With Sleeping Dogs, Squeenix basically stepped up and delivered the GTA: Large Asian City that Rockstar never got around to in spite of huge fan demand. Actually, it was originally an Activision property, and was slated to be a revival of their somewhat obscure True Crime series before it changed hands. As in the True Crime series, you're nominally an "undercover detective" but with incredibly wide latitude to perform your duties to include stealing cars for fun and profit, running over civilians and so on.
The setting for this one is modern-day Hong Kong. We play as Wei Shen, who grew up in a rough part of town before moving to San Francisco with his family and becoming an undercover cop there. He winds up working for Hong Kong PD in the same role, using a street rat former running buddy of his to infiltrate a branch of the Triads called the Sun On Yee.
GTA With A Few Twists
GTA is definitely the core model the game was built around, and it will feel instantly familiar if you've played any of them. Sleeping Dogs layers in a few other things to give it some variety, however.
Hand-to-hand combat and flashy martial arts are more at the forefront, with a system that feels like a mix of the Batman: Arkham and Yakuza games. Like the Batman games, fistfights always somehow wind up being you versus at least three or four other dudes. It's quite similar to Batman's "freeflow" style, but less finicky and more fun. That's mostly because the counter system is extremely generous, allowing you to interrupt just about anything you're doing to insta-counter the inevitable backshooters. Also adding to the fun is a wider variety of moves, and the ability to perform brutal "environmental kills" by grappling and dragging a guy over to certain background objects as well as special melee weapons finishers (a la Yakuza).
You can freely jack cars, but instead of the "garage" system of GTA where you can only store a limited amount of stolen vehicles, cars will unlock after being purchased or completing certain missions and you have unlimited access to your inventory of them every time you visit a parking facility. There aren't any magical spraypaint facilities to repair them or shake off cops, but if you wreck one you can simply get a fresh clone of it from the garage.
Since the game is set in Hong Kong, guns are also a little more of a rarity. There are definitely plenty around, and cover-based shooting sequences play heavily into the story missions. They're de-emphasized outside of specific missions that feature them, however. First of all, they're just harder to come across, only available either as part of certain unlockable outfits or from the trunks of certain vehicles. You can also only carry one at a time, and only pistols can be concealed. Any other gun has to be lugged around out in the open, which causes police to chase you on sight and civilians to panic and refuse to sell stuff to you (you can't even get into the parking garage to get cars).
The biggest unique selling point is the detailed Hong Kong setting, one of those virtual cities that it's fun to just explore for its own sake. As with games like Yakuza and Shenmue, the developers really accentuated the atmosphere to the point that it's interesting just to move around looking at and listening to stuff. Several different types of collectibles are scattered around, and there's enough stuff that wandering about in new areas often quickly leads you to something. It's worth doing, too, as you'll need cash for all sorts of things and some of the "lockboxes" contain new clothing items as well. The game also scatters about plenty of side missions, such as street racing and police duties.
There is also an experience point system, and leveling up gradually unlocks new moves and perks. There are actually three branches to this - Police, Triad and Face. Each has their own set of benefits, and you get points from completing relevant missions. If you're diligently exploring the map and completing side missions just for fun, you'll likely max out Police and Face pretty early - I had them done before the story was even half complete. It's worth continuing with their side missions, however, as some unlock new cars and outfits. Triad is a little trickier, as outside of a few exceptions all of that experience comes from the story missions. Unlike the GTA games, you can replay any story mission to try to max out the experience you gain from it (you get more from doing cool fight moves and sniping people out with headshots).
Tasty But A Little Raw
For the most part it's a polished game that's a pleasure to control, and there aren't any showstopping design or programming issues. It does feel like it was maybe 90% or so complete before budget considerations rushed it out the door, however, and this manifests in quite a few small ways throughout the entire length of play.
One is just our old buddy Havok Fizzicks, which occasionally does the things you expect it to do like making random objects fall or bounce around for no reason, or sending a guy flying off to the moon. The main problem here is that it can screw up mission objectives, forcing you to restart from a checkpoint; for example, you're supposed to pick up a phone that a guy you are chasing drops, but the phone bounces off into the Great Unknown. In another mission, I was supposed to chase a guy but somehow he teleported into the middle of a building texture and became immobile and unreachable.
AI pathing isn't fantastic and can be a problem too. There were a couple of GTA-style "follow the car but not too close" missions where the target car would keep plowing into traffic ahead of it. Enemy driving AI isn't bad on the open road, but in any kind of tight quarters it tends to get easily confused and start grinding into walls or get itself wedged behind a dumpster somehow.
Little goofy glitchy things like this will screw up a mission here and there, but fortunately the longer story missions have a fairly generous series of checkpoints that you can restart from as much as you want.
That's some fine police work there Lou
Some elements also look like they were curtailed before finishing development. The biggest of these are the dates with various girls. Each date is just a quick one-off thing with some fairly easy activity. That might have been intentional, but then why on Earth did they pay Emma Stone to voice one of these throwaway women? Dates end up being worth the time just because they unlock the locations of various things on your map, but they seem kinda tossed in and halfassed.
And it ends up being good that the game is so rich in side distractions and environmental exploration, as the story feels a little short and kinda ends abruptly and in a not-entirely-satisfying way, feeling like the money just ran out and they had to get something together to get it out the door.
The original release was in 2012. The Definitive Edition came out in 2014 primarily as a graphical touch-up to double-dip on sales for the new console generation, but it also packed in all the DLC.
First, the graphics. The game does look better, and there are a lot more pedestrians and general background objects around and about. That does come at the price of a significant boost in needed horsepower, however, so if you have an older rig you might want to stick with the original game.
The DLC isn't fantastic on the whole, and you won't be missing much if you just play the original game. Wheels of Fury basically gives you the Batmobile, but the side mission sequence to get it doesn't initiate until very late in the game so by the time you get it there's very little left to do with it. Zodiac Island is a fun little riff on Enter the Dragon (complete with Shaw Brothers-style cinematic intro and faux grainy film cutscenes), but is also very short and not very substantial. Nightmare in North Point is the de rigeur zombie-themed DLC; it has some neat graphical effects but the missions consist of nothing but very tedious melee combat.
The one piece of DLC that's really worth looking at is Year of the Snake, which is basically a mini-sequel. Wei gets busted back down to beat cop due to his shenanigans while working undercover, but his life quickly gets exciting again when he stumbles upon a death cult's terrorist plot. In addition to new story cutscenes, it has side missions and a new set of collectibles that span the full game map.
A Quality GTA-Alike
Aside from the minor things I've touched on here, the worst criticism you can levy at Sleepydorgs is that it maybe follows GTA's beats a little too closely. I thought the highly detailed Hong Kong setting did a lot to differentiate it, however, and the melee combat emphasis and variety of side missions help to make it feel fresh.
* Radio station song list
* Gameplay Video