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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Sleeping Dogs.

TranscriptEdit

I'm thinking I might have been a little hasty when I declared that the term "Grand Theft Auto clone" was redundant. There have been enough games when you are allowed to get bored, run down the street and start taping passers-by to trolley cars that sandbox games have officially become a genre, but when a sandbox game is about a petty crim starting off in the slum district being used as a footstool by the local underworld's middle management, doing mostly vehicle related favours for increasingly important contacts until they can work their way up to wealth and success by knocking over enough lamp posts to illuminate Oprah Winfrey's inner thighs, then the term "Grand Theft Auto clone" seems perfectly adequate, while "petty-crim-footstool-vehicle-related-inner-thighs-'em-up" is too awkward to say.

Bonus points are offered if the game is set in some recreation of a real-world contemporary city and if the plot throws up some moral message that all the luxury and fine living in the world will never quell the guilt from all the murdering you've been doing for it, which rings a bit misdirected while I'm plowing through pedestrian precincts on a riding mower. Fittingly, Sleeping Dogs was originally of the slightly-laughably-named True Crime series – the original Grand Theft Auto clone! – except there was a developer switch and they had to come up with a new title that somehow makes even less sense; although there's a racist joke about East Asian cuisine in there somewhere that you'll be pleased to hear I'm not going to acknowledge.

The recreative real world city is Hong Kong and the petty crim footstool that dreams of the stars is Wei Shen, a Chinese-American recently returned from the States to sign up with the Triads, because who the fuck else are you going to sign up for in Hong Kong, the Real IRA? But get ready to unbunch your pants because here comes the twist: Wei is actually an undercover police officer, which would come as more of a surprise if it weren't the plot of the previous two True Crime games. And in the grand tradition of undercover cop crime stories, every high-level criminal implicitly trusts this new bloke without any verifiable background over all their established henchmen because he's smarter and better with a gun, almost as if he's been to some kind of, say, police academy.

So the thrust of the concept is that you have one cop experience bar and one crim experience bar which offer different upgrades, the gameplay mechanic intended to illustrate the fact that Shen is torn between two loyalties, an aspect that I feel would carry more weight if the police gave any degree of shit. The Triads' surefire test for whether you're an undercover cop or not is that undercover cops won't kill, but I'm not sure where they get that impression because Shen hesitates more about putting up fly-paper than killing his fellow man, and as long as you stick to other criminals, you can go wild as far as the police are concerned. They're only iffy about you killing pedestrians and even then, it won't give you negative police points, you just get less of it at the end of the mission.

"Now, Timmy, we can only give you an Xbox and five games for Christmas this year because you did blowtorch your initials into your sister!"

I feel Shen's dilemma would feel more tense if there had been more negative gameplay effects for not sticking within acceptable murder levels, but then again, the game probably doesn't want to discourage the player from slamming the faces of random goons into whirring table saws, 'cause really, why would you?

On that note, effort has been put into the melee fighting, in that it's like Arkham Asylum and Arkham Asylum-style fisticuffs seem to be to combat engines what Johnny Depp is to Tim Burton movies. So there's the standard mash-mash-mash-counter routine but Sleeping Dogs adds heavy attack combos, grabs and a couple of creative environmental kills that would make Jason Voorhees reach for the chill pills. All of which feels less controlled than when Batman does it but that just goes towards creating a solid kung-fu action movie sense of what is technically known as "flipping out the buttered fuck crumpets".

And it goes very well with the competent free-running mechanics in that sometimes I'd sprint into a throng of waiting enemies screaming at the top of my voice and flying-kick the nearest assailant so that he rockets horizontally into the street, with my shoe tucked under his jaw like a violin, which I found to be a much more efficient opening gambit than "You have the right to remain silent". Transitions between running, driving and fighting are all pleasantly smooth, so whenever I left a clothing shop and someone standing outside would always take the piss out of my fashion sense, I could get into the habit of casually decking them in the face and running away.

But the main reason that close combat stands out is because it's the only aspect of the game that poses any challenge whatsoever. The missions all do that Grand Theft Auto IV thing in which you must rigidly follow the specific sequence of predetermined actions like you're doing a fucking join-the-dots. And things definitely go downhill when guns are introduced; at the gun tutorial mission, a character mentions that we haven't seen any guns up to that point because there aren't so many in Hong Kong, and if he'd said that a couple of hours later, I would have laughed up enough phlegm to coat the screen!

The game weakens severely in its second half when Wei is basically fannying about with subplots that don't go anywhere and killing time before he has to finally confront the guy we figured out was the big baddie three shootouts ago. All the interesting melee combat and free-running gets diluted with all the driving and shooting and the ten million minigames that have been introduced. A hacking mini-game in itself is fine, but forcing us to wiggle the analog sticks to undo the screws first is just busywork. Could we maybe just assume that Wei knows how to undo screws? It can't be that much harder than breaking a man's kneecaps with his armpit.

Come to think of it, the whole game has the cop-crim issue pithily summarized as good ideas failing to realize potential. One recurring side mission involves hacking security cameras so you can watch footage of lounging toughs and pick out the drug supplier among them, so presumably you make logical deductions, watch their behaviour, try to look for money furtively changing hands, right? Nope, you just arrest the dude in the suit. Same guy, same suit, every fucking time! And if it takes more than five seconds, then a big red arrow appears floating over their head. Blimey, profiling's easier than I thought!

I guess a game with as many mechanics as this has to skimp on the polish here and there, and that karaoke mini-game that the story campaign fucking forces you to do twice wasn't going to program itself. So if you are the rabidest of the rabid GTA fans, then here's a GTA clone still dripping with birthing chamber fluid to tide you over. But for me, the question is whether Sleeping Dogs represents a step forward or a step back for the sandbox genre, and let me put it like this: eight years ago, GTA San Andreas had a jetpack. Does Sleeping Dogs have a jetpack? Well then, better luck next time!

AddendaEdit

  • Handed over his gun and badge: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Yes I know to let sleeping dogs lie is a saying but I don't see how it's more relevant to the plot than a title like, say, Bloke Does Crime And Is A Cop
  • I find rush hour to be the best time to practice handbrake turns

Extra: JamEdit

So the Escapist Expo is still in September and you should still totally come, but also in October, I've got a second novel coming out! It's called Jam, and you can pre-order it from Amazon and tfaw.com . It's about an apocalypse, with jam in it!

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time

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