Sleeping Dogs Was An Open World Game Ahead of its Time

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Truly A Shame Sleeping Dogs 2 Doesn't Exist!

Story Highlights
  • Sleeping Dogs is one of the most underrated titles of all time.
  • Despite being released in 2012, the game’s open-world and combat systems hold up well.
  • This IP could have challenged Grand Theft Auto with enough focus and improvements.

As much as I love open-world games, I dislike the fact that Grand Theft Auto has set the bar so high that most developers rarely try to reach its level of quality by thinking out of the box.

In 2012, developer United Front Games tried to step up to the plate and came up with Sleeping Dogs. As a remnant of an era where studios hoped to rival Grand Theft Auto with new IPs, this game still holds fond memories for me.

Revisiting this game recently made me realize it was quite ahead of its time and one of the few games to challenge Grand Theft Auto’s quality. Over a decade later, its combat is solid, the open world is packed with fun activities, and the overall atmosphere of the crime-filled streets of Hong Kong remains a joy to explore.

Why it matters: Sleeping Dogs is the definition of wasted potential. The first game laid so many foundations that could be expanded upon, but a sequel never showed up.

sleeping dogs open-world

The Open World Is Glorious

Although I enjoyed many parts of the game upon my latest playthrough, its spectacular open world immediately stood out. An impressive part of Sleeping Dogs is just how lively the streets of Hong Kong feel.

With a setting based in Hong Kong, the game already separates itself from most other open worlds. Through this location, it presents a balance between places like crowded markets and wide streets.

The world is filled with NPCs going about their business or running stalls that can be used to purchase items like clothing or food. This type of variety means that there is something new waiting for the player around every corner.

Sleeping Dogs is also packed with side missions and activities to explore. These go beyond the typical fetch quests found in the open worlds of today, making it rewarding to deviate from the main story.

Overall, the game takes inspiration from franchises like Yakuza and Grand Theft Auto, mixing the best of these IPs for a unique open world in Hong Kong.

Sleeping Dogs combat

Combat Is Much Better Than Its Rivals

Sleeping Dogs doesn’t have the best story in open-world games. It starts with a basic premise, with players assuming the role of Wei Shen, an undercover cop. The narrative never blew me away, but it was consistent enough to keep me interested in this setting.

Major characters like the triad gang leaders and supporting detectives don’t stand out either, but they help move the story forward and prevent it from turning into a meaningless slog.

Story aside, Sleeping Dogs shines in its combat system. While games like Grand Theft Auto 5 sacrificed their combat for more sophisticated shooting gameplay, this Hong Kong-based title took the opposite approach.

With clear inspiration from the Batman Arkham franchise, I found this combat to be one of the best implementations of the counter-based system in a realistic setting. United Front Games took inspiration from Chinese film action scenes portrayed by directors like John Woo, which is reflected in each of Sleeping Dogs’ battles.

I loved that Wei Shen was not grounded in reality like most open-world protagonists. Instead, the character had access to a slew of athletic and over-the-top martial arts moves, further complemented by environmental interactions.

Depending on the location of a combat encounter, he could beat up enemies through electrocutions, smashing them against burning hot stoves and even using the sharp blades of exhaust fans. These takedowns are amplified with brutal animations and add an extra layer of strategy to the combat.

While the combat can sometimes feel similar to the Yakuza franchise due to these takedowns, I hold the opinion that Wei Shen’s attacks carry more weight and impact behind them, making for a more satisfying experience than Yakuza’s combat.

Sleeping Dogs

The Game Deserved A Sequel 

With an exciting hook for open-world adventures, Sleeping Dogs laid the perfect groundwork for a sequel. I still find it baffling that this IP was abandoned without a second thought, even though a sequel was in development at some point.

Since 2012, open-world games have only become more popular. Franchises like Yakuza have found a new audience, and Grand Theft Auto’s latest entry is nearing 200 million sales.

Of the many games inspired by the work of Rockstar Games, I only found United Front Games’ approach to be an interesting example of using established mechanics for something different and exciting.

With enough time and effort, this IP could have become a rival to Grand Theft Auto. However, its developer was closed in 2016, shattering all hopes of a new entry.

For anyone looking to kill time until Rockstar Games releases GTA 6 in 2025, Sleeping Dogs is a splendid open-world title to check out.

While the game was among the famous releases dubbed ‘GTA clones’ during the Xbox 360/PS3 era, I always found it to be so much more. Thanks to a remaster, this title is available on PC and nearly all consoles, easily earning my recommendation.

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