I'd originally put down Sleeping Dogs about, let's say, three fifths of the way into the game in order to get my MMORPG on with Guild Wars 2, and now that that bug's outta my system (thanks in large part to the public announcement that they're going to start having another tier of gear that can only be attained by running a certain dungeon until my eyes bleed, which is why I quit every other MMO I've ever played, but that's another story), I finally got around to finishing it.
And I kinda wish I hadn't.
Thing is, Sleeping Dogs is basically two games. I really, really like the first game: It's a spin on the GTA formula where guns are largely nonexistent and you're running around listening to HK-Pop and beating up toughs with your hands and fists. You're a bit of a cowboy cop but since nobody ever dies on your watch, you kinda just go with it. The game even rewards you for not hurting innocents or causing property damage.
I liked that Wei Shen. I mean, he's formulaic as fuck (running from a violent, mysterious past that includes mourning the ghost of his sister who fell by the wayside thanks to gangs, etc) but for the purposes of the game it was decent 80s HK thriller fare. You got your crooked cop, your stodgy cop, your naive cop. You got your marauding gangster, your moronic gangster, your loyal-to-a-fault gangster, your wannabe gangster. You got your elder who gives vague, concerned advice and you got your revolving door of arm candy. You got every cliche ever to walk into a gangster flick swaggering around an always ever-so-slightly out of focus Hong Kong, and always with that sort of cheeky Jackie Chan innocence to it.
And then the second half arrived. "There are very few guns in Hong Kong," says Thomas Pendrew, the crooked cop in the first half. He's a lying liar who should be trussed up by his forked tongue, because that little fib got fucking destroyed in the second half. The second guns entered the equation, not only were they more common than streetside noodle stands, but no longer did Wei Shen even attempt to look like he's guided by any moral standards. I mean, other than the writing, of course: He sure did like to talk about being conscientious, but holy fuck, man. You can't call yourself a force of justice if you're the biggest badass in a full-fledged gang war you helped foment. "Oh yeah, I just murdered thirty-five people in an ambush that cut off power to a hospital. That's not gonna have repercussions." You can't honestly think you're doing anything moral when you're sending waves of men to hell in a crowded intersection with a grenade launcher.
I mean, I get that this happens a lot in these types of games: Difficulty is effected by throwing more guys at you; by making each encounter more deadly. We certainly saw it with Max Payne and Adam Kane and James Lynch. But Payne was unhinged and the duo were heartless criminals. As it stands, when you're chewing through fifty guys a day, you're not helping out the murder rate in the city. You are the murder rate in the city. In fact, in the two weeks or so that we follow Wei Shen's law enforcement career once he was introduced to guns, he's got Hong Kong's peak annual murder rate beat by a factor of ten.
I suspect that most people take this in stride. The writers certainly did. Indeed, that was the greatest disconnect of all: The motif of the game was whether Wei was taken in by the loyalties of the triads or his sense of duty to the HKPD. And indeed the great villain in the game is not an evil mob boss (although the Big Smile Lee certainly got a grandiose death by you, by virtue of having you shoot up a restaurant in a blind bid of revenge), he's the police superintendent. But what was his great evil? What did this man do to be worse than the toughs you've sliced and diced and hosed and beaten to a pulp? He made a deal with a low-level mob enforcer to arrest the three bosses above him, and then turned around when he became a big boss himself and killed him.
Well, shit. For Wei Shen that's called Tuesday.
In fact, that's exactly what Wei Shen ended up doing: Killing and arresting all the mob bosses but one, and watching that boss - in this case Broken Nose Liang - take over the entire enterprise uncontested. Yet I, as a player, have the execrable reward of watching Wei, absolutely oblivious to the irony, castigate his (former) boss Pendrew for this very same act before lording a death sentence over him.
Thing is, this is also a trope in the whole thriller sense: Harry Callahan and Popeye Doyle and Bullitt were cowboy cops who were colossal fuckups that recklessly endangered everybody and didn't actually get results. Except they realized it by the end. Wei has no moment of clarity. All his travails are taken in stride. All in a day's work to see everybody you got to know murdered in horrible ways and to have made your name in the news for bloody massacres three times in one week.
In this stead, Max Payne made me feel dirty because there was no justice to be found in his world. James Lynch made me feel dirty because I got to watch in gory detail just how horrible a man he was. Wei Shen makes me feel dirty because he learned nothing from his travails, except deep down I suspect it's not him that failed to learn anything: It's his writers.