After beginning life as True Crime: Hong Kong to be published by Activision, Sleeping Dogs --as a Square-Enix game-- steps to a gaming public that's always, ALWAYS open to a rich open world crime simulator done right. Sleeping Dogs had to have solid driving, fighting and shooting mechanics just to be considered a serious game and then had to offer something unique, something to differentiate it from Red Dead Revolver, Saints Row and, yes, Grand Theft Auto that gamers wouldn't know they wanted until SD gave it to them.
The mini-activities and side quests have to strike the right balance of fun and necessity where you'll want to do them because it adds to the overall experience but not required to get full enjoyment. If there's no car customization, for example, there has to be a reason for it and something equally compelling for us to do as a distraction to all of that crime we'll be fighting and perpetrating in Sleeping Dogs.
The additional development time for Sleeping Dogs has paid of very well in this innovative open world title that expands the genre (when it could've easily played it safe) with original concepts, in a thrilling Hong Kong environment and with a story that makes the role-playing elements a joy.
The decision to focus on the hand to hand combat as the core experience for Sleeping Dogs was brilliant because the attention on the fighting system totally pays off. Tracing its lineage to Batman Arkham Asylum, the fighting in Sleeping Dogs is intuitive, challenging and rewarding as you earn new moves that will have this game looking like a movie more times than you realize. We're talking fight sequences from a Jet Li flick or The Matrix if you get the costumes and environments just right. A system that starts as simple timed button presses evolves into sophisticated, targeted combos and grappling moves that seamlessly blend into one another. And the whole system is necessary because you're constantly surrounded by groups of enemies, say nine guys or so, where two will be regular, two will have unstoppable attacks, two who can withstand any striking combo you might have and the last three will be giants who can't be grappled.
Things like car customization and weapon-hording are minimized in Sleeping Dogs. This will turn off some open world fans who loved tinkering with their rides in Saints Row or finding the ultimate melee, semi-auto, automatic and explosive weapon loadouts in GTA IV. There's even a line in the story that explains how guns are rare in Hong Kong. Welcome to the rest of the world, North American gamers.
The use of Hong Kong as an interesting environment and the dual life of Wei Shen drive your gameplay in interesting ways. This is an authentic re-creation of Hong Kong and that city looks like it's VERY difficult to navigate. You'll feel this too when you're first learning to handle the weight and speed of vehicles and when you discover shortcuts that are invisible on minimaps and barely passable when you bust a left at a phone booth doing 140 km/h. Similarly, the fact that Wei Shen is an undercover cop comes off stronger when he's using cop gear to commit crimes or using his criminal contacts to solve cases than anything you get in the cut scenes. He's angry and cursing like a man under pressure from the first cinematic, so when tension escalates it's hard to appreciate all of that additional bluster. Make no mistake though, actor Will Yun Lee is perfect in this role mixing accents and dialects of Cantonese and California slang. And we highly recommend leaving the audio/subtitles on the default setting so you can learn some Cantonese curse words along the way, dai lo.
Get Sleeping Dogs if: you're hankering for a fresh open world crime simulation; you enjoyed The Departed/Infernal Affairs; you loved the fighting system in the last two Batman games and/or you want to get lost in a violent role-playing game that will make you feel like a movie star.
Don't get Sleeping Dogs if: you want this to be GTA (it plays better than IV); you have a problem with strong language and adult content; you're under 18 years of age; you only like sports titles; you like extensive inventory and customization systems in your action games and/or you don't like Hong Kong or it's culture.
Star Rating (out of 4): 4 Stars