Monday, October 1, 2012

Let's Talk About Sleeping Dogs

Have a seat.  Please, have some tea.  Get comfortable, because we are going to have a little chat about Sleeping Dogs, and I think by the end of our talk, you will understand why it is possibly my Game of the Year already.  I don't take that statement lightly as you might know, since I get myself all in a tizzy over putting together my GotY list, but I feel...well, really, really strongly about Sleeping Dogs, so it's a statement that I make with full knowledge of what's being said.  This is precisely why I'm just going to be throwing down some of my opinions on it (read: gushing) instead of attempting a review because the review would not be fair at all.  Though, I suppose reviews are just opinions and thus aren't meant to be 'fair', but well you know what I mean.  Anyone can write up an essay saying "This game is amazing and I love it" in so many ways and call it a review, but it is probably not mechanically one, and I fear that my attempt would come off as that, and I'm just not going to try to force myself to come up with points of contention.

So I'll just throw this down to get this started:  I love this game.  I pretty much love everything -about- Sleeping Dogs and I am actually a little surprised that I enjoy it quite as much as I do.  But I really do, I throw hours after hours into playing it and never get bored - I just get tired or I just have to really do something -else-, but the game is easily one that I could see myself marathonning sometime down the road for no purpose other than to enjoy it all over again.  I never do that outside of cases where, like, my save got lost or there was a trophy patch or something of that sort because I simply don't have the time.  But I would -make- the time if the time was right to replay Sleeping Dogs from scratch.  I think that might sort of convey what I'm trying to get across here, but I am trying to be as emphatic as possible so you walk away absolutely knowing where I'm coming from.

Obviously what differentiates Sleeping Dogs from just about every other open world game out there is that it is a game that fully intends for you to play it using melee.  Yes, there are shooting bits, sometimes even with cover involved, but let me let you in on a little secret:  If you're playing Sleeping Dogs by plinking away at dudes from cover, you're being a pussy.  Guns are not guns in Sleeping Dogs, but power-ups, things that you use to take out a few guys while running at a pack, as you might use, say, the hammer in Super Smash Bros.  Best usage of guns in the game is not taking cover and popping up, but vaulting and getting that sweet sweet slow-mo going.  Vault and run at your enemies and make sure they all get a new hole for a third eye to keep it going, but more importantly, to be the baddest fucking Wei Shen you can be.  If you can effectively take out a room of guards who keep flooding in without staying in cover for more than a second at a time between setting off slow-mo vaults then congratulations, you are using guns in Sleeping Dogs the correct way.

Of course, using your fists, using melee weapons, now that's the -actual- right way to play the game and that is refreshing in this day and age.  Not only is it a game that encourages you to use melee, but a game that actually encourages that and facilitates it with a rather in-depth, fascinatingly deep combat system in itself.  It is a Martial Arts game, make no doubt about it, and it really wants you to get that feel of making dudes get served some visceral damage via Undercover Cop fists.  Not just content with giving you the ability to hit square for some punches like -another- game that will not be mentioned that had previously been touted as 'the sandbox game', you have a full on combo system with various shades of hitting square and holding it which works better than it sounds, as well as grappling which leads into one of the defining aspects of Sleeping Dogs as a whole - Environmental attacks.

I could go on and on about Environmental Attacks on their own merits and might just very well do that here because from the very beginning, when Sleeping Dogs' media consisted solely of a live action trailer (and some screenshots) I had wondered just how fully the game would utilize the environment.  Previous games had taught me to expect that it...well, -wouldn't-, but why would it be in the trailer if they had no intention of having it in the game?  Because it looked cool?  Well.....yes.....but anyway, my point was that the trailer offered peaks into the environment being a factor and in the end, it did not disappoint which just gets me all giddy inside.  I love this aspect of the game, since not only are the environmental attacks deliciously brutal, but they're ever so useful in combat as well, offering you a quick way to take out a few guys to ensure they don't get a really good surrounding of you going down.  Which is a valid concern to have, as even though the enemies tend to attack one at a time, Assassin's Creed style, that one at a time can happen one right after the other and tear off a chunk of your health if you're not careful.

Particularly of use are these attacks when you're going into Drug Busts - areas where you have to clear out an area of some thugs before you hack the camera there for the time when they congregate there again to meet up with their supplier whom you identify for a good bust in the comfort of one of your safe houses.  Oftentimes you'll be tasked with taking down something like a dozen men and when they aren't wielding weapons, you are free to grab them and run them around to any and all environmental attack areas as you may desire.  My own personal strategy consisted of running into the area with a car and taking two guys out quickly with its own environmental interactivity, namely throwing one guy in the trunk and then brutally slamming the car door against the other guys head until he was soundly brain damaged and out of the fight.  Two down, only so many to go, and depending on what was handy, it could have gone very easy or very not so easy.

One of my own personal favorite environmental bits (I'm going to be tired of typing environmental really quickly) is not any of these types of things, but rather just using gravity effectively for fun and profit.  There's not -very- many areas where it's viable, but with the useage of the grapple-dash and the running throw, you can turn an uppity gangster into a projectile aimed at a car twenty feet below and that, my friends, is a rush.  I never have hit a car yet, but as far as instant kills go, getting a running start and throwing a guy off what is basically just a covered bridge over a road is something that I could suggest will never get old.  Even when you don't have the unabashed freedom to throw them directly off, having the ability to, after wearing a foe down, basically clothesline them over a railing to the road below or what have you is still fun in itself.  Similarly fun, but rather confusing, is the fact that the game suffers from a case of the protagonist being the only man alive who knows how to swim.  That means anyone who hits the water instantly dies.  And when you have a lot of areas where there's water and no real barricade around it....well, I'm sure you can imagine just where that leads.

While it's not as advanced as it -could- have been, if you believe that, it's still ways beyond what it actually really needed to be to satisfy me, I think.  While I don't want to say I would've still been happy with less, I likely would have because what we have in the game proper is -wonderful- and I'm rather surprised it made it in as it did, especially with some of the more brutal environmental attacks.  Still, fire was a little underutilized for being featured fairly prominently in the media, and there really wasn't any opportunity to immobilize with the environment, just kill and maim.  Well, I suppose throwing someone in a trunk when you can later recover them from it counts as immobilizing, but you know what I mean.  Melee weapons were very much pick up and swing until it breaks and there could've been a little more done with them than that, I feel.  Well, you can -also- throw them, but, well, that's not quite as much more as is kind of necessary.  Still, nothing that really detracts from the experience.

If anything detracted from the experience, it was just two factors:  The storytelling and the soundtrack.  In direct contrast to Chance, I'm just really not a fan of the music used in the in-game radio stations and while it seems like a little thing, it's...really not.  You spend a -lot- of time in a car in Sleeping Dogs, as you do most sandbox games that don't let you fly around like Electric Jesus or like you can control gravity itself, and if you really don't like the music that's offered, it gets old really really quickly.  I should clarify rather quickly that there's really no song that I dislike, just that there's also no song that I like enough to make it all worth while.  Rain Wizard by Black Stone Cherry comes close, as I'm always happy when that comes on Roadrunner Records, but the rest of it is mostly things I can take or leave.  It really makes me long for the ability to play music off the HDD, but I can understand how that's not generally an option since, well, these guys paid a -lot- for the music rights and they're not just going to let you circumvent that so you can listen to the version of No More Mr. Nice Guy that you expected to hear when you saw the title in the radio station text.

Much more substantial of an issue is, as I mentioned, the storytelling as I feel that it takes a backseat to the actual acting and gameplay of the game for the entirety of it.  There just...wasn't quite as much -binding- there as I would have liked, as it seemed like I would complete a mission, get about a minute of content and then the next mission it's like a whole mess of issues has been resolved otherwise.  Guys who hated you are now completely on your side even though all you really did was kill dudes, and there's absolutely no more conflict on that front for the rest of the game.  Similarly, trouble seems to spring up out of nowhere and you find yourself in increasingly bad situations with little to not context surrounding it other than the general gist of the narrative in that "the other triads are dicks", no matter who they're with.  You get -enough- for a mostly cohesive story, but I wanted -more-, even at the risk of some folks likening it to one of those 'movie games' where there's more cutscene than game (even though there assuredly isn't).  I just wanted a little more all aroudn to make the story just that much easier to follow and stay up with, that it had that much more detail work to it so you felt a little more than you would have normally (even though the characters are developed mostly well enough to give you plenty of feelings on them regardless) so it drew you in just that much more.

I literally cannot really fault any other part of the game, nor will I attempt to for any reason.  I just enjoy it all far too much to do that, and it's more or less because of all that that I will again say this is probably my Game of the Year at this point.  It's mostly done and I haven't dipped into -quite- as much as I anticipated, I suspect, but I have dipped into more than normal, and while I really love Sleeping Dogs, I really loved Lollipop Chainsaw, Yakuza:  Dead Souls, Gravity Rush, and so on and so forth as well.  It''s going to be a hard time come the end of the year/start of next year, but I look to it with a little more aplomb than I did last year.  My options are more varied and more numerous this year, but games like Sleeping Dogs might just help me put things into context with each other in separating what I really liked with what I thought deserved to be really liked by me.  Which are oftentimes far different things, I've learned, but in the case of United Front Games latest effort, I'd say it's the latter.

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