Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review: Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs was okay. Not a great game, not a terrible game. I think the biggest problem is that the GTA does this kind of thing better and a collection of warmed over Hong Kong action movie cliches can't save it.

The title screen is terrible, though. It's this logo on a black background. I've seen NES games with better title screens.

This is well worn territory to those who read this blog, but I like my heroes to be heroes.  I like to play heroes in a video game. I don't find villains who kick puppies for dark side points to be particularly engaging, but I'll play a villain protagonist, but only if the game is honest about it. The Prototype series is probably my favorite open world game, because I'm a monster and the narrative never pretends otherwise. I'm not evil for the sake of being evil, but the character is almost entirely self-interested. In Sleeping Dogs, you play my least favorite type of character, the biggest shit in the world whom everyone treats like a hero.

Early on, you're romancing several women. You get a tip that one of them is cheating on you, so you do what any concerned party  would do in that situation, and you bug her phone and follow her every movement around town. Did I say concerned party? I meant crazy stalker.

It happens so early on that every subsequent act is seen in the light of that one. If not for that one mission, I think I wound have had an entirely different impression of the character.

The advertising was also a little misleading. I read about making tough choices and conflicted loyalties, as Copp Maverick, maverick cop goes undercover with the triads. But it's really not like that. You're a guy in the triads who occasionally calls on his police contacts.  There were a few "investigation" missions, but they were short and unconnected to the overall plot. It was mostly go here and click on this. When we were investigating a later mission, Tim made the quip, "I'm going to click on a glowie and  find a phone number who tells me who did it," which, as it turned out, is exactly what happens. I think the game would have been better served getting rid of these entirely rather than rolling them out like this.

The main plot is fine. It's painfully predictable, which I think is working as intended, because the authors didn't want to depart too far from the hard-boiled John Woo gangster apocalypses, which, in spite of their many merits, do tend to follow certain formulas. The writing was uneven. It's almost as if there were two writing teams.

I guess I would have liked to have seen a little more nuance. The bad guys are shown as irredeemably bad, but  I'm not sure that shooting up a wedding is worse than kidnapping your enemies, murdering them, making them into stew that you force feed to other kidnapped enemies, to take an example from the game.

The chases were pretty badly executed. It's impossible to catch your target and nearly as impossible to lose him. You just parkour up a bunch of stuff, and follow  him for three minutes until he stops running and decides to fight. And there are so many of them. I'd rather win or lose on the basis of my skills, not just get to a point where the game says, "Hey, you didn't lose by this point, so I guess you catch him."

Then there's fast talking. I don't even know why fast talking was implemented. When you talk to certain people, a triangle will appear and you have about ten seconds to push it to respond. If you do, you successfully fast talk your target. Its inclusion is just bizarre. It's almost impossible to fail (though we did so once, when Tim was playing and talking to me during the conversation) and it adds nothing

There were some funny moments, but mostly they come from random occurrences in an open world game such as this. For example, a woman wanted me to take pictures to provide new designs for her t-shirt business, so I went around to local landmarks. At one location I stopped my car too late and wound up running into a bunch of pedestrians who were sprawled at unnatural angles in front of the scenic vista. I snapped the picture anyway. (I did like the mission with the drunk photobombing you when you were trying to take a picture of a sunset, though.)

And there was another fight against a bunch of goons. We just mounted a nearby moped and drove back and forth, honking the cute little horn every time we ran someone down.

And likewise, it's viscerally satisfying to steal an SUV and plow it into a group of unsuspecting thugs.

There were a lot of minigames for various activities, but they weren't too bad. I actually enjoyed the hacking part. The main problem with them is that they came too frequently, and it just seemed like a cheap way to extend the playtime.

Verdict: Buy it used. Preferably from me.

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