I recently finished Sleeping Dogs as it had sat on my shelf for some time now. If you want a review about it, it would go as follows; decent overall design, horrible when it comes to details (who the hell designed this game so you can get on top a box from one direction only?) and the game clearly was rushed towards the end. Not a game I would return any time soon.
God lives in the details. While Hong Kong overall was painstakingly replicated as a game environment, the whole swallowed details. That, and the final steps of the game were plain awful. Sleeping Dogs commits one the cardinal sins of game design; all the experience and collected stuff, in this case moves and attacks, the player collects become useless in the end. The two opponents one can consider as the game’s final bosses both break the pre-established gameplay, where the first puts QTE’s inside a 1 vs 1 fight and the final battle crippling the player and simply asks the player to time his counters right rather than actually creating a challenging fight that would put all the player to the test.
This entry isn’t about bashing Sleeping Dog’s detrimental qualities, it’s a decent game bogged down a lot of stuff for sure, but it’s more about how this seems to be common nowadays. You got these games with huge production values with high staff and even more incredible hype, and they end up being just ‘good.’ By all means, games like Sleeping Dogs should something phenomenal but they’re all but that. It’s partially because of the hype machine the developers fund, and also because a lot of the gamers buy that hype and willingly throw coal into the stove.
The game press has, even now, power to affect the mood and direction of the reader. This is because very rarely you see objective pieces balancing many sides of one product and often aim for one particular end only. The Mass Effect 3 Ending controversy is an example of this, where the ending in the game was only about colours and the true ending was later released as DLC. The press basically crucified the developers like no other, while holding back the information how during development the devs basically lost too much money and time to fix some error. The gaming press does this even now when it comes to #GamerGate as they only concentrate on one side of the story. That said, there are always those who are willing to showcase the more objective side of the story, but get far less exposure than what they deserve.
In this light, I can understand how Sleeping Dog’s details suffered through the hard development. However, that alone does not excuse lacklustre game. With Sleeping Dogs the lack of experience of the team is not a reason either. The reasons why things come as they do in anything is never just because of thing, but a whole mess of reasons. Two of them in Sleeping Dogs are pretty outright; Hong Kong replication and story. As both play integral part in the game, they also affect major parts of the game. I absolutely love the darker bits of Hong Kong, especially how Night Market was modelled and the neon signs exists everywhere. It reminds me of Shenmue II a lot, and to some extent my own experiences. The story on the other hand seems to hold the player’s hand all the way through and ultimately pats on his head. It seems that at the very end, the story determined how the game should go, thus the awful last hour or so. The player can’t affect the events of the finale at any point, despite its otherwise open approach to other things. For example, you could deal the normal street punks any way you wanted, and I often chose to use a car later in the game. Story Missions on the other hand were more or less locked down. Even some collectables were locked from the player either to prevent sequence breaking or lack of attention to the details. I’m specifically referring to a collectable statue that is locked away inside a house that is not open until certain event happens in the game, during which it needs to be collected. The player can’t miss these collectable statues either, as they’re prominently displayed in cut scenes. Why introduce a secret and optional collectable element that ends up being useless at the end, and is far from secret? The very last move you gain is a more powerful counter, which characters that are plot characters effectively ignore, but the most basic counter always works. It boggles my mind why the game was designed this way.
The game ends in a way that it sets up the sequel. I already quickly saw the possibility of player controlling Wei Shen in his police duty having to fight and balance between law enforcement duties and his connections to the Sun On Yee. Instead an expanded and even more detailed Hong Kong with numerous new places and interesting characters the player could roam in, we’re getting Triad Wars MMO, which concentrates on the titular war between different triads. This is a pretty harsh genre shift and focus moves away from Wei Shen. Sadly, the announcement trailer for Triad Wars is all sorts of awful, concentrating on the developers speaking rather than allowing the product speak for itself, which is highly worrisome. It doesn’t add any trust when the devs directly as in the video what the customer would like to see. It’s like these people are clueless about customer research and are not able to make decisions on themselves for the sake of the product. However, credit is where it belongs, at the very end one of the devs make a statement how some liked the police aspect, some liked the criminal aspect and they just cut the police away to cater more those who enjoyed being a thug. That said, they could have opened a door for police players to play law enforcement role and do criminal investigations, or even take up similar role as undercover cop similar to Wei Shen.
Anyway, the point was that even games have become serialised from the get go. It seems more and more games have become products where you can’t simply pick up a game and play it as its own unique entity. While the Metal Gear Solid series is all sorts of bullshit when it comes to story, I would argue that until MGS4 you could pick up any game in the series and play it as standalone. After that, not so much. Triad Wars, as a spinoff, is one of these games you can just jump in without prior knowledge of Sleeping Dogs and because of the nature of MMOs. The possible Sleeping Dogs 2 could go either way. If properly handled, the player has no need to even know about the prior events or gameplay mechanics, but those who have would get more out of it.
I’m not sure where this mega-serialisation and speed-franchising comes from. CAPCOM was known to milk their franchises dry, for better or worse, but it seems everybody and their mothers are doing this. Because of the dubious way the game press works, the hype they manage to build up doesn’t really go away despite the customer pushing the press’ ideas away. Just like that, the press also discards what the customer thinks and wants and simply but megahype on the sequel of the game they hyped. Good thing the customer can vote with their wallet, but the fact games have lost their own cohesive entity and are tied to multiple entries nowadays take away a lot from the products themselves.