Triads and Tribulations
Sleeping Dogs proves that a great concept is always worth saving. It may not have the sheen of other open world games, but United Front has made something truly unique.
Published: August 24, 2012
Sleeping Dogs, even with the additional development time, isn't the most polished of games. Cars will sometimes bounce in place, cutscene animations can be a little rough, missing the kind of lip synching that defines AAA games this generation and there's just a general feeling of wonkiness to everything. Cars handle with strange precision at first, bikes seem overly twitchy and the on-foot traversal can be quite clunky. And yet all of these things slowly start to melt away, all those rough edges smoothing into something that feels unique. It's not so much that one ever learns to accept that things are a little off, but they all seem to complement each other enough that it's more about charm than jankiness.
There's another place where Sleeping Dogs manages to stand out: its voice cast. I don't mean a laundry list of big-name Hollywood stars (though there are some good ones in there), I mean the voice cast was picked largely because they were bilingual and for the way they could rapport with their fellow voice actors. It says something when the folks you've heard of from TV and movies are the least impressive members of the cast, and that something is that Square and UFG managed to cobble together people who just plain sell their characters better than most games.
Credit should be given to the writing, too, though; as often conversations flow with a kind of give and take that's infinitely more natural than the clear stitching together of different voices recorded separately. Here, thanks to multiple actors recording at the same time, lines can be stepped on, hitches and catches in the voice like stutters or pregnant pauses will throw beats into speech that just aren't there normally and the result is a cast that feels like people rather than jabbering jaws (made that much more impressive by the fact that most of them don't emote with their faces or contort their mouths in anything approaching high fidelity).
From side characters to common grunts, nearly the entire cast has something interesting to say; it's easy to understand the idea of Wei losing his grip on who he is because these are seductively likeable people. Criminals shaking down shops and beating the shit out of their enemies still somehow manage to instill a sense of family and camaraderie that you just can't shake. Sure, Wei's a cop and he does cop things to help crack down on crime, but it's not hard to understand why he'd give up the police angle and just go about exacting personal justice. That's an unbelievably impressive feat given most games' ability to make characters relatable, much less sympathetic. Bravo, United Front; you've made something truly special here, and it goes beyond simple combat, shooting and driving.
Of course, this is a game centered around all three of those tenets. More than most open world games, this isn't a hugely sprawling city, it's one that's dense rife with back alleys and objects to clamber on -- fortunate considering major portions of the game are centered around not driving, but running. Freerunning -- parkour -- to be more exact. See, Wei is a pretty agile guy, and by tapping the X Button right before sprinting into an object, he can vault, climb, slide or jump over that object without breaking pace. This enables on-foot chases, exploration and swift movement even through crowds, and it's one of the biggest ways in which Sleeping Dogs feels like its own game.