Way back in 2002, developer Luxoflux released True Crime: Streets of LA; an open-world action-adventure game that sought to replicate the carnage of Rockstar’s smash hit that was Grand Theft Auto 3. The original True Crime was met with a middling commercial and critical reception, but it was enough for publisher Activision to fund a sequel. Hence, True Crime: New York was released to a mostly similar reception two years later – and unsurprisingly failed to turn in a profit yet again. A third entry was conceived shortly after – this time at United Front Games, but following a disappointing first showing to the public – the at-the-time named True Crime: Hong Kong was canned by Activision. Thankfully, publisher Square Enix would go on to pick this game up and allowed United Front Games to finish what they started.
Of course, with Square Enix not having the rights to the True Crime license – United Front Games had to alter the game to become its own entity; a sort of a spiritual successor to True Crime. Little did United Front Games know that this spiritual successor, aptly named Sleeping Dogs would turn out to be a sleeper hit. Sleeping Dogs was released on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC, on August 14th, 2012 to rave reviews. It’s been almost 10 years since the release of Sleeping Dogs, and to that end – let’s take a look back at this one hell of a game.
Players take on the role of Wei Shen, an undercover cop who is sent on a mission to infiltrate a branch of the city’s gang of triads known as the “Sun On Yee”. Wei finds his way into the gang as a low-life footsoldier, but thanks to his exceptional combat skills and wits – he is quickly able to cement himself as a promising member of the gang. Of course, this is all happening in parallel to his work as an undercover cop – where he is slowly and steadily reporting all the undergoings of the city’s criminal activity.
It’s all inspired by Hong Kong action movies, and while the plot might not be one that’s extensively deep or anything – it’s enjoyable through and through. The many characters that Wei meets throughout his adventures are all distinct and mostly likable such as the likes of Winston, while others such as Jackie have their own character arcs which can be compelling to witness. Sleeping Dogs doesn’t shy away from violence at all, and we see multiple instances of horrendous murders and barbaric tortures throughout the campaign. Furthermore, Wei’s journey through the ranks of the Sun On Yee gang holds interesting ramifications for his life as a police officer – which is an enchanting prospect to witness as well.
While True Crime was obviously inspired by Grand Theft Auto, Sleeping Dogs is a different beast of its own. Sure, it’s an open world and entails working for criminal organizations – but the actual gameplay mechanics are a lot different than Rockstar’s open-world offerings. Firstly, there’s a fleshed-out hand-to-hand combat system – which uses a simple system of punches, grabs, and parries to great results. You need to time your button presses just right to fight effectively, and the enemies demand that players have a good understanding of how the combat system works to get through tougher encounters. With enough practice, however, you can skillfully 5-hit combo your way through entire squads of enemies all while engaging in some gruesome and over-the-top environmental takedowns.
Wei can, of course, use weapons as well – and suffice to say, he is really skillful at that too. Later missions feature intricately built levels such as a wedding venue or a seaside warehouse which act as distinct backdrops for tense shootouts, complete with well-timed set pieces. Sleeping Dogs also features a Max Payne-Esque bullet-time mechanic, which gives way to some intense cinematic moments – much like the action movies that inspired the game. The weapons that players can wield range from a simple pistol to an assault rifle to a grenade launcher – and they all feel really great to use.
Hong Kong is a rather popular setting when it comes to open worlds, and for good reason – the high-rise skyscrapers provide a fine contrast to the densely packed suburbs. Add to that its rich culture and bustling nightlife characterized by an overabundance of neon signs, and you have a city that’s as much of its own character as the protagonists and villains themselves. Suffice to say, United Front Games nailed its rendition of Hong Kong. Granted it’s not the biggest of open worlds, but it’s still dotted with interesting geography and diversity between its neighborhoods – which all culminate in a world that’s a joy to explore. You can drive around in exquisite vehicles and participate in street racing. Furthermore, there’s also a litany of sometimes absurd civilian missions – which reward you with precious Face XP – which fills up a special meter that grants damage buffs and health regeneration during combat.
In a nutshell, Sleeping Dogs boasts an incredibly diverse range of gameplay styles for its moment-to-moment gameplay – which is made all the more impressive thanks to the great attention to detail put in each of these aspects. It’s all stitched together by an eventful open world that’s a very believable recreation of Hong Kong and a story that while not the most heart-wrenching or anything – remains entertaining for the most part. Sure, there are a few loose ends here and there – such as the driving feeling slippery (at least in my humble opinion) – but when it comes to delivering a well-rounded open-world adventure, Sleeping Dogs rarely misses a pulled punch.
At the time of writing, Sleeping Dogs stands at a shining 80 score on Metacritic. Sleeping Dogs would also go on to receive a total of 24 DLCs, including meaty content expansions such as the Chinese folklore-inspired Nightmare in North Point and the Wheels of Fury supercar expansion. But despite its many merits, Sleeping Dogs failed to turn in a profit – with only 1.5 million copies reportedly sold.
It’s a shame because a direct sequel to Sleeping Dogs was in the works at United Front Games shortly after release – and from what we know, it was a really ambitious title. Players would be embroiled in yet another crime thriller starring dual protagonists Wei Shen and his partner Henry Fang, and the game’s perspective would shift throughout the story. Furthermore, the developer even planned to include online-oriented elements in the game as well such as how the criminal activity in certain areas would be dictated by the overarching number of players policing the areas.
Furthermore, United Front Games was also hard at work on a multiplayer spin-off to Sleeping Dogs called Triad Wars. After an underwhelming beta testing phase, the game was canned which was followed by the cancellation of the sequel as publisher Square Enix chose to direct its funds towards more financially viable projects such as the likes of Final Fantasy XIV. United Front Games was closed shortly after in 2016 – which marked the end of any hope that fans might have for a sequel. Over 10 years later, playing through Sleeping Dogs remains a great time, and if you haven’t tried it yet – I highly recommend that you do.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.