One of the best things about playing video games is you go on a journey with a character. In the beginning, they’re total strangers to you and you’re not really sure what to make of them. Will I like you or hate you? Will I want to see you pull through or have you rot in hell like you deserve? Give it time, or until the end of the game, and you’ll find yourself caring about them, like a really great friend who you’ll only want to see the very best happen to them. This is the journey I felt I had with Sleeping Dog’s Wei Shen. Before we say farewell to roaring March, let’s see how I did with this month’s video game challenge.
My time with Sleeping Dogs has been a mixture of fun and frustration in equal measure. There were control schemes I had to get used to and utilize with a fair amount of skill to carry me through from mission to mission. There were glorious gun fights and sometimes nearly stressful high speed chases (and getaways) by car, motorcycle, or boat. There were a lot of emotions going on as I played the game, but Wei and his story kept me playing and finishing until the very end.
Like some of my past video game challenges, it helps that the game I’m currently playing has already been started and in progress. The challenge makes it a little less overwhelming to take on when you’re starting a completely brand new game and have no idea if it’s a game you’ll be fully excited and engaged in for the duration of a month. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case with Sleeping Dogs.
Wei Shen is a former San Francisco cop who gets transferred to the Hong Kong Police Force and is given the assignment to go undercover to infiltrate a triad organization known as the Sun On Yee in an effort to bust and arrest its most notorious and dangerous leaders. The old ties Wei has to some of the gang’s members makes him the perfect person for the sting operation. As the story progressively unfolds, Wei ultimately finds himself in an internal struggle between being an officer of the law and his sense of honor and loyalty he feels toward the Sun On Yee. Lines get blurred or are even crossed, and what Wei defines as right and wrong during his assignment gets grayer and grayer the longer he stays with the Sun On Yee.
In an open world environment like Sleeping Dogs, you have your main story missions mixed in with your side missions. I focused mainly on the main story missions and did a few side missions I thought were worth playing. True to the duplicitous nature of Wei’s assignment, missions are divided up between cop and gang missions. The missions have enough variety to make playing through them fun while also progressing the story in meaningful ways. I often wondered how long it would take before someone from the Sun On Yee caught onto Wei’s real identity or how he would still be able to fulfill his duties as a cop while not completely selling out gang member friends like Jackie.
Playing as Wei has you fighting off or chasing enemies using his martial arts and parkour skills, or shooting them with a wide range of different weapons. The shooting aspect of the game is used more sparingly than the hand-to-hand combat. Wei is almost always going fisticuffs with rival gang members, and this took me some time to get used to it. It does require a measure of proper and conscious button pushing. The combat style in this game felt somewhat like a fighting game, but where I can get by on button mashing alone, this one I actually can’t. Not entirely anyway. Knowing how to counter an attack against Wei and timing it properly is probably the most important skill I had to master fairly quickly. It becomes your best chance at survival against a gang of five or more. Countering has also saved me from the near reaches of death on more than one occasion. Once I mastered it, moving from one mission to the next without getting stuck in one particular fight made things really simple. My least favorite missions often involved high speed car chases or getaways, especially if Wei is the one driving.
Whenever I have to drive in any open world game, I’m terrible at controlling vehicles. The absolute worst. I’m either smashing into other cars as if it were bumper cars or finding myself stuck in a corner or wall. Finding yourself stuck and unable to get yourself unstuck is extremely frustrating, especially when you’re under time pressure to get to a certain point. Don’t even get me started on trying to avoid innocent pedestrians in a car. Let’s just say I’m much happier when another character takes the wheel and Wei’s job is to shoot up enemies tailing behind us. Definitely my kind of mission.
While I did enjoy Sleeping Dogs from start to finish, the ending itself isn’t really groundbreaking. The story gets incredibly predictable, and what’s meant to be a shocking twist isn’t anything you probably haven’t suspected yourself. Betrayals and double dealings is the name of the game and Wei finds himself to be a pawn to push other people’s agendas. The game also had two DLC missions, Nightmare in North Point and Year of the Snake, and I decided to download and play Year of the Snake.
Year of the Snake takes place after the main story of Sleeping Dogs and Wei has been assigned on beat cop duty at the HKPD on a probationary period after causing massive amounts of destruction and mayhem during his undercover operation with the Sun On Yee. This extra story mission doesn’t really add much to the experience. If anything, it was average at best. Wei is tasked with putting a stop to an extremist cult that plans on orchestrating a terrorist attack during the Chinese New Year. I didn’t find the missions in this DLC all that engaging and it felt more like a laundry list of things to do and not so much to build toward a really satisfying extra story. Maybe the only thing I did enjoy was knowing where Wei ends up post-main game.
I thought Wei Shen was a well-written and fully realized character and it puts what I haven’t seen too much in video games yet (though it is slowly changing)––an Asian American man as the hero and protagonist of the story. Games like Sleeping Dogs offer players a chance to play as someone else other than the usual white, male protagonist. Of course you can play as black, Hispanic, Asian, or any other person of color when you play games that let you create and customize characters how you want them to look like in your game. You can even decide if you want your character to be male or female. But to have games that don’t have the option of choosing who you play as and instead has a character clearly defined and written as the one who you’ll be following throughout the duration of your gaming experience is a big deal.
Wei not only contends with playing two different roles, cop and gang member, but he’s also dealing with his identity as an American and reacquainting himself with his more traditional Chinese side when he’s back in Hong Kong again after leaving that life a long time ago. His experiences and how he interacts with people in the game gradually builds a picture of who this guy is, what his beliefs are, where he came from, and where he’ll be going. Wei also isn’t a perfect human being. He has flaws, he makes mistakes, and he makes decisions that may not always be the best for himself or those involved but I think that’s what makes Wei extremely likable. At the heart of everything he does, Wei is doing what he feels is right and will do anything to help those he believes are good people but just in bad situations. That to me makes it really easy to connect to Wei, and Sleeping Dogs sets it apart from those gaming experiences where the player is seeing the character as more of a vessel to playing through a fun game system and not as a character to relate to and care about in some way.
Sleeping Dogs has been a joy ride kind of a game to play, but it’s time to leave this game behind and move onto the next video game challenge for April. What will I play next? Find out next week!