Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sleeping Dogs: Nightmare in North Point review


    Sleeping Dogs is a great game. I've mentioned this before and my opinion on the subject hasn't changed. Even if you're not a fan of Heroic Bloodshed movies, it's a delightful introduction to the genre. [Editor's note: The short version is Heroic Bloodshed is a Hong Kong genre roughly equivalent to American Noir. The difference is that the protagonists be they hit men or undercover cops have a code of honor--it's just they usually have to break it in wildly bloody and deadly ways.] 

    Sleeping Dogs didn't make a whole lot of money but it wasn't a failure by any stretch of the imagination either. Which is why I was pleased to discover the game was getting a series of DLC over the course of the past six months.

Big Scar Wu's cat mask makes him a memorable-looking villain, if nothing else.
     The first of these is Nightmare in North Point, which is basically an homage to Chinese ghost stories. Wei Shen is either having a particularly vivid dream or he's really encountering the supernatural, take your pick, but it is a far cry from your typical Sleeping Dogs action. It's more like Red Dead: Redemption's Undead Nightmare only with a Hong Kong twist.

    The premise is that an old triad enemy of the Sun On Yee, Big Scar Wu (now known as "Smiley Cat"), was murdered in a particularly grizzly way. Seeking revenge, he emerges from the underworld and targets Wei Shen's girlfriend (Not Ping) as well as the rest of Hong Kong. The streets are littered with Chinese vampires (Jiang-Shi) and their demonic masters.

    Already, this premise is somewhat flawed given there's no particular reason for Smiley Cat to single out Wei Shen. It becomes doubly infuriating because Dog Eyes, who is a much more personal enemy to Wei, is one of the ghosts we later encounter. The locals also seem somewhat blase to this dramatic change in their city, wandering along with glowing eyes as if everything was perfectly normal. It would have made better sense, for what value that means, to have Wei dumped into the underworld somehow but I digress.

    Wei's journey through the supernaturally-conquered Hong Kong primarily consists of him attempting to discover a means of permanently banishing Smiley Cat's ghostly army. Thankfully, there's a number of helpful locals familiar with Chinese mythology. Plus, Wei gets to encounter a couple of friendly gangsters whose deaths have left them less inclined to seek revenge over Wei's status as an undercover cop (apparently, the dead know everything). It was a major missed opportunity to not have Wei Shen encounter his deceased sister during this pack. That would have added significant pathos to a somewhat silly and substance-less plot.

    Despite this, I had fun playing Nightmare in North Point. The Jiang-Shi enemies were an interesting change of pace from regular gang members and Wei's encounters with past friends (as well as foes) entertained me. The DLC is a little on the short side, especially since the entire map is open for exploration, but I never felt bored.
The blue-fog overlays to familiar Sleeping Dogs locations is surprisingly effective in making them creepy.
    Nightmare in North Point transforms the Hong Kong of the game from a bustling living city to a supernaturally foggy and surreal place inhabited by mindless shambling citizens. The effect is creepy but the world feels sparsley populated despite the roving gangs of Jiang Shi that Wei can run into. There's the addition of "Hell Shrines" that make it easier to fight the Jiang Shi but these aren't exactly collectibles worth hunting down given a special weapon for fighting the undead drops fairly regularly.

    Really, I think this DLC could have been transformed into a full-blown expansion if the developers had wanted to. I would have loved to have seen characters from the game react to all the supernatural craziness around them. The addition of more monsters, more sidequests, and more collectibles could have resulted in a retail release for Sleeping Dogs' Zombie expansion just like Red Dead Redemption's own. As such, this feels a bit like a wasted opportunity.

    In the end, I don't see anything wrong with the game other than it wasn't as good as it could have been. It's still Sleeping Dogs, which I enjoyed, and the plot is fun if a bit underwhelming. I suggest you pick it up if you can.


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