I was holding back on getting this game, mostly because I wasn’t sure when I’d ever have the time to play a GtA clone in between all the other games that usually take my attention, and it was always regularly going on 75% off so I could always get it another time, right?
Seeing one of my friends who rarely plays Steam games on a habitual basis pick it up and stick with the game for around 4 days running (a record for this friend, really) suggested there was something fairly captivating about this title.
At 80% off, I was finally moved enough to put down some cash to take it out for a spin.
Turns out… it’s pretty good.
The opening sets the scene for what to expect.
If you’ve watched any Hong Kong action / cop movie, the game hits several bullseyes on flavor and theme. While I don’t know how much is 100% faithful to the actual city, the architecture -feels- like it’s captured some of its essence.
Martial arts, that staple of the genre? Got it in spades. That’s what you’ll be using to beat up thugs most of the time, Batman-style, minus the utility belt.
Sleeping Dogs follows the story of Wei Shen, a cop going deep undercover in the triads, and his struggle to balance both sides of his existence.
The morality aspect is, unfortunately, not addressed very well in player-chosen interaction.
I was, at first, pretty thrilled to realize that there were both cop missions and triad missions to do, and that violent actions increased triad score, while doing un-cop-like things subtracted from cop score. But some of the illusion of choice fades away when you realize that it’s a linear story and the chapters won’t progress until you do the compulsory missions on both sides.
And more fades away even further when you accidentally kill your first innocent through vehicular manslaughter via controls that don’t let themselves well to finesse and realize the only ramifications are a small negative number to said cop score, rather than getting yanked out of the undercover mission, charged in court and jailed for being totally off one’s rocker.
I suppose it wouldn’t be a Grand Theft Auto type of game if you couldn’t get away with vast quantities of crime and carnage.
As much as I wanted to pretend to be a good cop at heart and immerse into the setting at face value, roleplaying for all it was worth, small little niggling details do tend to induce shortcut taking – like being stuck in a traffic jam of three cars while waiting for the traffic light to turn green (always takes forever when you’re waiting for it to) and having some dumb AI of a bus ram you from behind while you were STATIONARY and curse you in Cantonese for being a m—-f—ker that doesn’t know how to drive properly.
That’s exactly the time you decide to hit the accelerator and swerve into the perpetually empty lane meant for oncoming traffic, ramming the idiotic bus for good measure during the maneuver, and speed through the red traffic light to be on your dang way to the next mission checkpoint, driving on the left side of the road be damned.
(Nice as it feels for someone in a historically British colonized country to be able to drive in a game on the ‘correct’ side, for once.)
The story and cutscenes question lifetaking by an officer of the law, even while undercover – as in, they’re not supposed to, but the game itself throws you into scenarios where you have a gun and a dozen people shooting at you, and doesn’t give you any achievement or indeed, seem to have any expectations at all that you’ll try to do it the hard way by kung-fu disarming and beating down every one of them down with your fists, instead proffering tutorials on how to slow motion vault over tables and shoot multiple enemies in that same breath action movie style.
Very soon, I found myself deciding to treat the game less like a simulation of real life, and more with movie morality. Ie. Cops get to shoot at bad guys and the extras will just fall down out of scene and there will be no repercussions from this excessive slaughter.
That said, if you treat Sleeping Dogs like a movie, it’s a pretty fun one. With a decent amount of authenticity.
I was especially impressed to find a not-insignificant amount of voice acting in actual Cantonese.
Yes, Cantonese. Not Mandarin.
The differences may not be entirely obvious to those unfamiliar with the region and speak neither language, but Cantonese is a dialect used in a region of China (the Guangdong Province, historically Canton) and historically, as migrants from this southern region of China spread further south into Hongkong and Malaysia/Singapore, they brought their language with them.
(Southeast Asia also picked up other chinese dialects from migrants from other regions of China, resulting in some rather colorful amalgamations of cursewords and slang from various languages like Hokkien and Teochew, mixed with the local Malay, but that’s another story.)
Mandarin, or Standard Chinese, on the other hand, originated in yet another region of China (Beijing and the northern regions), and has been used as a lingua franca and ‘official language’ by which people from one region could make themselves understood to people from another – especially regarding issues of governance.
Bottom line. They’re not the same. People in Hongkong speak Cantonese. People in China speak Mandarin. (More or less.)
As someone who can understand both tongues, even if one struggles to express non-babytalk sentences in either, it adds a great touch of authenticity to Sleeping Dogs to even hear some phrases in the right language. (They are subtitled in English, so you won’t miss any meanings.)
There have been some debates on exactly -how- authentic the Cantonese used is, and yeah, while I don’t doubt that true Hong Kong residents using their variant of Cantonese will find distinctly strange accents on some of the voice actors, I’m of the opinion that it remains understandably Cantonese.
Language, after all, is notorious for evolving over regions.
Take for example, this spin on English by a native Singaporean English speaker, Ruby Pan, as she takes us on a whirlwind tour of American English, British English, two kinds of Singaporean English and Filipino English. How authentic is her English?
I’m sure her American English will still sound accented to some American English speakers. Hell, people in two regions of America may still have an accent to each other. Ditto people from Britain or Australia.
But it’s more or less all understandably English until we really get to the more significant dialects – I probably would struggle to understand Yorkshire English as much as some would struggle to understand Singlish or Filipino English, for example, due to loan words from other languages, but the main part of it is still -mostly- English.
Some voice actors in Sleeping Dogs have distinctly better grasp of the intonation and timings of Cantonese (Mrs Chu, Winston’s Chu mother sounds particularly authentically fearsome, channeling every Asian mum and mother-in-law there is) and others, usually the younger ones, struggle a little more.
Others complain that there’s a heck of a lot of English used for something supposedly set in Hong Kong, and that it sounds weird to have sprinklings of Cantonese mixed into English phrases as if it sounds cool, or we were in some Firefly universe where people pepper in Mandarin oddly into every other English sentence (Trust me, Firefly speakers sound distinctly odd, probably because they are mangling each Chinese word they’re struggling to pronounce.)
However, people who grow up with two languages are known to code-switch, forming a linguistic blend that is sometimes only understandable by people of that community.
So in a sense, while it may not be fully authentically Hong Kong, the setting turns into an interesting fictional amalgam of Hong Kong triad mixed with American-Born-Chinese style Western gangsterism (thank you, Grand Theft Auto roots.)
H-Klub Radio, from the in-game radio soundtracks in cars, features songs from 24Herbs that evoke the setting really well – Hip Hop… in Cantonese…
Yeah, you kinda have to laugh, while enjoying it.
Some bits of Sleeping Dogs are more reminiscent of a cheesy Hong Kong comedy movie, but that’s ALSO part of the whole atmosphere being recreated, y’know?
I escorted a bride-to-be around as a chauffeur, and a simple errand to get a wedding cake somehow turned into a death-defying pursuit sequence where in a similar movie, stuntmen would be employed to fly on wires out of one car onto the hood of another.
I was laughing through most of it as the initially cautious and slightly freaked out bride screaming about damage to her car when I scraped it against a parking meter turned out pretty darned ruthless when she realized it was -her- wedding cake on the line. “What? FASTER. GO FASTER!”
Right after we (ok, I) rescued the cake by tossing the driver out of the van and taking over the wheel, we (ok, I) ended up “volunteered” to steal the perfect flower for her wedding. from a group of monks – which involved disguising as one and fast talk about balance and the cosmos, kung fu’ing one’s way out of the temple and shaking off the cops at speed post-heist.
Controls and bugs-wise, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag.
I was really impressed to find that the game auto-swapped between keyboard controls and gamepad controls without much of a hitch. This means the tutorial prompts for keys actually stay pretty relevant, rather than the usual case scenario of trying to figure out exactly which keyboard key was mapped to button X or Y on a gamepad.
For a PC port, standard keyboard and mouse controls functioned fairly well and felt quite similar to a slightly clunkier Batman game for 95% of the time… with maybe just a tinge of unpredictable lag when pressing left or right mouse buttons to punch or counter… right up to the point I got a gun and was asked to shoot something.
This is where it broke.
Left click refused to shoot. With any semblance of consistency. It would beep repeatedly rather than shoot.
I’m not sure if this was because I did have a gamepad plugged in also and was thus on auto-swap, possibly causing some conflicts, instead of switching permanently to mouse-keyboard in the options, but after some struggle, I defaulted back to the gamepad to get through the sequence.
This is rather annoying, since the one place mouse aiming would have really come in handy would be aiming a gun, but well, that’s why I own a USB gamepad, for dealing with the vagaries of PC ports.
Then there were the repeating cases of the accidentally hijacked taxi, due to the same button being used for Hiring a Taxi (press and hold) and Hijack a Vehicle (just press.)
Moral of the story: Try not to stand near the front doors of a taxi, and make sure the conversation option is available, before hitting the button. Else you will end up chauffeuring yourself instead of getting someone else to do all the work.
Taxis, when they work though, are a pretty handy waypoint system for a negligible cost – useful for when one is too lazy to drive through Hong Kong traffic with highly dubious AI to get to the next waypoint.
I had a couple of audio skipping issues or the game tries to switch between fullscreen and windowed mode by itself, usually occurring after playing the game for a while – which could be due to my toaster’s poor specs as usual. Restarting the game or hitting Alt+Enter to switch back usually fixes it. Your mileage and luck on Sleeping Dogs playing nice with your hardware may vary.
But when all is said and done, despite the little niggles that would prevent me from paying full price for this game, I find myself wanting to know how the story is going to end.
Which ultimately reflects pretty well on Sleeping Dogs.