Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs is a sandbox game in the mould of Grand Theft Auto, except instead of running around a reimagined New York / Los Angeles, beating people up, you run around a reimagined Hong Kong, beating people up and trying to infiltrate the Triads for the police / trying to work your way up the Triads. Basically Infernal Affairs for the Xbox.

It's a fun environment to run around, as there's a blend of sordid filth (since apparently nobody has ever cleaned anything in North Point) and shininess (Central) although for anyone familiar with Hong Kong, there are some glaring inconsistencies with real life: I never noticed an enormous railway station in Central, apart from the Convention Centre Wan Chai appears to have completely vanished, there are fishball stalls on every street, and although there's a Bam Bam Club, it's not full of expat bankers getting down and dirty with South East Asian prostitutes.

They nailed some of it though: the standard of driving is terrible, your neighbours all ignore you and people keep shouting "poke gai" when you do anything silly.
If you're trying to advance in the police you stake out criminals and help with drug busts by taking photos of people. If you're trying to get on in the Triads, you beat people up and steal vans full of fake watches, which is more exciting. (I imagine if Sleeping Dogs was set in Singapore, the criminal route would involve skiving off National Service and the cops would be angling for sexual favours from IT contractors. Allegedly.)

A problem with sandbox games is that there are always limitations. I can get the avatar to use the toilet (and wash his hands afterwards) but the only way to get an umbrella on a rainy evening is to maim somebody who's carrying one. The idea of going to the shops is clearly beyond him. Then again, the umbrella is useless for my guy, because nobody programmed a way for him to unfurl it. The best he can do is hurl it away, with a disgruntled grunt.

(There's only so many times you can beat somebody to the ground and rob them of their umbrella before you have to accept the futility of this enterprise.)

I'm also not sure if it's really a game, or actually a commentary on society. Sometimes the police missions involve gathering evidence, using your cameraphone. But satisfactory "evidence" can be a picture of two men by a car, or a man holding a packet of ketamine, or a man eating a sandwich; surely all photos can't be the same? Likewise a city where every massage has a knee-trembling happy ending, or where wearing the right vest makes you a better pugilist, cannot be a good place to live.

There's also literally no men carrying their girlfriend's oversized handbags. Suspension of disbelief only goes so far.

Fighting feels a bit hit and miss, for want of a better phrase. You mash one button to deliver a comprehensive arsenal of kicks, punches and elbow strikes. You mash another button to throw people off bridges, into dumpsters and down stairs, and if somebody tries to attack you, battering the Y button delivers a stinging counterattack. "Why, why!" my wife would cry, and I thought she was bemoaning the pointlessness of existence when she just wanted me to break some poor sod's face.
Still, I'm not going to lie: as all-inclusive beat-them-up Hong Kong tourism specials go, Sleeping Dogs is a lot of fun.


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