Sleeping Dogs PS3 review – Ace sandboxer is far from Hong Kong Phooey
Missions come in four flavours: triad, police, event (stuff like races and helping srangers), and lady. Each type is represented in the pause menu map (and your onscreen mini-map) by a different colour: green for triad, blue for police, yellow for event, pink for lady. Only the 30 triad ones need to be completed to ‘finish’ the main storyline, but even that’s a good 12 hours work – and there’s zero chance you won’t be tempted into distraction by everything else there is to see and do in and around the fantastically true-to-life island.
I mention those colours because they’re vital to another piece of design brilliance. Simply by tapping L3, you can cycle through available missions on your mini-map – and each time you do, it also instantly brings up the fastest route there. Not only that, once you start heading to a destination, onscreen arrows matching the colour of that mission type denote when to turn left or right. It seems such a common sense thing, yet no previous game of this type has thought of it – you could play the entire thing without once pausing to squint at the map. That’s a huge breakthrough.
The other piece of design brilliance is that everything you do has a purpose. Good actions – be they completing a cop case file, or clearing an area of nasty sorts – earn Police XP, while misbehaviour increases your triad score. Levelling up in these areas enables further character development (bigger counter windows, less damage from attacking opponents, etc), while upgrading a third type of XP – your Face Meter (increased by completing those yellow events) – opens up new outfits and gives you a lackey to deliver you cars as required, among other benefits. Even what you wear has a tangible gameplay effect: for instance, the ‘master negotiator’ clothing set gets you 15% off all cars, while the ‘inauspicious outfit’ makes it easier to escape police.
Basically, nothing you do is wasted. Simply driving down a street causes a small box to pop up on the right hand corner of the screen, which tracks your ‘clean drive’ record – how long you’ve gone without hitting anything. Similarly, the game charts chains of mowing down pedestrians, driving into parking meters (which also gives you handy bonus dollars), vehicle takedowns and so much more. You can then drop into the Social Hub in the pause menu to compare your prowess in these areas (and scores for every mission) with your friends. It’s a clever means of making a predominately offline game still feel interactive in the real world.
And still there’s so much else to do: purchasing fayre from the food and drink stalls dotted around the city to replenish energy and boost strength. Or getting an instant health hit by stopping off at massage parlours, or a more permanent one by seeking out and bowing towards all the flashing shrines in one particular area. Or hacking security cameras and then ordering arrests by bringing them up on the TV in your apartment and pressing X when a drug deal is occurring.
Or falling about laughing as Shen performs karaoke to tracks like Robert Palmer’s Bad Case Of Lovin’ You and Air Supply’s All Out Of Love. Or hunting down an old sensei’s 12 stolen animal status, each of which results in him teaching you a new move when you return it to his North Point dojo. Or seeking out lockboxes – Sleeping Dogs’ equivalent of GTA’s hidden packages, or inFamous’ shards – which contain dollars or other bonuses and, in another intelligent, common sense design decision – are visible on your map as soon as your Face Meter reaches level 2. No more printing hints off the net and having to cross-reference them every 30 seconds just to track down all the game’s secrets, then. Phew.
Or dating ladies, which again isn’t just a throwaway side-option. Choose to do so and there’s no driving to a food outlet, watching a cut-scene play out, then heading home again. One girl, Amanda, has you sweet-talking a guard so you can get into a locked park high above the city (the view truly is special, and I’m not talking about the lady) and take photos of her on your mobile. Another, Eastern European fitness freak Ilyana, turns a date into a parkour race through and over packed streets and cramped rooftops. Even these seemingly minor missions feel sufficiently different from those in the main storyline, so again you feel a constant urge to check out what the next one will hold.
There’s so much to do that the second I finished the triad story, I still found myself compelled to return to my outstanding events, cop cases and lady missions. And hunt down all those missing secrets. That’ll be a familiar sensation to anyone who loved Red Dead Redemption or any GTA game, and while Sleeping Dogs doesn’t innovate enough to be considered on a par with Rockstar’s finest, the fact it comes so very close (and even improves upon those games in a couple of ways) deserves massive credit. This is the game Saints Row has spent a decade desperate to be, a rollercoaster open-world adventure set in an environment that’s fun to explore and doss about in, packed to the brim with rousing missions and happy diversions and other amazing stuff. It’s unquestionably 2012’s most brilliantly brutal surprise, and you’re duty bound to check it out.