Woodsey Weviews vs. The Summer Aftermath 2012 - Part 2

Woodsey Weviews
vs.
The Summer Aftermath 2012 - Part 2

Preface: As someone who decidedly hates spoilers of any kind, I always try and avoid them as much as possible; at most, I will reference plot setups.

LIMBO and Sleeping Dogs were both played on PC.

'Tis the last rose of summer.

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LIMBO

'Pleasant' is not one of the more exciting adjectives in the English language. It doesn't evoke the same sense of wonder that something described as 'amazing' or 'ball-tinglingly bombastic' might, nor does it promote the same sense of sadism as finding out something is 'nut-crunchingly terrible' or 'downright fucking dreadful'. Still, fresh off of my completion of LIMBO (and despite my longing to dazzle you with my vast knowledge of the English lexicon by using words like 'lexicon') I find it's all I'm left with.

For some I suppose that might be a nail in the platformer's coffin before I've barely even begun (for that one person who takes my words oh-so-seriously), but it shouldn't be. In many ways, LIMBO proves reminiscent of Uncharted 2. After-the-fact I'm not entirely sure what it was that I enjoyed so much whilst playing. Then I go back and, 'Ah, yes. This is what.' Both are well-conceived, confident in their approach and quite handsome; each knows exactly what it wants to be and they've both been polished to within an inch of their life, but both lack a spark that makes me long for them when I'm not actually playing.

Looks like: duck with beak against box. Is actually: A DEAD CHILD YOU MONSTER.

Still, if my testicles were on the line I suppose I would have to single out LIMBO's pacing as a point of excellence. Whilst the art direction hits home the notion of a cruel, peculiarly proportioned mirror-world, it's also not very surprising. Like the rest of the game, it's so exact in its execution that it somewhat counters a sense of lasting personality. And whilst that is a recognisably wanky piece of criticism, I'll fight anyone to the death over it all the same.

Especially you, Steven. Dick.

But, as I was saying, the pacing is a magic-y kind of goodness, especially for a game where any sense of narrative is reserved for its conclusion as it is in LIMBO. Down to the speed of the protagonist's movement whilst running, jumping and swinging (actual swinging, not 'swinging' swinging), it all feels just right. Puzzles entertain that terrifically difficult-to-maintain space between too hard and too easy throughout as they do in Portal, with a surprising number of elements introduced with ease along the way. Even better, whilst you will undoubtedly die by doing the wrong thing to begin with on most of the puzzles, you'll rarely feel as if you had to die to know what you should have done.

Speaking of the narrative - and because I never tire of bashing on every else's favourite indie darling - I must say that whilst it treads similar ground as this year's Journey, it avoids that game's falsity; it doesn't leave the impression that the game's narrative was decided by throwing a dart at a board. Instead, its short few seconds of screen time did still carry a proportional sense of weight and, whilst not particularly original, it certainly didn't feel cheap or generic as Journey's did.

And so against all odds, it seems a game about a small boy traveling through a deadly, ethereal plane is pleasant.

Sleeping Dogs

Irony is fun, isn't it? Just when you think you've got it pegged, you discover something you're 95% sure is ironic in some way - but it's that other 5% that's the devil. It knows you don't fully understand, mocks you for it, makes you ache over it. Days of your life are spent searching for comparative examples. Nothing quite fits. You daren't ask on the open internet for fear of worldwide humiliation. You turn to you Steam friends - they don't know. Of course they don't. They're idiots. In the end you turn back to your typewriter and exclaim, 'correctness be damned! I declare thee ironic!'. The heavens open in the background. Glenn Beck weeps. Don't worry, he always does that. Sleeping Dogs is a barely/somewhat/largely/not-in-the-slightest-bit ironic title for what Sleeping Dogs is. Namely: a bit droopy. (Character-related pun completely intentional. You're welcome.)

Let's get this out of the way before I slaughter it like a lamb at a cultist's dinner party: Sleeping Dogs isn't a bad game. By the end of this review you might think that I'm lying, but I'm not; it's not a great one by any stretch, but it's not bad. Clearly, its extra time in developmental limbo has been used to trim some fat, wipe its face clean and other such metaphors for getting polished. As a PC port it's quite superb, both in its performance and its range of options - although it does suffer from some odd mouse controls, constantly rubber-banding the camera back-to-centre whenever you turn it. Some will find it entirely insufferable, but I got used to it in the end; oh, and you can't look up. Like, at all. Perhaps Squeenix are involved with some inter-dimensional shenanigans necessitating the blockade of the Y-Axis, who knows? All I know is that it makes a dog's dinner (sorry) of being able to appreciate Sleeping Dogs' Hong Kong.

Soon.

But apart from it's brazen (and noble) effort to make the PC version an actual PC game, the developers of Sleeping Dogs have played it safe. Yes, it emphasises hand-to-hand combat over gun-fights; yes, you're technically a cop and not a gangster; yes, you're in rainy Hong Kong, not Liberty City New York. But it all feels so superficial. Whilst the melee combat is weighty and satisfyingly brutal, it does little to wriggle Sleeping Dogs free from its GTA collar. It makes it a lot more difficult to go on a rampage in between missions, which is certainly in-line with the game's plot, but that's about it.

The rest of it is as you'd expect. Work your way up through the ranks of a gang, the Sun On Yee triad, by starting at the proverbial anus. Drive cars. Race cars. Hit people. Shoot people. Get increasingly nicer safe-houses. Use a phone to contact people (albeit one more limited than Grand Theft Auto IV's). It even ignores its own lineage, completely dismissing the one interesting aspect of the original True Crime which saw the story branch off into different directions if you failed missions. Going on dates has been bumped up to the prime-time, but Sleeping Dogs does nothing with it. You'll keep waiting for the women you come across in main-story missions to play some actual role in the main plot, but they don't. You'll get their phone number as part of the story and can, if you so wish, call them for a single date. A couple of them will also give you a side-mission each. Then that's it; they disappear from your phone, you never see them again. The first one of them is Emma Stone, for goodness sake, and she has all of fifteen lines. EMMA STONE!

Similarly impotent is the game's plotting, with a hugely ineffectual and lacklustre twist towards the end, whilst one of the characters is given a laughably pretentious final line. Although Dogs does try to get across the idea of the mounting pressure on Wei as he gets balls-deep into the triad's inner-workings, it's so painfully over-zealous in how it's presented that you're just left wondering what all the fuss is about. His first night undercover he has nightmares and acts as if he's been infiltrating the gang for months - and this happens every time he goes to sleep! This kind of plot requires a delicate sleight of hand; Sleeping Dogs' clumsy paws (also sorry) just don't cut it. Originally I had planned to reserve some space to discuss how effectively players are made to deal with the pressures of being undercover. Short answer? They aren't. To the extent that technically I shouldn't be writing about it, because it's not in the game at all. For all its faults in the face of its predecessor, this is something Splinter Cell: Double Agent (a game released six years ago) absolutely nailed. Sleeping Dogs just doesn't bother.

The possible irony of the game's title then is that whilst it wants to suggest that there's a shit-storm a-brewin', what it ultimately reflects is the feeling that nothing's really happening. There's never any legitimate tension, no sense of a prize at stake. The reality is that my brain-activity spiked more whilst writing the introduction to this review than I remember it doing during the entirety of Sleeping Dogs. I often wire myself up at the temples just for 'funsies', you see. And if you think that's weird, just wait until I show you my porn collection.

 

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