Authentic Hong Kong New Wave story & Bully's spiritual successor
The first time I remember hearing about this Sleeping Dogs was in an interview with Mike Skupa, it was still under the alias True Crime: Hong Kong. This was a dark period for the game because soon after it was dropped by it's original publisher Activision and picked up by Square Enix. While I was watching the interview Mike Skupa gave on the game, I reminisced how great his prior game was Bully from Rockstar and as soon as I picked up Sleeping Dogs I knew that this was his spiritual successor to Bully.
Sleeping Dogs, set in Hong Kong, is an open world game where Wei Shen acting as an undercover cop is given the task to take down the Triad. About half of the game it aesthetically matches Triad Election both in pacing and the fact that you're only using hand to hand combat. The second half Sleeping Dogs tonally matches something more akin to Hard Boiled with a heavy emphasis on gun play and faster pace. To me one direction was not better than the other mainly due to the fact the gameplay systems dominate in both sections are meticulously smart both from an ease of use perspective on the players part and to establish the tone.
The seemingly subtle but deeply profound new gameplay ideas at work are extensive. If you hold down arrow keys to change radio stations lowers and raises the volume or the fact that RPG mechanic gives you a reason to run around the beautiful city they created. Also that the fighting system is counter heavy much like the films it's aping for it's aesthetic and the other big game in the open world hand to hand combat genre Batman Arkham Asylum. Every system they introduce is so smart, and progresses the genre.
Did I mention the city was beautiful, Hong Kong in the game reminds me if someone took the charming, expensive and overpopulated nature of city like Houston here in the states but set it in the altitude and look of a city similar to San Francisco. On my PC, which is the real way to play this game from most accounts due to performance issues on the other platforms, the city looks amazing. Hong Kong is clearly a beautiful city, and it's quite obvious while playing this game why so many directors in China moved from the mainland to Hong Kong to make their movies.
The shift between acts can seem abrupt, one second you're never using a gun and the game is playing great then they ask you to kill to prove you're a Triad. The Johnnie To approach (director of previously mentioned Triad Election) of directing gangster movies where none of the gangsters ever fire a gun is admirable, but it isn't essential to the aesthetic. While the gunplay is not as developed as the hand to hand combat, it was still good so it wasn't a slight against the game. Sleeping Dogs pushes forward the open world genre, Grand Theft Auto IV was already shifting away from parody and trying to bring originality to it's story telling. Sleeping Dogs feels like an authentic original take on the cinema genre it draws from and much of that is due its excellent writing and voice acting.
The best argument Sleeping Dogs has for existing is telling the smaller stories in between missions, which is where the game flexes it's strengths in voice acting and writing. There are small types of stories that you would never get in film due to time restraints, that haven't been explored in the Hong Kong New Wave genre to my knowledge are in Sleeping Dogs. You can tell the developers on Sleeping Dogs are fans, and the previously mentioned shift allows them to broaden their scope of the minutia. All in all, the product they put together, especially on the PC is impeccable. Sleeping Dogs is a must play on many different levels.