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For all the comparisons to Grand Theft Auto that Sleeping Dogs is inevitably going to receive, it holds its own. Sure it’s an open world game set in a densely populated urban area controlled by underworld kingpins. And obviously there are a fair amount of gunfights, murders, police chases and car crashes. Sure those tropes are all part of the experience. However, what’s really surprising is that there wasn’t a hint of irony or cynicism in the game. Sleeping Dogs wasn’t pretending to be something it wasn’t. It’s a game that utilizes a well-established formula and executes it to create it’s own unique adventure.


While familiar in plot, story and mechanics, Sleeping Dogs also felt foreign and exotic. I knew from the onset the type of GTA in Hong Kong experience that was in store. What I didn’t know was how it was going to be presented. The Sleeping Dogs version of Hong Kong setting is a big appeal. The city is sprawling, exotic, glamorous and dangerous. Driving through the city streets feels like there’s something new and exciting around every corner.  It’s a city that unless you’ve actually visited or are a Hong Kong cinema aficionado, you’re probably unfamiliar with.  Unlike New York City or Los Angeles, which is well represented in American pop culture, i.e. Liberty City and Los Santos respectively. 


As an undercover cop, Wei Shen is given the impossible task of infiltrating the Triads, a vicious gang operation that is in the middle of a civil war. Inevitably, Wei is sucked in to the organization. The power, money, fast cars, and girls are all there for his taking. In comparison, a meager and thankless life as a detective in a corrupt police force holds little to no appeal and this is the biggest drawback of the game. There wasn’t anything at stake for Wei as a detective besides his career. On the other hand, he had everything to lose as a gangster, his family, friends, wealth and most importantly, his life. I wonder why the undercover cop plot was even established in the first place. I would have preferred if it had just been Wey struggling to make ends meet and then using crime as a theoretical solution with all the consequential problems that ensue.


Sleeping Dogs’ story is essentially divided in half between the Triads and the Detectives. The two storylines unfold simultaneously as you progress through the story and jump back and forth between them. This is another part of the bigger overall problem with the game. The alternation between the two stories was jarring if nothing else because the detective storyline was undeniably dull and uninspired.  At times they seemed disjointed almost like they were two different games.  However, the biggest issue is that I never really believed Wei was a cop at heart. The fact that Wei killed hundreds of people, hijacked cars, ran over countless innocent people, stole millions of dollars and caused an unprecedented amount of property damage doesn’t convince me otherwise. But he’s a good guy at heart and that’s why the player cares for him. The destruction is just incidental.


 Minus the depth, story, and memorable characters, Sleeping Dogs is, and I’m not ashamed to admit, every bit as fun as GTA IV.  Please note that I didn’t say good. Even the most jaded GTA fans that will accuse Sleeping Dogs of a hack job, will still have a blast. The combat system takes some getting used to but once it’s mastered, Wei is transformed from a lowly police detective with a few strong punches to the unstoppable equivalent of Bruce Lee.  There’s something very satisfying about taking down an entire mob of enemies with only a fist as your primary weapon. I found myself getting into brawls on purpose just so I could exercise Wei’s muscles and newfound abilities.


I spent a lot of time casually cruising around Hong Kong. I used running errands, colleting items, and completing missions as an excuse but all I wanted to do was drive and listen to music taking in the gritty neon scenery and idyllic peaceful vistas. Sleeping Dogs might not reach the level of near perfection that it was inspired by, but where it excels in is creating a world that you want to happily get lost in.