Want more Sleeping Dogs? Get our 8 essential tips for conquering Hong Kong.
Most open world games see you playing the role of either the cop or the criminal. Sleeping Dogs lets you be both. Set on the bustling, neon-lit streets of Hong Kong, you play as Wei Shen, a US detective who infiltrates China's biggest organised crime syndicate, the Triads.
As you climb the ladder from street punk to respected gangster, you're also working with the police to bust your new pals. Not only does this split the gameplay into two distinct halves, but it also makes for an engaging and dramatic story. Wei's allegiances are increasingly tested as he gets deeper into the city's criminal underworld.
It obeys all the open world standards. The city map is dotted with icons that trigger story events, side missions, and other distractions. A mini-map guides you between locations with a glowing GPS line. Cars can be nicked, people can be run over, and you can catch taxis. Noodle stands replenish health, you can buy clothes, and the cops will be alerted if you commit crimes.
But that doesn't mean it's short on ideas. It introduces some interesting new mechanics that set it apart from other sandbox games - the most interesting of which is the experience points system.
You have two meters: a police one (blue), and a criminal one (red). Running over pedestrians and behaving like a GTA character will lower your standing with the cops and you'll lose blue XP, but arresting drug dealers and following leads earns it back. Working with the Triads - boosting cars, extorting people for 'protection' money, and other crimes - will earn you red XP.
The more points you have for a particular side, the more abilities you can unlock. Triad upgrades include making your melee attacks more powerful, and stat-boosting energy drinks - which you can buy from vending machines - being more effective. Cop upgrades allow you to break into cars silently without setting off the alarm, or quickly disarm enemies wielding guns or knives.
The dichotomy between Wei's police work and his criminal activities are what make the story missions - the meat of the game - so entertaining. As a Triad you'll get into gunfights, beat people up, deal drugs, and enter illegal street races. As a cop you'll wear disguises, bug hideouts, hack security cameras, and covertly photograph drug deals. Both sides of the story feel unique.
Ah, yes. Beating people up. The majority of your time in Sleeping Dogs will be spent either driving around the city, or introducing your fists and feet to a variety of faces. Luckily, the combat is brilliant. It's part Yakuza, part Arkham City. The Yakuza part comes from being able to slam people into scenery. Shoving an enemy's face into a furnace, or the spinning blades of an air conditioning unit, is brutally satisfying. You can slide guys across bars and smash them into tables. It's like playing a really violent martial arts film.