Sleeping dogs puts you in the shoes of Wei Shen, a police officer tasked with infiltrating a Triad cell and bringing it down in the neon-washed streets of Hong Kong. In traditional urban open-world game fashion this involves a lot of driving and shooting!
And also a fair bit of kung fu.
Whilst melee fighting options tend to be secondary in this brand of game the hand-to-hand combat of Sleeping Dogs is at the forefront. And whilst there is plenty of shooting, the vast majority of your confrontations will be martial arts infused brawling.
The melee combat take's it's cues from the Batman games, as many games have since - though by comparison Sleeping Dogs is mechanically rather simple.
You have a button to strike, which you can press multiple times to form combos or hold down to do strong strikes. Mixing up button presses and holds can yield different attacks. The enemy will glow red which is your cue to press the counter button. The timing on these counters isn't particularly demanding, so more often than not if you're quick you can get through a lot of fights relatively unscathed. And there's also a grapple move, which you can use to either pummel them from close range, throw them or drag them to points in the environment which can trigger a usually fatal special move. Or if there's no specific point you can interact with you can simply slam their heads into walls.
Despite being rather simple the melee combat feels good to take part in.
It doesn't take a lot of time to master, but you'll feel bad ass as you take down waves of enemy Triad.
The game's shooting sections however aren't as terrific.
The cover-based shooting sections are mediocre at best.
Gun's don't feel good to use and the aiming is too loose.
Fortunately this is somewhat addressed by letting you enter slow motion whenever you jump over cover, which you will do fairly often. Not just to move forward, but because the slow motion make's these shooting sections childs play and if you feel like I do, you'll want to move away from them as quickly as possible.
Driving around Hong Kong is substantially more fun and the game has plenty of car chases, which tend to be cool. The car handling is a little too slippery but it doesn't take long to adjust to it. In any given chase scenario you can also play it offensively and press a button, plus a direction in which to ram your vehicle which helps disable enemy vehicles.
You can also shoot from your vehicle and this tends to be more enjoyable than the on foot shooting.
A problem many open world games have, is that it can be rather difficult to be precise when they ask you to do a drive-by. Not that drive-bys are meant to be the most accurate way to take someone out, but it can be frustrating when a game asks you to do it and you miss, forcing you to awkwardly reverse back to give it another whirl.
Sleeping Dogs mitigates this problem by putting the game in slow-mo pretty much any time you aim your weapon from a vehicle, which makes the task of trying to aim while your driving much simpler. In fact it's a good mechanic to get the hang of because shooting out tires tends to be the easiest and most visually spectacular way of dealing with the opposition if they are vehicle bound. It generally causes the vehicle to flip and then explode in a rather awesome fashion.
The other thing about driving is the action hijack mechanic.
You'll be familiar with this sort of thing if you've played the Just Cause games or Wheelman.
It'll let you jump from one vehicle to another, letting you jack a new car whilst on the move.
It's seldom really necessary outside a few missions, but it's cool that you can do that.
An action packed campaign aside, what open world game would be complete without other diversions?
These range from stealing armored security vans to singing terribly at the various karaoke clubs.
And then of course there are numerous different types of collectibles to... Uh... Collect.
Health shrines, security cameras and lockboxes are littered all around the city and while initially it'll be a hassle to find them, as the game opens up you'll unlock the ability to see these bits and bobs on your in-game map so collecting everything is more a matter of time than effort, which is how I prefer it.
Visually the game is fine and packed with detail.
One nice touch I liked was that the game does the thing of letting your character look progressively more beat-up as he gets beat-up. But you can wash the blood and the dirt off at the sinks in any of your safe house. It's just a cosmetic thing, sure but I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.
Audio wise the only complaint I have I already mentioned, in that the guns sound rather weak.
The game has a decent soundtrack and good voice work though.
As they loved telling you in the advertising they have something of a star studded cast.
I think they leaned a bit too much into that though, because while yes! Emma Stone is indeed in the game! She appears for only like two missions and then disappears without a word.
Given the games somewhat troubled development history I'd say people had good reason to be weary of this one, but I'm pleased to report that you needn't be. It's a fine game and with no Saints Row or GTA in sight, if you're looking for a urban, open-world action game you need look no further than Sleeping Dogs.