10 Reasons Why ‘Sleeping Dogs’ Made Me Forget About ‘GTA V’

Grand Theft Auto not only provided the blueprint for the modern sandbox crime game but consistently sets the bar for the genre. GTA IV was one of the most highly anticipated game of the current console generation and remains one of the best known franchises in the business. Whenever a new game in the series is announced the fanbase usually gets worked into a fever pitch.

Recently the full trailer for Grand Theft Auto V launched and in spite of being a fan of the series it completely passed me by. To this day it remains unwatched for the simple reason that another sandbox crime saga has been doing a fine job of filling the void left by GTA IV. Here’s ten reasons why Sleeping Dogs is a better use of your time.

#10 – The Wadrobe

This is a pretty minor quibble, but the clothing options in GTA IV were bloody awful. At the opening of the game Niko Bellic is just off the boat from Eastern Europe and his outfit is as expected. Once you find yourself in a clothing shop, eager to switch things up, you find yourself choosing from a range of grey and beige coloured cargo pants or sweat pants. Niko seemed determined to blend into the sidewalk at every opportunity. Even when he worked up the bank to get a suit he looked like a boozed up uncle at the family Christmas party.

Niko Suit

“Who left that ugly mannequin there?”

Sleeping Dogs takes more of a cue from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas by giving the player a large range of clothing options that are both colourful and interesting. They look like clothing a person might actually want to wear. It includes a couple of fun options as well, such as the iconic yellow jumpsuit worn by Bruce Lee.

#9 – Collectables That Serve a Purpose

Everyone loves a game with collectable items, and the sandbox game design is perfectly suited to them…but sometimes they serve no purpose whatsoever other than fulfilling a basic compulsion to reach 100% completion. Assassin’s Creed was the most guilty of this, but littering the map with hundreds of difficult to find flags that offered no reward at all. GTA games aren’t much better, offering players only paltry rewards for unearthing hundreds or near-impossible to find items. Sleeping Dogs gives you just reward for treasure hunters, such as extra health and a range of new fighting moves.

Sleeping Dogs Fighting

Like this!

#8 – Characters

Niko Bellic may be well known and occasionally expressed an emotion but he was a boring git. It’s impossible to become invested in his story since he’s seeking revenge against a person we’re only told about for something that Niko explains, but is never shown or experienced by the player. This leaves the audience disconnected and unsympathetic towards the final goal of the game, instead becoming more invested in the new rivalries that develop along the way.

Niko Bellic Zero Punctuation

The supporting cast of Sleeping Dogs are certainly not as realistic as those in GTA IV but they more than make up for it in over-the-top personalities. Even better, none of the recurring characters drive you up the fucking wall. Between your ‘cahzan’ calling you every two minutes to bitch you out over not taking him to play darts or the ‘roided up asshole Brucie telling sob stories about childhood it’s no wonder GTA players cause so much carnage.

#7 – Driving Controls

This was a real sticking point for GTA IV. After the lengthy, wonderfully rendered opening cutscene and meeting the dreaded Cahzan Nico is put behind the wheel of a car. Remembering that this is a Grand Theft Auto game and certain behaviours were expected of me I slammed down the accelerator and went…slowly trundling into a wall. The driving in GTA IV had all the fluidity and ease of a character in Resident Evil on the PS1. The vehicles felt heavy and throwing on the hand brake would sent you into an uncontrollable spin. Eventually players could get the hang of things but that isn’t much fun for a sandbox. Donning a motorbike doesn’t help matters much as the impact from a feather caught in a slight breeze would be enough to dislodge you.


“All I did was start the engine!”

When designing a racing game is fine to expect a degree of finesse developed through practice – it’s the ultimate goal of the game after all. When playing a sandbox you want to have fun. Hop into any vehicle and drive like a pro with little effort so you can focus on drifting, shooting out the window, launching yourself off ramps or, hopefully, all three at once.

Sleeping Dogs driving

Much better.

#6 – Hand-to-Hand Combat

The fighting system in GTA has never been a big selling point, but there’s no reason why they can’t do it right if they’re going to do it. You get fists or a weapon and stand close to someone flailing your arms around until someone falls over. The range of different weapons are mostly for aesthetic purposes rather than function. Sleeping Dogs decided that since they’re expected to have a combat system they might as well go all out. Building something similar to the Batman: Arkham City fighting engine it’s fast, fun and actually feels as though the attacks are making contact with something.

Sleeping Dogs combat

#5 – Parkour

By this stage you might be wondering why I’m hating on GTA. I don’t hate Rockstar or their games but they have reached a point in their career as game designers where they need to start keeping up with the competition. One aspect in which this is most glaring in the character movement. Even as recently as L.A. Noire and the almost perfect Red Dead Redemption the character’s walk as though they’re wearing a full body brace and the act of walking through a door can wind up being vexing. The Liberty City of GTA IV wound up feeling like an awkward place to get around with Niko randomly getting stuck getting around benches and over kerbs, not to mentioned restrictions on where you can go.

Sleeping Dogs doesn’t exactly open up the world Assassin’s Creed style but it makes the urban environment easier to navigate. The simple parkour controls mean jumping over small obstacles less of a hindrance. Chase sequences in Rockstar games can be frustratingly derailed by missing a jump or doorway by an inch. A simple parkour mechanic can turn such frustrations into extra fun, and the ability to slide of the hoods of cars will never get old.

Sleeping Dogs parkour

#4 – The Story is Interesting

Red Dead Redemption had a great story that lived in something of a moral grey area. The average GTA game is much more linear. You’re a small time crook who makes it big. And that’s the formula that every game designer has based their sandbox around. It’s gotten to the point of being generic. Putting a spin on it, in this case making the protagonist an under cover cop, is all it takes to make things more interesting. With plenty of The Departed type scenes of our hero debated his conflicted role in the world makes for much more engaging gaming.

#3 – Mini-Games That Fit into the Game

Mini-games can really be classed as an optional extra that the player can take on. Being optional the player can choose to ignore them in favour of the main story, but it’s nice to know that there’s something worthwhile to get out of them. Much like the collectables we like to know that our gametime comes with some reward. Mini-games in Sleeping Dogs involve the usual high-jacks, car races and the like but there’s always an in game reward for them whether cash, ‘face’ or new cars to purchase, and they feel like the kind of activities a Triad member would partake in. Even little things like hacking mini-games serve in game purposes and fit in well. GTA IV came with a range of activities that featured bowling, darts and pool, which was a massive departure from the usual activities in the game and served no purpose other than being boring. Worse still was that some missions forced the player to partake.

Even worse was the inclusion of an internet to browse and a bunch of TV channels to watch. Why would I be playing a game if I wanted to watch TV and browse the internet?!

GTA IV websites

Thrilling action!

#2 – Car Jumping

It always happens…you need to get from point A to point B and the only car in the vicinity is a bloody clunker. The moment you open the door and climb in a speccy sports car goes hurtling past in the other direction. You spin around and head after it and, hoping that it’s still around, catch up. You try to cut it off but the driver magically gets past. If you beat the odds and catch up and bring it to a stop you have to hope that they don’t speed off while you’re climbing out of the clunker and awkwardly running over by furiously tapping the X button.

Swap games and play Sleeping Dogs. This:

#1 – Excising the Social Element

On paper a social mechanic in a sandbox game isn’t a terrible notion. At random points in the game you can meet up with friends in order to play mini-games and eventually get bonuses from them. The concept failed in execution. Firstly the characters that were created to be your ‘friends’ were fucking annoying, like this asshole:

Yeah, I can’t wait to go bowling with Brucie. In order to keep your bonuses for having these friends active you need to maintain the friendships which means spending as much time performing these crappy tasks rather than doing missions. Just in case you don’t give a damn about performing this aspect of the game the characters will phone you up every two minutes to remind you.

GTA Bowling

Even worse was the dating element where you first had to try and find the girls (in some cases trawling fake dating websites) and take them out on boring date after date until you find the things she likes, then repeat them again and again until you get the awesome experience of muffled sex sounds over a shot of a street and some meager bonus, like a 25% discount on clothes shopping at certain times.

Sleeping Dogs keeps things simple. You meet some girls during the normal course of the story. After a once off date mission you get a bonus like a certain collectable being visible on the mini-map. Much better.

Sleeping Dogs action

Meanwhile, back to more important things.