Sleeping Dogs PS3 review – Ace sandboxer is far from Hong Kong Phooey

Sleeping Dogs True Crime Hong Kong

When Activision bumped off the True Crime franchise last year, you’d have been hard pressed to find anyone in the industry – save, of course, for the employees of developer United Front Games, who’d been working on the first PS3 instalment of the series – that shed a single tear. Equally nonplussed faces were commonplace when Square Enix resuscitated it a few months later – although heads did shake over its eventual, WTF?-tastic new name: Sleeping Dogs. It might as well have been called Bloody Indifference, such was the general reaction to its development peaks and troughs.

As a result, you’re probably not expecting much from this particular sandbox adventure. Which is good. Because with the pressure off, it’s not only the True Crime name that’s been tossed into the West Lamma Channel and left to sink – so, too, has its mediocre reputation.

Sleeping Dogs PS3 review

See, Sleeping Dogs is quite brilliant in its own right: an open-world fun-a-thon that takes the best bits of a load of games you love, and pools them together with intelligence and humour, revitalising the genre. You’re right to let your jaw slacken on reading that sentence. Mine did, quite genuinely, at least four times during the time I spent playing it. Put simply: I couldn’t believe a game given so little fanfare was turning out to be so flippin’ ace. But it is. It really, really is.

There’s so much to do – and, indeed, say – that it’s tough to know where to begin. So let’s cover the basics first. Main character Wei Shen is a long-on-ability, short-on temper detective, who’s been brought back from San Francisco to his hometown of Hong Kong to infiltrate and bring down the Sun On Yee Triad. No sooner has he made his first contact within the organisation – a childhood friend called Jackie Ma – when he’s embroiled in an internal conflict between two rival Sun On Yee factions: the Water Street boys, led by Winston Chen, and the Jade Gang, bossed by Sam ‘Dogeyes’ Lin. (A longstanding rival of the undercover cop given his connections to Shen’s deceased sister – “the first girl who ever sucked my cock”, as Dogeyes refers to her. The charmer.)

Using cut-scenes and police reports sent to Shen’s PDA, each of these characters is fleshed out brilliantly, to the point that over time the line between good and bad becomes a blur. Initially dubious of Winston, Shen gradually realises that behind the brutal façade he’s an upstanding man with morals, who lives by a particular code: no fighting at weddings or funerals, no harming innocents, and so on.

So long after Shen has resolved that internal gang conflict (I won’t spoil it by telling you how, other than to say Dogeyes’ inevitable demise is a real highlight) and moved up the organisation into more widespread turf wars, he (and therefore you) is forced to wonder who the real good guys are: his new Triad brethren who actually live by a set of values, or the cop bosses who force him into jobs (like setting up Jackie) with no account for an apparent criminal’s humanity.

It’s a little bit like Hong Kong does The Wire, and throws up some characters who you can’t help but become attached to. Along with Jackie – the gullible foot soldier who’ll do anything to help out his old pal – there’s Winston’s beautiful, warm-hearted fiancé Peggy, murderous restaurant-owning old ma Mrs Chu (imagine Supergran with a bloody apron and overactive meat cleaver), bling-coated drug-dealing US rapper King (who likes his karaoke as much as his buxom blondes), wise Sun On Yee patriach Uncle Po, and so many more.

And just like in The Wire – without naming names – some of those you gain genuine affections for are dispensed with along the way, which only sucks you into the storyline further, keen to weed out the real bad guys and exact your own brand of bloody justice. With a script that wouldn’t look out of place in a John Woo movie (and indeed that pays homage to many of them – such as a quite brilliant hospital shootout inspired by Hard Boiled) and such intricately developed characters, it’s rare to finish a mission and not be desperate to push on into the next one.