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Gaming review: 'Sleeping Dogs' comes out all guns blazing

Last updated on: September 6, 2012 04:58 IST

Gaming review: 'Sleeping Dogs' comes out all guns blazing

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The brand new game to hit the shelves this season is an action-packed extension of the True Crime Franchise.  Murali Venukumar reviews the game for us.

Murali is a full-time marketing exec, part-time writer and a life-long gamer.

It's an absolute miracle that Sleeping Dogs is on store shelves. Originally an extension of the True Crime franchise, it was dumped by Activision for just 'not being very good'. Square Enix for some odd reason (probably still on a high from the success of Just Cause 2) picked up the half-finished game and ran with it, giving it its new moniker and pouring an absolute fortune in marketing into it as well.

So now that it's actually out, is it as dire as Activision made it out to be? Not in the least. It's a fun, polished open world action-adventure that packs a wallop of a story to boot. That said, is Sleeping Dogs a Grand Theft Auto killer? Not quite.

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Photographs: Square Enix

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Set in Hong Kong, you play Wei Shen, a cop who's gone undercover to infiltrate a notorious local Triad organisation. Borrowing cues from the cream of Hong Kong crime cinema (the Infernal Affairs trilogy, for instance), Sleeping Dogs plays its story surprisingly straight. What little humour there is, is mostly restricted to random incidents or side missions sprinkled across the large-ish map.

Straddling both sides of the law, Sleeping Dogs tries to vary up its mission structure by offering up both Triad and Cop mission threads full of deceit, betrayal and factional spats that you can pursue concurrently. Completing these missions earns you independent Cop or Triad XP that you then use to unlock moves and buffs in two separate skill trees. In addition to these, there's also a skill tree for the Face XP you rack up by completing side missions, and a tree that unlocks moves to learn at the local Dojo.

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Photographs: Square Enix

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Gaming review: 'Sleeping Dogs' comes out all guns blazing

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You'll also come across heaps of collectibles: shrines that increase your health and lockboxes filled with money, costumes and other brick-a-brac. Sadly, there isn't a lot to spend your money on aside from clothes, fancy cars and eatables at refreshment stands. Food and clothing do serve a purpose in gameplay as 'using' them rewards you with a selection of time-limited buffs such as regenerative health.

You can tool around in a wide variety of cars, bikes and boats, although some may find the handling a bit on the floaty side. It doesn't really display the kind of bathed-in-physics intricacy as GTA IV, but you'll get used to it. The game also borrows Pursuit Force's action hijacking and The Wheelman's car-ramming. Wei thinks nothing of leaping out of moving vehicles and hijacking anything that's at arm's length, or just shunting vehicles out of the way using his own ride.

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Photographs: Square Enix

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Gaming review: 'Sleeping Dogs' comes out all guns blazing

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Consequently, and as a neat touch, you'll see Wei (and his chosen threads) get increasing muddied and bloody as the game progresses. It's a nice touch, as are the dosens of costumes you'll find that pay homage to classic films that inspired the developers. They're definitely worth seeking out.

Sleeping Dogs also has your now requisite random city activities to partake in when you aren't feeling up for the next story mission just yet. And there are a ton of them. Everything from local Fight Clubs, Karaoke and Cock Fighting to Gambling and Drug Busts are all marked on your map.

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Photographs: Square Enix
Tags: Wei , Karaoke

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Gaming review: 'Sleeping Dogs' comes out all guns blazing

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This being the Far East, you quite rightly won't be finding random firearms to purchase in gun shops, on Triad goons or strewn around the environment. Instead, you'll fall back on hand-to-hand combat, assorted melee weapons and environmental kills to deal most of your damage. The combat itself is a good balance of fun and challenging, with a button each for attacks, counters and grabs. When enemies flash red, that's your cue to counter a la Rocksteady's Batman franchise.

You can also grab folks and drag them to environmental hot spots leading to some absolutely brutal environmental kills. You'll learn various moves and combos as you level up and you'll also occasionally come across dudes with guns whom you can disarm. A rudimentary cover system is in effect, and gunplay also gives you bullet-time moments that let you leap out of cover and cap guys just as Chow Yun Fat would in a John Woo masterpiece.

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Photographs: Square Enix

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Gaming review: 'Sleeping Dogs' comes out all guns blazing

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The guns unfortunately don't pack much punch and aiming can be a tad fiddly. To the game's credit, it makes up for it's minor deficiencies with an overall experience that hits the sweet spot between over the top action and grounded story. Things go increasingly bad for Wei and although the game doesn't rewrite crime-genre fiction, its still tightly scripted and has a ton of big names from the local Hong Kong film scene as well as the likes of Tom Wilkinson and Emma Stone on voice over duty.

Everyone does their part, and while it would have been nice to have a Cantonese audio track, United Front Games does the next best thing and mixes up the English VO with snippets of Cantonese. The selection of music for the radio stations is quite good, although the lack of standout RJs ultimately doesn't give each station much character.

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Photographs: Square Enix

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Sleeping Dogs' Hong Kong may not be as sizable as Liberty City, but it captures the feel of the metropolis well enough. As with the real mega-city, you'll find modern high streets jostling with old temples and dingy night markets filled with stalls selling counterfeit merchandise. What's lacking though, is a sense of character to the city's districts. They blend into each other, as there aren't many line-of-sight references or landmarks than you can use to mentally bookmark areas. There's also a bit of unsightly pop-in in places, but the skyline with its marriage of rolling hills, business towers and housing blocks is unmistakably Hong Kong.

Sleeping Dogs is a fine game, and a perfect start to the busy holiday gaming calendar. It may not reach the highs of a Rockstar open world game, but there's enough here to warrant a full price purchase. This has sleeper hit written all over it.

Are you a gadget/gaming wizard/afficianado? Would you like to write on gadgets, gaming, the Internet, software technologies, OSs and the works for us? Send us a sample of your writing to gadgetsandgaming@rediffmail.com with the subject as 'I'm a tech wizard/afficianado' and we will get in touch with you.


Photographs: Square Enix

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