There aren’t really any lighthearted sandbox games, are there? I can’t recall one where you job is to travel around a town performing side quests where you, say, find lost kittens or help organize a breakdancing competition to save the community center. I did drive an ice cream truck once, but I was delivering drugs until I got bored and decided to start hurling grenades at pedestrians. Sandbox games exist to let us act out our less-legal impulses, although Sleeping Dogs also lets you feel good about being bad, because you’re not really a criminal, you’re an undercover cop.
Set in Hong Kong, you play Wei Shen, a Chinese-American police officer in deep undercover trying to infiltrate the Triad gangs. Wei Shen has to walk a very fine line to keep both sides happy, and when I say “walk a very fine line,” mean “beat the crap out of a lot of people.” Being set in HK, guns are a rarity, and hand-to-hand combat (usually unarmed) is the norm. To that end, you’ll have to master the game’s martial arts system, which focuses on combos, blocks, and grappling. It’s simple enough to master—you point yourself at the person you want to attack and try to counter opponents before they hit you—but the choreography of the combos is dynamic; once you engage in grappling, you can use the environment to take down your foes quickly by ramming them into electrical boxes, beating their brains out with payphone, or hanging them on meat hooks. Once you get the hang of the system, taking on four opponents at once becomes a snap.
You level up by gaining “Face,” that is, respect among both the Triads and the police by accomplishing missions for them. This gives you access to new skills, fight combos, and defensive bonuses.
And of course, you can steal cars, drive around and listen to the radio.
Sleeping Dogs makes good use of its location—the Hong Kong shown here is much more sinister than the city I’ve visited (and certainly less populous), but it captures the crush of buildings in Central, the alleyways that aren’t just abandoned walkways but have their own culture, the lush parks, and the striking beauty of the hills and temples.
The story is engaging enough; as Wei Shen works to get deeper into the Triad, his actions become ethically dubious to his police superiors who question his work more and more while his criminal family becomes more open and friendly to him. It’s a classic case of divided identity, although the story of the game doesn’t really let you choose how it’s going to play out.
Where the game stumbles badly is in the female characters who are presented as possible romantic entanglements for Wei Shen. Each of them appears as a side mission which you must complete to go on a “date” with the woman, and then after that date, they disappear from the game. Really. That’s it. For a film with such a cinematic feel, it’s odd to watch it drop the ball on the romance angle, especially since it could have added yet another dimension to the problem of loyalty.
But ultimately, like most “sandbox” games, you have to follow the story to its inevitable conclusion once you get tired of wandering the map collecting awards. And Sleeping Dogs makes that more interesting than usual with its parkour system, allowing you to scramble up walls and over rooftops, either to explore or to chase down enemies. There’s a wide variety of gameplay as well, from underground boxing matches to hunting down criminals for the police to stealing cars for extra cash, not to mention the occasional gun battle (which tends to end badly and quickly for the martial artist on the receiving end).
The Definitive Edition includes all the DLC released for the game, including new outfits, in-game side missions, and extra episodes involving a cult attack on the Chinese New Year and, rather wonderfully, an attack by I-swear-to-god Hopping Vampires.
For fans of sandbox games, Sleeping Dogs has a good story, an intriguing locale, good voice acting, and wonderful fight choreography wrapped around the standard stuff you already like.
Genre: Open world action-adventure
Developer: United Front Games and Square Enix London
Mac Publisher: Feral Interactive
Requirements: 2.0Ghz processor, OS X 10.10.5 , RAM: 4.0GB, 20.0 GB disk space 1 GB of VRAM,
Availability: Now on Steam and the Mac App Store