The only thing better than playing through a great video game is when you didn't expect much from it.
Such is the case with Sleeping Dogs, an atmospheric adventure set on the gritty streets of Hong Kong. Square Enix's "Mature"-rated single-player game — for players 17 years of age or older — is one of the year's best, thus far.
Influenced by Asian action flicks, Sleeping Dogs introduces you to Wei Shen, an undercover cop who infiltrates one of the world's most infamous criminal organizations: the Hong Kong Triads. At the start , the tattooed hero performs odd jobs for seedy types in order to win their trust. As you dive deeper into the underworld you'll take on tougher tasks — some of which challenge your resolve and question your motives. Without giving much away, you learn Shen spent time in the U.S. but returns to Hong Kong to work with the authorities, in part to avenge his sister's murder.
Similar to games like Grand Theft Auto, this is an "open-world" game that lets you venture anywhere you like, take on side missions and use money collected to customize the look of your character. Played from a third-person perspective, you'll experience intense shoot-outs, escort missions and engage in dramatic car and foot chases — but there's a lot more hand-to-hand combat in Sleeping Dogs, as you might expect from a Hong Kong cinema-inspired action game.
The martial arts fighting is a blast, even with more than ten enemies at one time — Bruce Lee-style. Early on you'll learn how to punch and kick, perform chained combo moves, block and counterattack, and even grab a baddie by the lapel, toss him in to others or use the environment to inflict major harm (such as smashing him through a payphone). Again, take heed of the game's "Mature" warning, but these imaginative and cinematic finishing moves will make you wince and laugh at the same time.
You'll also do some police work to accomplish your goals, such as hacking cameras and tracking cell phone signals.
While the character animations look a little stiff, the virtual Hong Kong looks fantastic, from the neon-lit streets (reflecting off wet pavement) to the bustling markets in Kowloon . Story sequences are entertaining to watch, with well-written dialogue, memorable characters and competent voice acting (in both English and Cantonese, with subtitles).
Developed by Vancouver's United Front Games in collaboration with Square Enix London Studios, Sleeping Dogs is an extraordinarily fun — but graphic — interactive drama. Fans of games like Grand Theft Auto or Hong Kong action movies will no doubt find this game an enjoyable blend between the two worlds.
Platform: Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Developer: United Front Games/Square Enix London Studios
Publisher: Square Enix
Web site: sleepingdogs.net
Score: 3.5 stars (out of 4)
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