Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Review: Sleeping Dogs (360)

This review is about to spoil Sleeping Dogs and this sentence is your only warning to either turn back now or scroll down to the score, ensuring your eyes remain closed until you reach the bottom of the page.

Even though the Wheels of Logic spin off the Story Bus right at the closing of Sleeping Dogs, the game sets the bar pretty high in terms of what should be expected of all future open world games.

The fighting, so reminiscent of Rocksteady's Batman games, is great. Sleeping Dogs has some of the best driving moments ever in an open world crime game. The soundtrack is awesome. And there are plenty of dramatic story turns as players live out Wei Chen's dual life of being an undercover cop deep in the Triad scene of Hong Kong. In fact, Wei's sits poised to split open organized crime from Adam's apple to ankles. And not just metaphorically.

There are a few story "beats" that don't revolve around straight-up killing gang members, like one where Wei stops the flow of feng shui at a gangster's mansion by smashing vases and changing the time on a clock. (Then there are the usual gamut of short sidequests that dot the game world.) But mostly the story pits Wei against hordes of gangsters, sometimes killing or maiming these same gangsters in spectacular (and graphic) fashion, all in pursuit of the objective handed down by his superiors.

Of course, the "twist" at the end is that Pendrew, Wei's superior, is caught on camera murdering a hospitalized Triad leader by slipping something into his IV drip. And that's enough to put Pendrew away; that makes him a monster.

While it may not be the same for every player, this scene came close on the heels of Wei forcing a guys face into a spinning table saw and hacking to death some other guys with a machete. Which is to say nothing of the horrible things Wei has done throughout the game to (presumable) maintain his cover.

He delivers a couple of guys to be chopped up by a raging/grieving mother; he mercilessly beats on members of a martial arts school, again and again in a nod to Monty Python's "Self Defense Against Fresh Fruit" sketch; he plows through I don't know how many pedestrians moving through the game world; Wei beats or guns down dozens, maybe hundreds, of gangsters in his pursuit of a safer tomorrow. So, in the closing moments when it's Pendrew that's on the block and Wei is smugly behind a badge again any connection with reality or at least a passing resemblance to reality which the game tries to build, tenuous as it is at that moment, neatly snaps in half. Or is crushed by an engine block.

They should both be in lock-up!

The fact the credits roll and Wei is let go to pursue his own agenda and finish mopping up the side missions, doesn't leave the player any chance to ponder just what Wei is: A criminal? A cop?

The answer is gamey: Who cares?

The game puts some effort into making Wei seem conflicted between duty to his profession and loyalty to his Triad friends -- even if the method is a little ham-fisted with constant verbal badgering for both sides to "Remember your duty" and "Remember your blood" and so on -- but it's all for naught at the end. It's disappointing something a little more sophisticated didn't roll out but considering the lead-up maybe it's not so much of a surprise.

But speaking of surprises, probably the biggest one is that this game was almost delegated to the refuse pile of game history.

Sleeping Dogs had been in development as the next installment of Activision's "True Crime" franchise but the publisher ceased funding and cancelled it. Square Enix turned up to salvage the project and Sleeping Dogs was the result. The fact it turned out as good as it did -- that it's executed so well, performs as well as it does, sets the bar for open world combat and driving -- made Sleeping Dogs, story stumbles aside, the most surprising game of 2012.

- Aaron Simmer

The Good:
- Some of the best open world driving ever
- The hand-to-hand combat is great
- Interesting environs
- Sidequesting is very optional
- Some pretty funny moments at the hopital
- Sets things up for a sequel

The Bad:
- The Wheels of Logic spin off the Story Bus at the end

Score: 9.0 / 10