstein.
Overall, Sleeping Dogs isn’t breaking any rules, but it has managed to combine a good mix of familiar elements to achieve a polished, fun experience. Wei Shen is definitely not to be slept on, firstly because he might just drop a pound of Dim Mak all over your punk ass. Lastly, because he might be the most notably non-spikey haired SquareEnix character. Think about that for a second.