At launch Grand Theft Auto 3 made quite a stir. Offending as many people as possible, while giving enjoyment to gamers the world over, it is the Johnny Rotten of video games. What followed was a series of sequels, prequels and entirely different stories all built within the Grand Theft Auto universe.
Every developer wanted to do their own take on what Rockstar did so well. Crackdown offered something different, Saints Row just wasn’t as good and True Crime, well True Crime all but disappeared.
That was until Square Enix picked up the then stagnating True Crime Hong Kong game, renamed it Sleeping Dogs and put things back into production. The result? A brilliant game which more than makes a stand against the gargantuan Grand Theft Autos of the free-roaming world.
Sleeping Dogs follows the story of Wei, an undercover cop who has already made quite a name for himself in the previous games under the True Crime moniker. This time round, Wei is in Hong Kong and looking to get up to his usual antics.
This means infiltrating a gang and turning over the top brass of Hong Kong’s triads. Along the Wei (it was unavoidable, honest), he gets up to all sorts of mischief. The line between good cop and full blown triad member begins to blur.
We don’t want to give away much more than that, but expect to be pleasantly surprised by the quality of True Crime’s storyline. A particular highlight is all the little interludes along the way, which while being side missions, add plenty of colour to an already rich and diverse story.
There aren't any direct story choices in Sleeping Dogs per se. This isn’t Mass Effect, but you can choose what type of mission you engage in. Helping the cops will bolster your cop-related character bonuses, giving you new abilities to help fight crime. Helping the triads will do the opposite.
Sleeping Dogs also succeeds in drawing you into its story very quickly. The game opens with a James Bond-style chase sequence through Hong Kong’s docks. It makes you want to play on and had us gripped almost instantly.
This is where Sleeping Dogs really stands out. As games go, we haven’t seen many with such attention to detail. Creating a map the size of Sleeping Dogs' means some texture and building repetition is unsurprising, but we are stunned at just how diverse Sleeping Dogs looks.
Of the various parts of Hong Kong, every area feels vary different. From the super-tall skyscrapers to the people-packed streets of the night market, we are so impressed by the visual feast Sleeping Dogs manages.
Cars, guns and characters also sound fantastic, creating a believable world in which to run riot. We also love the weather effects, with rain drenching Hong Kong’s streets, transforming them into reflective neon rows for you to tear down on a motorbike.
This is all backed up with some very detailed character models. Some of the NPCs are less impressive but pretty much anyone you interact with verbally in the game looks amazing. Wei in particular gets covered in blood during fights and his clothes get soaked and then dry off in the sunshine.
Being able to customise Wei in different ways with clothing and other bits and bobs is a nice touch, especially given the number of garments on offer. The same applies to the vehicles that you can buy in game, which are highly detailed with lots of clever touches such as fully kitted-out interiors.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating and with Sleeping Dogs it is a very sweet pudding indeed. Forget any comparisons with the Grand Theft Auto series, this is a game that very much makes the open world idea its own.
It is definitely over the top like Saints Row is, but never crude, instead doing everything with the class and style of a Hong Kong action film. You are given the option to do whatever you want fairly soon into the game. Running, fighting or shooting your way about Hong Kong and doing plenty of damage along the way.
Each element has its own unique gameplay style. Chasing someone, for example, will require you to time each press of the A or X button in order to execute leaps over obstacles smoothly. Driving allows you to do things such as leap between vehicles, or fire from your own car in slow motion. Cars also handle in an arcade style that makes them incredibly fun to drive.
It is the hand-to-hand combat that really stands out, however. To put it bluntly - Sleeping Dogs is insanely violent. You can do some seriously brutal stuff to passers-by on the street. Early on, for example, you will gain the ability to break someone's leg in one hit, causing everyone else nearby to wince.
On top of a fairly well-established fighting system, which grows as the game goes on, you can also execute these brutal finishing moves. You can, if you are so inclined, smashed a foe’s ribs in by using the shutters from a nearby shop.
Switching between all three gameplay styles is done effortlessly. It is this which really makes Sleeping Dogs great. You can just as easily tear down the motorway in a supercar, leap from it and begin shooting, as you can pull over and beat the hell out of a load of random people. It really brings out the gamer’s bad side and we love it.
We can’t fault Sleeping Dogs for effort. This is a game that has clearly had plenty of love poured into it. It looks and plays great, is pretty much bug free and gives you enough to get stuck into to get your money's worth.
The only problem we have with this game is that Rockstar has set the bar so high that other open world games, Sleeping Dogs included, just can’t quite match up. Still, this is easily the best of the bunch and gives you a gameplay experience different enough for us to encourage you to give it a try. Very possibly the sleeper hit of 2012.