Times Digital Download: Sleeping Dogs
July 30, 2017 | 8:43 PM
by Gautam Viswanathan
Sleeping Dogs is set in the seedy underbelly of Hong Kong, home to many crime gangs.

At first glance, Sleeping Dogs might sound like a weird, maybe even uncomfortable, name for a video game, but make no mistake, this game from Square Enix is easily one of the best action-adventure crime games I’ve ever played.

The phrase ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ i.e. let bygones be bygones, did enter my mind as I began playing this game, but it was quite clear that right from the start, Sleeping Dogs was a game that centred around not just the characters in it, but the grudges that they held against each other, and how these actions came back to haunt them.

That’s a very Zen way of looking at things, I guess, but that’s in keeping with the game. Sleeping Dogs is set in the seedy underbelly of Hong Kong, home to many crime gangs – colloquially known as triads – and it’s your job, as police officer Wei Shen, a Chinese-American cop who’s just returned home, to infiltrate the Sun On Yee triad and send a message to the other gangs of the criminal underworld.

Having rooted out many criminal elements in the States, Wei knows he’s stepping onto familiar territory. Crime bosses respect strength – that’s the only way for a newbie to get noticed, and Wei certainly gets off on the (metaphorical) right foot, as he emerges victorious in a fist-fight to induct new gang members. His introduction to the gang is handled by Jackie Ma, his childhood friend who grew up alongside him in his neighbourhood of Old Prosperity. Like most rookies, Jackie too entered the triads in search of infamy and recognition, but has been unable to climb the ranks so far.

Wei’s skills, on the other hand, quickly make him the favourite enforcer of Winston Chu, the leader of the local triad chapter, and the undercover cop subtly uses this to his advantage, playing Winston against other triad underlings who grow envious of Wei’s rapid rise to the top.

It’s a win-win for Wei: He’s able to eliminate more gang members, and nail down a position that gets him closer to the top brass of the Sun On Yee, and it’s a meeting that happens sooner rather than later. Like all gangs, the Sun On Yee are also involved in a bloody, win-at-all-costs turf war with rival triads. Their arch enemies in this case happen to be the Jade Gang, led by Sam ‘Dogeyes’ Lin, and it’s here where that wonderful ‘sleeping dogs’ epithet really roars to life.

Turns out, that Dogeyes and Winston were once inseparable, as they rose in tandem at the Sun On Yee. They had their very own Romulus and Remus-style falling out, though, when Winston was made leader of the Water Street branch of the triad. Bitter about being overlooked, Dogeyes jumped ship to the Jade Gang, where he was able to satisfy the need for his personal vendetta through his new cronies.

The conflict comes to a head when Dogeyes’ men ambush Winston at his wedding, killing both him and his fiancée. To deal with this hammer blow, the leaders of the Sun On Yee convene a meeting, naming Wei the head of the Water Street chapter, and tasking him with the elimination of Dogeyes and the rest of the Jade Gang high command.

While this does mean a bigger reward for Hong Kong Police, it also means there’s greater scrutiny on Wei, who now has to make doubly sure he covers up every move, and hone his skills to stay one step ahead of those who wonder how and why he’s managed to rise up the ranks in such a short amount of time.

Fortunately, this in-game version of Hong Kong lets you do just that. The former British colony is home to a number of dojos where Wei can hone his existing skills and learn new combos to take down enemies in more efficient fashion. Fair warning, though – you need to be pretty nifty with your controls.

Unlike other games in the genre, where it’s easy to buy weapons on the street, Sleeping Dogs prides itself on hand-to-hand combat. Pistols and machineguns are normally given to you, just before you join your fellow gang members in another bloody chapter of the on-going triad war, and are taken away immediately afterwards.

There are, however, a slew of melee weapons scattered throughout the game, from kitchen knives and crowbars, to meat cleavers and baseball bats. Square Enix have pulled out many stops to provide a truly interactive environment. While their sound engineers recorded street and city noises on weekdays, they’d wait for the more laid-back weekends to capture natural and more ambient sounds – just one example of the efforts Square Enix took to deliver a fantastic game, in addition to roping in actors such as Emma Stone, Lucy Liu, and Will Yun-Lee to lend their voices to in-game characters.

And the most tangible evidence of that would be Hong Kong itself. The developers went through great pains to accurately reproduce the city’s Cantonese culture and old-world British colonial charm, with exact replicas of many a street open to Wei Shen. While this in itself has drawn much admiration, the cherry on this visual cake are the details of Hong Kong.

If you ever feel the need to impress a date, you might want to check out the city’s thriving nightlife, or visit the zoo – which for good measure, is located on top of a hill – if you’re after something more sedate. If you just want to stroll around the city, Hong Kong’s night market’s sights and sounds are sure to enthrall you.

Or, you could just hop into a police car do some good. Wei Shen is a cop after all.

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The Short and Skinny

Name: Sleeping Dogs

Genre: Action-adventure, role-playing

Producers: Square Enix Entertainment

What It’s About: Amidst the lies, corruption and treachery of Hong Kong’s criminal underworld, Wei Shen returns home to infiltrate the city’s notorious triads and bring them to justice

Platforms: Windows, OSX, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Where to Buy: Steam, Game Stop, Amazon, G2A, Xbox Marketplace, PlayStation Store

IGN Rating: 8.5/10

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