They say you should let sleeping dogs lie, and for the most part this is good advice. But when it comes to Square Enix’s Sleeping Dogs, the new open-world cop drama action game, it is best to grab these dogs by their collars and shake them till they wake up (please don’t try it on actual slumbering hounds). While the story is not all that memorable, you’ll surely remember the fast-paced combat, switching between brutal fisticuffs and thrilling shooting sequences in a heartbeat, and the multitude of side-missions and other distractions just waiting for you to put down the gun and give them a go. Sleeping Dogs is an open-world game done right with plenty to do in the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong, be is apprehending drug dealers, racing through the narrow streets on a motorcycle or slapping bad guys across the face with a fish.

Our intrepid head-busting hero is Wei Shen, an undercover cop deep within the ranks of the Triad gang known as the Sun On Yee. Fighting to maintain both his street cred and the support of his supervisors, Wei is forced to commit terrible crimes, betray old friends and protect the people he is sworn to bring to justice with his life. Even though it sounds exciting, the plot is actually Sleeping Dog’s weak point. It’s hard to pin-point why exactly, but it is almost impossible to care about any of the characters in the game, including the protagonist. Maybe it’s the obvious plot twists you can see coming a mile away, or maybe the simple fact that the story is not at all original or interesting is to blame, but you’ll consistently forget the reasons why Wei’s doing what he’s doing, or what his motivation is.

That isn’t to say playing through the game’s story missions is boring or unsatisfying. The plot might not be the most original or memorable, but the gameplay more than compensates for that. Be it the fights, the gunplay, the driving or just wandering around the world, Sleeping Dogs’ gameplay is fun and immersive. The obvious comparison is to the GTA series, especially GTA IV, and after an hour in the game you’ll realized that’s not an unfair one. Sleeping Dogs plays a lot like the famous open-world behemoth, if you played the police instead of the bad guys. You can take pretty much every vehicle in the world for a joyride, or engage in the different types of side-missions (including going on dates and doing favors for your friends). Even the gunplay feels similar to the one in GTA IV, but with added slow-motion abilities.

But no, Sleeping Dogs isn’t just “GTA IV in the far east”. True, these titles have a lot in common, but the game does a lot of things differently enough to stand on its own merits. One of those things is the hand-to-hand combat: Wei Shen is a martial arts expert, and as one, he can kick some serious triad ass with combos, counters and bone-shattering grapple attacks. This fluid combat system is probably the most fun you’ll have throughout the game, especially once you unlock some of the more advanced and devastating moves (like spinning jump kick straight to the face). It is fun, intuitive and brutal just as every Hong Kong street-fight should be.

From time to time Wei grabs hold of a gun (usually from the broken fingers of a rival gang member) and the action switches from close quarters fisticuffs to cover-based shootouts. These shooting sequences usually don’t last very long, and the game urges the player to blaze through them, utilizing the familiar slow-mo mechanic: each time Wei disarms an enemy, or vaults over cover while aiming down sights, time slows down, allowing for pin-point headshots. With each enemy dead, this short burst extends, and skilled players can even clear out a room in one go.

Shooting will become more integrated into the main story missions as the game progresses, but what makes Sleeping Dogs’ story missions so fun to play is the way they manage to combine all of the game’s elements (free running, melee combat, gunplay and driving) into one action packed package. Those missions, that just keep throwing the player from one action scene to the next, changing it up and even adding a little bit of plot progression to the mix, offer the best time you’ll have playing the game. Other, more slow-paced missions let the player explore the world a bit and use various gadgets to hack security cameras, crack safes and plant bugs. At first, these gadget sequences are a nice little breather from all the action but they soon become repetitive and annoying.

When not bashing skulls or crushing femurs, Wei can travel the medium-sized fictional version of Hong Kong, looking for distractions. He can participate in illegal street races (which can be unlocked by buying faster cars), gamble away his hard earned money on Mahjong Poker or cockfights, sing karaoke or break some more femurs in underground fight clubs. There are also tons of collectibles to gather throughout the world, and each type will grant Wei a fair sum of money, boost his health or give him the ability to learn some new and advanced combat moves.

The most interesting distractions are the favors and the date I mentioned before. Completing favors will reward the player with money and “Face points” (more on that in a second), while going on dates with female characters encountered in the game’s story will make collectibles appear on the map (there’s a date for each type of collectibles). Both types on side-missions are varied, fun and worth your while.

Of course, Completing story missions, side-missions and events in the game’s open world will award Wei with experience points which he can use to purchase new abilities and moves. These points are divided into three categories – Triad XP, Police XP and Face XP. Triad and police XP show your dedication to your job: Kill rival gang members in gruesome ways, damage their cars or score headshots and your Triad XP will go up; obey the law, drive safely and protect innocent bystanders and you’ll gain more Police XP. One does not come at the expense of the other, and you can complete missions with both high triad and police XP. Face XP is gained by completing events and favors; it is basically Wei’s reputation on the Island of Hong Kong. It’s a simple and easy to understand system that rewards dedicated players, but doesn’t hinder those who just want to blast their way through the story.

Sleeping Dogs’ weak point is probably its graphics: character models and textures look bland and boring, with characters looking unreal and almost doll-like (especially the women). While the bright lights of Hong Kong look great when zipping past them in speed, when you slow down you realize that everything looks a bit plasticy. The voiceover is the exact opposite: all the main characters sound great, with all voice actors (celebrities or otherwise) doing a fantastic job at bringing their characters to life, even if most aren’t very interesting. The music is decent enough, and everyone will find a radio station they like to listen to while blazing through the streets, be it classical music or Death Metal.

Sleeping Dogs does exactly what an open-world game should do – it offers plenty of things for the player to do and experience, and even the simple task of moving from place to place can result in taking on various fun distractions. Unfortunately, the game’s main story and characters are not very interesting, but thanks to the fast-paced action, playing through them is still extremely fun and engaging, and the gameplay will not let you rest your eyes for even a minute.

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