LTTP or ‘late to the party’ pieces are opportunities for me to catch up and write about games I missed out on the first time around. They may contain spoilers.
For a long time, Grand Theft Auto and other games with grand scale always felt cheap to me. It always seemed like the developers traded strong game mechanics for sprawling cities and giant playgrounds. I felt that way through all the PlayStation 2 era Grand Theft Auto games.
It was not until Grand Theft Auto IV that I saw some semblance of quality with these games’ mechanics. However looking back at, I anchored my enjoyment of Grand Theft Auto IV’s mechanics on the strong driving, everything else was rather basic by comparison. Moving to Saints Row: The Third, another open world game set in a modern city, the improvements in the areas of shooting and melee brought me great joy. It enabled the developers to create more diverse scenarios.
While those base level improvements in Saints Row: Third were welcomed, they still lacked the polish I’ve come to expect from games with similar mechanics. I had accepted that fact and didn’t think I was going to see another jump in quality until the next Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row title — I was even thinking we won’t see a substantial improvement until the next generation altogether.
Out of the blue came United Front Games’ Sleeping Dogs. This open world game set in modern day Hong Kong managed to excel in all areas from on foot traversal to driving and even melee combat. They included a hand-to-hand combat system reminiscent of Rocksteady’s Batman titles. Sleeping Dogs action was all about being stylish which meant liberal use of slow motion shooting and over the top car jacking. I can’t even fathom the likes of Rockstar or Volition approaching this kind of quality.
United Front’s approach to Sleeping Dogs was in line with how I would have approached the open world genre. They built a strong core and worked their way out from there. The obvious trade off with their first open world title was the relatively tame city itself. I don’t mean a lack of atmosphere — I mean the lack of scale or interactive details within Hong Kong. There wasn’t any sporting locales or many indoor spaces for example.
Instead of creating a space for the sake of having it exist in the world, Sleeping Dogs’ was more practical with their choices. Every space was seemingly used in a mission or side mission. Their uses varied between actual interaction with the space itself to merely passing by it during a race.
Sleeping Dogs’ Hong Kong felt rigid and focused. For example, I wasn’t able to wander off the highways without substantial effort and even if I managed to do so, I usually end up getting stuck in geometry with no way of escape. By staying on the path, I was funneled through one of the most impressive looking cities in all of open world gaming. Hong Kong’s neon lights and sounds were captivating. It may not have the urban density that the real deal has but United Front pulled off an amazing representation of it.
Getting authenticity down for Hong Kong required the used of Cantonese which wasn’t the dialect I was raised with. There were some traces of Mandarin being spoken or sung through one of the many radios stations but I relied heavily on the subtitles whenever Cantonese was spoken. Fortunately (or unfortunately for purists), Cantonese was merely used for flavor like the use of Italian in Assassin Creed II. Lines were usually delivered in English with enough of an accent to make me wonder why they spoke so much of it if it wasn’t their native tongue.
Wei Shen’s return to Hong Kong after a long stint in America allowed the two of us to acquaint ourselves with the city together. The undercover cop angle provided the reasons for affiliating with the Triads while also giving Wei the opportunity to do some good around the city. Solving murders, collecting protection money and entertaining foreign hip hop gangsters were all on Wei’s resume.
Also on his resume was proficiency in the art of Kung Fu which enabled him to kick so much ass. I should also add his talents in brutality as well. This man had a knack for using his environment to make quick work of his assailants. Bashing heads with payphones, dropping car engines on people and impaling people on swordfishes are just a handful of the objects in the environment in which to do harm with.
A troubled protagonist wasn’t foreign to me. Wei’s personal and professional agendas often conflicted with each other which made for a suspenseful journey. I’m not exactly sure why I got so caught up with the narrative because it wasn’t unorthodox by any means. Wei and I were never given a tough choice to make and he always managed to keep the Triads oblivious to his police work. Strangely, his casual female acquaintances somehow managed to catch him with other girls though.
I think I got caught up with Sleeping Dogs’ events in part because of how it was written. It may not have been wholly original but it was grounded in a familiar reality with relatable messages. The character performances by the major players also made it easier for me buy into the world.
Specific messages within the game also spoke to me on a personal level. This has never happened before. Peggy, a character whom I met in the first third of the game, shared advice and delivered it in the same manner that my mom or aunt would. Sure it could be perceived as typical Asian preaching but I did not expect that from a game. It helped humanize these characters to great effect. I only wish there was more of that throughout the game.
Wei’s story meandered a bit after the strong first third of the game. It wasn’t as disjointed as Grand Theft Auto IV’s handling of the game after Playboy X vs Dwayne decision though. I played through the first half of Sleeping Dogs on the emotional high that the initial cast of characters invoked. When they began transitioning out of the main story, I felt like I was going the paces with some of the missions.
United Front Games made Sleeping Dogs for people like me. People who enjoy quality over quantity and those who get a kick out of asian settings. You can gauge my enjoyment from playing an open world game by the number of collectibles I went out of the way to collect. In Sleeping Dogs, I collected everything and wanted more reasons to cruise the streets and beat up some thugs. If open world games with quality mechanics is up your alley, I urge you to play Sleeping Dogs. Hell, you should just be playing it because you like great games.
For more information on Sleeping Dogs, visit the official website.
2010 PC Rev. 1.2 was used to play Sleeping Dogs.