- Developers: United Front Games/Square Enix London
- Publishers: Square Enix/Namco Bandai Games
- Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3 [tested], Microsoft Windows, OnLive
- Release Date: 17 August
- Price as reviewed: £39.99
When inflated production costs and a dwindling fanbase led Activision to cancel True Crime:Hong Kong back in 2009, the series looked all but done for. Grand Theft Auto IV had already won the sandbox race: With its dynamic open-world, and gritty, verbose crime drama, GTA IV made True Crime look antiquated and silly.
Straight-faced violence was in; True Crime's brand of sleek mini-games and arcade-style melee-brawling was out.
Three-years later, and Rockstar are facing a backlash. Fans are demanding a return to freeform wackiness, and it's not for certain that Grand Theft Auto V will deliver. It seems like True Crime's comeback couldn't have been better timed. Sports cars, bullet-time and karaoke - this is everything that GTA wasn't. Except it's not called True Crime: Hong Kong anymore - it's called Sleeping Dogs.
You play as Wei Shen, an undercover cop inside the Hong Kong triad. Wei is a conflicted man, torn between his criminal roots in China and his police training in the US; it's up to you to pick a side.
There are two morality gauge. First, putting in good police work will net you Cop points, which can be used to upgrade sleuth skills like hacking cameras and picking locks. Then there's the Triad meter, where unlawful behaviour can be used to unlock better weapon accuracy and lethal takedowns. It's a great mechanic, linking your behaviour to Wei's torn mind-set.
Handcuff-happy players will keep Wei's superiors happy, but have less fun with the shooting and fighting. The more bloodthirsty out there can blast their way through every crime scene, but at the risk of being sucked into the triad for good.
Playing one side off against the other - posing as a cop while working for the robbers, and vice-versa - is a game in-and-of itself, as you carefully choose whose dirty work to do next.
True Crime and Punishment
Sleeping Dogs' story feels like a best-of compilation of Asian crime cinema. Wei's internal cop/criminal conflict is lifted directly from Infernal Affairs, with shootouts and punch-ups coming courtesy of Hard Boiled and Ong-Bak. But it's not all pastiche. With an all-star cast featuring Tom Wilkinson, Emma Stone and Lucy Liu, Sleeping Dogs has plenty of narrative backbone of its own.
Wei's journey from the bureaucratic confines of the police department to the brutality of Triad gang life, is strung out over fifteen-hours of sharp dialogue and romantic subplots. Characters are picked up and dropped with a brutal lack of ceremony, and there are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing throughout.
It's not exactly David Simon (there are plenty of trite, cookie-cutter "gangster" moments and few major blunders that are hard to forgive) but for a game built around hyperbolic action and outlandish sidequests, it's surprising to see such a sprawling narrative.
And when the story is over, there are plenty of mini-games and sidequests to follow-up. You can train and fight in the local Kung-Fu dojo; cruise the streets of Hong Kong in an illegal street-race or take your girlfriend out for dinner. Bored of that? Then go clothes shopping or hit a karaoke bar.
With hundreds of collectables and extra missions dotted around Hong Kong's four districts, there's enough of Sleeping Dogs to keep you playing for at least twenty hours.
At times, though, it can feel like a chore. Where Grand Theft Auto IV gradually unwraps as you explore its streets and boroughs, Sleeping Dogs is all laid out for you on your minimap, and at times it can be intimidating. It's a similar problem to Batman: Arkham City, where the game throws you so many missions and places to go at once that ticking them off one-by-one feels more like work than play.
Grand Theft Auto IV reveals its sidequests organically, subtly leading you to stumble over them during the main story. Sleeping Dogs hands you a shopping list, and tells you to go here, here and here. It's a far less exciting way to see the game.
As a result, the city never feels alive. Pedestrians wander to and fro, spouting quips that point to the player; if they're not calling your attention to a shop or a side mission, they're making some remark about how you're "that cop" or "that triad guy" depending on how your meters are balanced.
The game world suffers from the same airlessness of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mafia 2, with too few people and cars on the street and not enough background noise. It's a shame; the beautifully rendered sun and rain effects, and the diverse, pulsing soundtrack would be perfect accompaniments to a more fully-formed city.
Cult movies aren't the only influence here; Sleeping Dogs borrows a lot of ideas from other games. The melee combat is a slightly slicker rendition of Assassin's Creed, as you wait for a bad guy to telegraph his attack and then jab the counter button.
There are free-running sections, which also come courtesy of Creed and plenty of cut-and-paste shootouts, the same kind of thing you'd find in Uncharted, Gears of War and Red Dead Redemption. Sleeping Dogs is still fun to play, but you're unlikely to do anything you've never done before.
It's good to see the True Crime series back on the streets, albeit wearing different gang colours. Despite a lot of reheated ideas, and a truly lifeless game world, Sleeping Dogs is still an entertaining mix of melee combat, side missions and larger-than-life mob drama.
A welcome middle-ground between the bleak satire of Grand Theft Auto and the absolute farce of Saints Row: The Third, Sleeping Dogs is likely to satisfy fans on both side of the grittiness debate.
- Gameplay - 6/10: Extremely lacking in new ideas, but still good fun to play
- Sound - 9/10:A superb voice cast coupled with a rich, techno soundtrack. Only the ambient noise is lacking
- Graphics - 8/10: Hong Kong's neon lights look beautiful reflected off your car at night. Pedestrians are a little clunky
- Replay Value - 7/10: Plenty of sidequests and extras, but the gameplay is already too familiar
- Overall - 7/10: An enjoyable, bloody crime-romp, distinctly lacking in new ideas