Sleeping Dogs Review: A Violent Trip To Hong Kong

An undercover cop single-handedly attempts to take down the Sun On Yee.

Being an undercover cop is not for the weak or faint of heart. Trying to be loyal to both sides proves emotionally and mentally exhausting. As you try to dismantle the infamous Triads in Hong Kong, the lines blur between what’s right and what’s wrong. The people you trust no longer trust you. The lines of morality become faded and reality seems distorted. Sleeping Dogs captures these themes and provides a beautiful back drop while some of the most shocking acts of violence and perversion are displayed.

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What it’s all about

You are Wei Shen, an undercover cop just returning to Hong Kong from duty stateside. Your officers in command have deemed you worthy of disrupting the ranks of the highly dangerous and very real Sun On Yee (in real life, they’re known as Sun Yee On). They’re a group of the Triads composed of steroid-injected thugs and highly respected members of society. 

You meet an old childhood friend in prison who’s a mere gopher (ya know, go-for this, go-for that) with ties to a small arm of the gang. He will introduce you to the beautiful open-world version of Hong Kong. Like many open-world games, you’ll come across many tasks to assist in your rise up the ranks. This consists of infiltrating the underground race scene, hacking cameras around the city, even a fight club-esque group around the city to try out the near perfect martial arts combat.

Ewww… That looks like it hurt

Sleeping Dogs is a mix of upgradable hand-to-hand combat and gun play. Similar to the latest Batman reboots, fighting consists of being surrounded. While engaged in multiple foes the person about to attack you glows read, indicating you need to counter. The upgrade trees allow for more combos, powerful attacks, better driving, shooting, and resistance to damage.

Doing damage in special ways earns you more experience for the Triads. Restraining yourself while driving and around civilians earns you experience as a cop. You can earn more tools and toys like cars, clothes, and cooldown bonuses.

In addition to the addicting combat, are the environmental interactions. If you’re fighting in a kitchen and you’ve grappled a foe, set pieces like a burning stove would be an option to place a guy’s face upon. If there’s nothing around, you can always just slam the person into a wall or over some railings.

Not much is held back in terms of violence from this experience. Ramming heads into rotating saw blades, drowning men in their own urine, and watching someone stick a drill into the knee of a razor cut body is a bit gruesome at times. Granted, being a part of a vicious crime syndicate might have something to do with that.

A sleepy start

The story of how you gain the trust of those in the violent Sun On Yee is a bit of a roller coaster. I don’t mean that in a fun and exciting kind of way. I mean that in a “teetering on pointless” to “why can’t the rest of the story be this good,” kind of way. After enduring a hectic gun fight and confronting the target/boss, it is always followed by a chase sequence. It broke up the pacing at times, resulting in sighs of disappointment and frustration.

On the other end of that are terrifically voiced scenes that display the amount of polish in the game. Wei’s passion comes through crystal clear every time. Other red pole figures like the powerful and intelligent Jiang – the first female leader in the Sun On Yee – are handled with great care. Aside from a few prostitutes, most dialog is relevant and enjoyable.

Part of why those well voiced scenes carried so much weight was due to the detail in environments. I wasn’t reminded I was in a video game at times, allowing me to get sucked into the writing. I never saw a single texture pop, screen tears, with variety of colors and environments, that’s impressive. While exploring the pretty city of Hong Kong, I enjoyed a few of the tunes provided on the radio. With a total of 10 channels, I usually stuck with the metal, rap, and instrumental stations, as each felt within context of the emotions conveyed throughout the game.

All in all…

Though there are some predictable story elements, they don’t take away from this great game coming together. There were about five different mission types out of the 30+ story-based missions. The pacing became bogged down about a third of the way through, but picks back up in the last 6 hours. The combat was addictive and truly felt powerful as you progressed through the upgrade tree.

This was a trip to Hong Kong I hope to never personally experience. The violence really did seem over the top at times, and a little off-putting. I’ve never seen the life of an undercover cop so well depicted through a video game. I can only hope we get to see what Wei Shen’s next case will entail.

Sleeping Dogs Review: A Violent Trip To Hong Kong
An undercover cop single-handedly attempts to take down the Sun On Yee.

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I'm a stay at home dad who writes about video games. I enjoy my family, video games, and music.