Review: Sleeping Dogs (PS3)

Fans of Hong Kong drama series will understand me when I say Laughing-Gor will be so darn proud of someone like Wei Shen.

Sleeping Dogs has come a long way. Having first appeared to the world as “True Crime: Hong Kong” until the near-completed game was shut down by Activision, only to have it picked up by Square Enix. To the common eye, the game is your typical Grand Theft Auto game that takes place in Hong Kong. But by playing this game, you’ll know it’s actually hiding so much more.

You take on the role of Wei Shen, who starts his day with a drug deal gone wrong and ends up being arrested, only to be released on account with his good rapport with the Hong Kong police. That’s right. We have an undercover cop in our midst and in typical undercover cop fashion, Wei Shen is thrown into the world of the Hong Kong triads, looking to take it all down.

The game shows you the ropes before setting you free to become Hong Kong’s latest open-world terror, starting with the free-running. Wei Shen is capable of pulling off Jackie Chan-style chase sequences, skidding over counters and jumping across gaps.

Hand-on-hand combat, another staple of the triads, is wonderfully implemented. Fighting off thugs is extremely fluid when you time everything right. There are no complicated combos to memorise when most of the attacks are pulled off by hitting or holding Square for light and heavy attacks. You can avoid blows from the enemy by timing your press of Triangle. Get those right and you’ll be a natural martial arts master.

Spice up your combat by combining different combos and being more aggressive by using weapons or by grabbing your enemies and tossing them into dumpsters, ventilation fans or lit furnaces for an environment bonus. And when the game hands you a gun, aim for headshots. These will build your Triad XP, for in-game benefits and your eventual score for the mission, and your Face XP, that will regenerate some of your health and be temporarily more powerful and resilient.

You’ll hit the road in missions that range from escorts to street racing and vehicular combat. Drive well in the streets of Hong Kong and your Police XP won’t take a hit, which is considerably harder in the latter two if you don’t keep crashing into public property. What impressed me most and a major highlight of being in a car is Wei Shen’s ability to leap out of the vehicle onto another in an Action Hijack. It’s not a one-off stunt the player pulls. In fact, the player is encouraged to hijack bank trucks using Action Hijacks for profit.

There’s plenty to unlock with the game’s share of XP meters in this game, all of which offer their own rewards to the player. Building Police XP will give the player a chance to unlock more cop-related moves, such as the Slim Jim that allows you to click open a car door without attracting unwanted attention. Triad XP offers the player upgrades in combat and weapon skills, whiled Face XP gives the player respect from the community in the form of discounts and more efficient regenerative effects.

But Wei Shen is still essentially a cop, and the game reminds you of this by having you pulling off stake-outs, gathering evidence while undercover, triangulating call sources and hacking surveillance cameras to bust gang activity remotely. Playing a double-life as the protagonist will help you question what your true purpose is as you go deeper into the game and become wrapped in the game’s story.

All of the martial arts and cinematic stunt work help secure Sleeping Dogs’ position as an open-world action game with an authentic Hong Kong action cinema feel, complete with Cantonese dialogue and “power powder” in fight sequences. There’s too much English in this game for it to be completely authentic, though. And also considering the fact that this is not a geographically-true Hong Kong.

However, in a game where everything else is built rather solidly, Sleeping Dogs falters in the graphics department. Entering the game’s stores brings you to rows of blurry, low-detail goods, while other non-enterable shops along the street look horrendously fake. There’s no way of telling which doors are openable in the game, something I spent looking for when seeking to start one particular side-mission.

There isn’t much in the character and vehicle models worth looking at either. Vehicular physics in the game is also rather unbalanced, and is disillusioning when vehicles don’t shatter into pieces like they would in, say, GTAIV. But of this low-level detail does actually help make the game load itself faster, so it’s really give-and-take.

There was, of course, the most frustrating part of Sleeping Dogs that drove me to write a feature all about it. Some of the commands for the X and Circle buttons are swapped in the Asian version of the game that causes the on-screen instructions to be confused and display X instead of Circle. I did get punched in the face a whole lot trying to grapple enemies in the early stages of the game because of the confusion, but it will take some getting used to. Square Enix has promised a fix.

When you are tired with the main missions and griping about how the controls are wrong, try a street race, go gambling or hang out with the hostesses for a karaoke session. Do favours for friends or strangers to earn more Face. Find Health Shrines for a permanent max health boost, beat thugs for their valuable lockboxes or hunt for the 12 jade zodiac statues to please your old sifu into teaching you new fighting moves.

There is plenty to do in pseudo-Hong Kong, even when the game rides solo without any online multiplayer modes, although you can challenge the leaderboards on the Square Enix Sleeping Dogs community. From the fighting-styles of Batman: Arkham Asylum to the slow-motion action of Max Payne, Sleeping Dogs takes the good from other good games and makes it its own unique gaming experience.

The Good
  • Fluid fighting system makes high-kicking thugs in the face after incapacitating another highly satisfying.
  • Varied amounts of mission types keeps the game fresh with little repetitiveness.
  • Plenty to see, find and unlock in a fictional Hong Kong with a genuine feel.
  • Little to wait around for in terms of loading times.
The Bad
  • Average vehicular physics drives the game’s realism off the road.
  • Low-detail graphics in certain parts of the game is disillusioning.
  • Bug with future fix: X and Circle button schemes not accurately mapped


Sleeping Dogs is a Square Enix game developed by United Front Games for the PlayStation 3 as well as the Xbox 360 and Windows PC. Subtitles are available for the Cantonese in cutscenes, but not the swearing that takes place on the road.