Sleeping Dogs Review

Platform: PS3/PS4/360/XB1/PC
Originally Reviewed: 2012

Ok, I’ve read a lot of articles on this game, and I’m getting pretty sick of sleep/canine puns. So my personal challenge to myself was to write this review without using any. Wish me luck! Sleeping Dogs rose from the grave of True Crime: Hong Kong and surprised everyone with its progress at this year’s E3. A smart release date sees the game kept away from the big boys with a genuine chance of making an impact during the gaming drought. But will it genuinely prove to be the sleeper hit of the summe…damn.

Sleeping Dogs’ narrative is a lot like an Asian Donnie Brasco. Basically, that’s because it is. You play as Wei Shen, an undercover police officer tasked with infiltrating the Sun On Yee, one of the leading Triad gangs. Cue lots of morally questionable decisions by our anti-hero; angry superiors concerned with his methods, double-crosses, double-double-crosses, and a man being killed in an ice machine. A lot has been made of the story in Sleeping Dogs, but for all its Hollywood flavour, it’s far from a classic.

The game’s story isn’t terrible by any means, and its narrative arc is actually pretty interesting – enough to make you want to see the game through to conclusion anyway – it’s just not always entirely original or delivered in a particularly sterling way. Up against its American gang counterpart – the brilliant Mafia 2 – Sleeping Dogs simply doesn’t have the well-rounded protagonist or sterling supporting cast to match up. Nevertheless, Wei Shen is voice-acted well by Will Yun Lee (soon to be portraying Ermac in the upcoming Mortal Kombat Legacy movie) and his main supporting cast are all reasonably decent, but the dialogue can seriously let the game down at times.

The Grand Theft Auto titles are commended for their savvy, uber-cool writing, but Sleeping Dogs often suffers from really uninteresting bland dialogue and needless overuse of effing and blinding. There’s not much of the wit or attitude that we’ve come to expect from Rockstar’s titles. Maybe the game just takes itself too seriously – even the radio station adverts and presenters, usually a hilarious source of irreverent jabbering, seem to lack any element of humour. If you’re going to steal ideas from GTA then why leave out the sense of fun?

The random use of Cantonese dialect in the middle of English sentences is just weird and feels really odd. Whole sentences in Cantonese are fine, but in the aforementioned instances the languages are too different in speed that the Cantonese words feel really out of place. It was clearly meant to give extra immersion into the game world, but I doubt everyone in Hong Kong walks around speaking English and swearing in Cantonese.

Sleeping Dogs’ gameplay is a lot like an Asian Grand Theft Auto. Basically, that’s because it is. Wait, haven’t I just said something like that? It seems that Square Enix were really trying to make a GTA title set in Hong Kong and boy did they nail it. You get missions from different people, drive cars to places, waste time with side missions and random distractions and so on and so forth. It doesn’t make the game bad by any means – it’s just something we’ve all seen plenty of times before.

Where Sleeping Dogs differs greatly from GTA is in the melee combat. And, true to the game’s nature, this is pretty much because it’s been lifted from another game, just one that isn’t GTA. Adopting the Arkham Asylum style of ‘freeflow’ combat, Wei Shen dismantles enemies with basic ‘X’ button presses and ‘Y’ button counters when they flash red. Again, it’s nothing particularly new, but it does work really well and the use of weapon and environmental attacks are brilliantly brutal. The combat system is definitely one of the most fun elements in the game and once Wei has been fully trained up he is a devastating roundhouse kicking, arm breaking, head crushing machine.

The developers know how good the combat system is and they really really want you to agree. So they don’t give you any guns. Ok that’s not strictly true, as there are a fair few gun sections in the game, but there are no gun shops or armouries to stock up on weapons. You get to use guns when the game wants you to and barely any other time. You play several hours of story before the first gunfight, but when it happens it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. Once you get to grips with the fact that gunfights are a rarity to be cherished, it’s easy to deal with and makes them even more fun.

Sleeping Dogs uses a lot of slow motion in the combat and I personally prefer the use to that of Max Payne 3’s ‘use bullet time and crumple up against a wall and get slowly shot to shit’ approach. When Wei jumps out of cover or disarms an enemy the game hits slow motion, meaning it’s only used when it’s a viable option and it always looks and feels awesome. It’s also used for cosmetic effect in fights and car chases. Break an enemy’s arm and see it snap and crack in brutal slowmo; shoot out a car’s tires and watch it barrel about the road in a ball of flames – Matrix style. It will make you feel like an action hero, guaranteed.

Mechanically the game is reasonably solid and the driving also comes into this. Some of the development team have previously worked on Need For Speed and the game has an enjoyably arcade feel to the car handling with ridiculous speed and crazy handbrake turns the order of the day. The GPS system has arrows show up on the screen, allowing you to admire the sufficiently nice looking city rather than be staring at a mini map the whole time.

Sleeping Dogs gets most of the important gameplay aspects right, but it does suffer from niggling annoyances and bugs. Admittedly, it’s not exactly a surprise to see bugs and glitches in massive sandbox games, but Sleeping Dogs frequently suffers from these – with Wei randomly getting stuck floating in the air, frequent lip-syncing problems and plenty of frame rate, pop up and clipping issues. The game also crashed at least 4 times during my playthrough, which was really frustrating.

The game can also be really fiddly at times. Wei will not get in a car unless you press ‘Y’ right next to the door. He will assume that your A button press meant you wanted leap off an edge into some water rather than simply sprinting. He will lock on to the wrong enemy in a fight. It’s not awful and certainly not game breaking, it just shows that there’s a definite lack of polish to some aspects of the game.

There are definitely enough elements of Sleeping Dogs that make it really fun for the majority of the time. The dialogue isn’t very inspiring and the game won’t blow you away with some amazing new way of playing a sandbox title, but it’s still a brutal and bloody game with plenty of Hollywood moments and a vibrant and cool city to explore. There’s a ton of collectibles and distractions that will easily give the player value for money and, crucially, the game rarely gets boring despite the heavy repetition that plagues all sandbox games.

If you look at the word ‘good’ and feel that it is significantly less of a compliment than the word ‘great’ then Sleeping Dogs is very good. It’s just that little bit off greatness. A bit more polish, some more imaginative dialogue and a few less glitches and the game would have been fantastic. As it is, it’s great fun at the best of times and amusingly stupid at the worst of times. As a good time to while away the rest of the summer before the release schedule gets convoluted with great titles, you can do a lot worse than Sleeping Dogs. Sadly, you can also do a fair bit better.

Alex Aldridge


It’s pretty nice to look at. The city of Hong Kong is well designed and has plenty of neon, palm trees and nice ocean to look at. Some character models aren’t great and frame rate issues and lip-syncing let it down.



Plays perfectly well with a great combat system, decent car handling, good use of slow motion and exciting gun fights and car chases. Never particularly inspiring or mind blowing, but it’s still a blast.



It’s pretty typical ‘undercover cop goes undercover and gets attached to gang life as morals come into question’ and the dialogue isn’t great at all, but there are enough twists and a fairly satisfying ending to keep you interested. Can’t compete with GTA 4 or Mafia 2.



You probably won’t want to play it again, but it obviously offers the chance to go back to the game and finish off the many dozens of side missions, races, and random distractions after you’ve finished the main story. No multiplayer though.



It’s pretty long and there’s plenty to do and you certainly won’t have played many better boxed releases this summer, but it’s basically a stop-gap title before the holiday period rolls around. For £20 it’s a great buy. Sandbox fans shouldn’t miss out, either.



Sleeping Dogs is a really good game, it’s just not quite as great as some of its genre gang mates. Without the sterling narrative of Mafia 2 or the humorous writing of GTA the game can feel a little flat. It plays well and is a lot of fun, but a lack of polish and far too many bugs and glitches spoil what could have been a huge success. Released at a time with not much competition, Sleeping Dogs is still well worth your time. Just don’t expect a masterpiece.





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