Growing up I always had a fascination with Hong Kong action cinema.  The stylized action coupled with gritty narratives was something that amazed me time and time again; it was unlike anything that was coming out of Hollywood.  It showcased how fragile loyalties could be in narratives and how deception could flesh out seemingly simple ideas—but never missing an opportunity to grab your attention and refuse to let go.  There have only been a few attempts at this kind of story-telling in games, a shame if you ask me, but one of the finer examples found in movies is Infernal Affairs (the US re-envisioning was The Departed).  A young and ambitious cop takes on dangerous undercover position to help weed out crime from the inside out—Sleeping Dogs shares a similar and equally compelling story, but also does a great job establishing itself as a competent challenger in the open world genre.

Players are put into the role of Wei Shen, a hardworking and results driven undercover cop for the HKPD.  Wei has been tasked with infiltrating the Sun On Yee, one of Hong Kong’s largest and most dangerous triad organizations.  Ostensibly, Wei must perform both his duties as a triad and as an officer of the law—while comprising neither side of the operation, or his true identity.  This is where the character of Wei Shen really stands out—his internal strife about his double life creates some of the greatest conflict I’ve ever witness unfold in a video game.  And his strife, well—transfers to you.  Many times over the course of the game I found myself getting attached to the various characters—on both sides, some for better, some for worse.  You connect with Wei on such a cerebral level—this level of connection is very rare for me—especially in a game that is primarily action oriented.

Wei’s martial art skills will be tested a lot throughout the game

Action is a huge component to Sleeping Dogs, but its story is top flight material.  The brutal dealings of the Sun On Yee put Wei in precarious positions, some more than others.  Wei must gain loyalty within this vicious organization, but must remember that first and foremost—he is a police officer, in which sometimes he loses sight of.  You get pulled into the narrative through intimately scripted cut scenes accompanied by excellent voice acting work by Will Yun Lee and Edison Chen (shout out to Emma Stone too).  Wei delivers a powerhouse performance and is arguably one of the most interesting characters to come into the gaming space recently.

Take a second and soak it up, it’s simply stunning

As intricate of a character as Wei is, I want to take a minute and describe just how beautiful Sleeping Dogs is and to be more specific—the recreation of Hong Kong.  It is an absolute feat in game creation, navigating through the streets of Hong Kong is an absolute delight, the colors, the sounds—its vibrancy is stunning.  Walking around, interacting with street vendors, singing karaoke, it is these kind of things that makes Sleeping Dogs vision of Hong Kong that much more authentic.  Each of the four districts in the game represents a different atmosphere, when combined makes this sandbox one the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of trotting.  As corny as it may sound I would put on the game’s classical Chinese radio station and take scenic strolls through the cascading heights of Victoria Peak and switch to some electronica and ride through and soak up the exotic nightlife in Central.  Believe it or not I found the game most striking when it was raining, the light reflecting in the drenched road and the neon tapestries really pop out during the games frequent rain storms, trust me you will know what I’m talking about.  Furthermore you can get lost in the game without having to do anything, something many games attempt–but don’t execute as well Sleeping Dogs does.  Hong Kong isn’t the only immersive thing about this title; the gameplay is nothing to sneeze at either.

Learning new moves spices up the combat later on in the game

Gameplay in Sleeping Dogs is broken down into three very distinct categories—fighting, shooting, and driving.  There is a free running component to it as well, but it’s fused into the aforementioned categories.  The fighting mechanics in Sleeping Dogs is very reminiscent of the Batman: Arkham titles and Assassin’s Creed—multi-directional combat with heavy reliance on grappling and countering.  The combat can get repetitive, but learning new moves and techniques keeps it fresh and makes beat downs that much more rewarding.  Environmental attacks also add an additional layer of brutality to the combat—also creating unique fighting scenarios based on location.  For example if you are fighting on a construction site and you were so inclined to put some sucker’s face into a table saw—Mills Lane would allow it.

It will not be uncommon for Wei to engage multiple enemies simultaneously

The emphasis on firearms isn’t present early on in the game—but later on large scale firefights light up your screen with flare and intense gun-fx.  Vault shooting is a cool mechanic that allows you to dispatch enemies quickly and with precision while moving from cover to cover.  There is a slow-mo aspect to the shooting mechanics, embedded primarily while vaulting—its ancillary in nature, but popping off three or four headshots in a row is extremely satisfying nonetheless.  The slow-mo shooting happens during conventional gun fights as well as driving segments—precision shots to tires and vehicle occupants can escalate these sequences to all new levels–which segues into the game’s driving mechanics.

Driving unsurprisingly is a huge component of Sleeping Dogs and thankfully it’s very polished—well because this game would have been miserable otherwise.  There are no aircraft to quickly jettison around the city and the only means of fast travel is hailing a cab, but like I said earlier—exploring the city is a treat.  The selection of vehicles isn’t that deep, but conveniently placed parking garages around the city allow for easy access to vehicles that you have purchased.  Later on you can have a valet personally deliver a vehicle of your choosing—in those cases where you misplace your car or motorcycle.  While the parking garages are a nice touch, I wish you could add vehicles that you procure through theft (a la Saints Row or GTA), but keeping in line with Wei’s double life, the choice makes sense to have it this way.

Races are not only fun, but show off different ways to explore Hong Kong

Like its other open world brethren Sleeping Dogs has plenty to do in the way of side missions and collectibles.  There are lockboxes, health shrines, and jade statues to find, as well as cameras to hack for the HKPD’s own musings.  Side missions include racing, extortion, car theft, drug busts, and other organic events sprinkled in to make traversing Hong Kong a more exhilarating experience for the player.  While there is plenty to do, it isn’t an overwhelming amount—an issue that I have with almost every other open world action game, so actually getting 100% is entirely attainable in a reasonable amount of time.

One thing that has penetrated almost every modern game in one way or another is multiplayer—but Sleeping Dogs doesn’t feature such a mode, but rather has what is called the Social Hub.  The Social Hub allows you to compare your progress and accomplishments against your friends as well as replay your favorite missions and races to get either get a better score or simply relive a cherished moment.  The Social Hub is far from an original concept, but it offers a means to integrate your friends into your game, which is never a bad thing—unless you don’t have friends that is.

Even when things get crazy, Wei makes time for the ladies

While I do hold Sleeping Dogs in high esteem, it does have its faults.  In a game of this scale you can’t expect all of the geometry to be perfect—and it isn’t.  On occasion Wei or a vehicle plus Wei would get caught up in a dead zone, forcing me to reload my last save.  I have praised the exploration in this game quite a bit, but at times the games waypoint system can be misleading and downright aggravating.  For the most part it will get you to your destination no problem, but anything that isn’t topographically level with the road will have you pulling your hair out.  The game’s wardrobe system is in place to allow you to customize Wei—well your own way (poor pun I know).  Certain garment arrangements will give Wei statistical boosts in certain categories, sounds great on paper, but the actual execution is a cluttered mess that will most likely annoy you rather than engage you.  Lastly—it is less of a fault, but more so a letdown—the “Action Hijack”.  This feature was made out to rival Just Cause’s zany implementation of the same thing, but its infrequent use in the game makes it extremely novel and probably could have been passed over without tarnishing the experience.  Thankfully these downsides don’t overshadow what Sleeping Dogs has to offer, so that’s good right?

An agile Wei has no reservations about blowing your head off while vaulting over a barrier

Sleeping Dogs is one of the finest open world action games of this generation—or any for that matter.  United Front Games and Square Enix should be applauded for delivering such an exceptional title, especially considering the title’s troubled history.  It is an intimidating genre to break into with the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row amidst, but Sleeping Dogs enters with a bang and is an exciting thrill ride that no gamer should pass up on this year.  With roughly a 15-20 hour campaign, plenty of side missions, collectibles to find, and extremely satisfying gameplay—Sleeping Dogs doesn’t outstay its welcome and is definitely worthy of your hard earned money.