Sleeping Dogs is a game reliant wholly on the strength of its influences. Its open world sandbox and fundamental mechanics are cribbed straight from Grand Theft Auto, its combat is a sharp take on Arkham Asylum’s brutal ballet of kicks and punches, and its story is pulled from the likes of Infernal Affairs and City On Fire. But despite being laboured with such lofty aspirations, Sleeping Dogs surprisingly avoids bargain bin knock-off territory and comes across as a sterling love letter to Hong Kong action cinema of the late 1980s.
The pulp narrative concerns undercover cop Wei Shen, who is tasked with infiltrating the local Triads in a bid to tackle their citywide criminal activity in Hong Kong. Inevitably, as he becomes embroiled in the underworld, he begins to question his allegiances and ponders whether to remain loyal to the police force or his newfound felonious surroundings.
More than Wei, Hong Kong is the real star here, a sprawling neon-lit urban jungle populated with a multitude of gameplay avenues to explore. It’s not a perfect facsimile, but the streets are brimming with cars to boost, illicit activities to partake in and gangbangers to tussle with.
Firearms in the game are sparse and run out of ammo quickly, so combat instead focuses on hand-to-hand melee martial arts to subdue foes. Taking cue from Assassin’s Creed and Arkham Asylum’s simplistic block-and-counter mechanics, it’s a robust and hugely engaging system that transforms any back-alley brawl into an instant highlight. There are also a series of grisly environmental executions that involve fans, circular saws and sizzling hotplates that prove intensely gratifying but rub with the protagonist’s moral values.
It’s by no means a seamless blend of ideas, but Sleeping Dogs balances each gameplay and story facet to such exquisite ends that its easy to ignore such quibbles. A thrill from start to finish – think of it as Grand Theft Auto directed by John Woo.