Alex Ritman enjoys a jaunt around Hong Kong, complete with weapons, plenty of spilt blood, a smattering of Cantonese foul language and a few delicious dumplings, just for good measure.
Game Review: Sleeping Dogs have learned new tricks
PS3, Xbox 60, PC
If you've seen any of John Woo's films before he scarpered for Hollywood, you'll know Hong Kong is a deeply violent place; a noisy, neon-soaked city controlled by rival Triad gangs with a penchant for exacting revenge via methods marginally less diplomatic than Genghis Khan.
It is, therefore, ideal video game territory. But, aside from a couple of titles, it has largely remained off the gaming radar map. Sleeping Dogs is out to change that and boy does it do it well.
The game that will ultimately spring to mind when this open-world action-adventure explodes on to your screen (with an athletic chase from the cops over rooftop gardens and through restaurant kitchens) will be Grand Theft Auto. But, within minutes you'll notice that it's got a whole load more tricks up its blood-soaked sleeve than Rockstar's ageing cash cow.
Firstly, you play Wei Shen, a smooth talking, tattoo-laden bruiser who, despite a few violent tendencies, is actually an undercover cop (the chase, and subsequent arrest, was just a ruse to get you started at the bottom of the Triad food chain). So, while your interests lie in bringing down the seedy underworld and a long line of shady characters with names such as Big Smile Lee and Uncle Po, you've also got to prove your criminal worthy to get near them, making things rather interesting. And as the story progresses and Shen's notoriety rises, your loyalties and motives become rather blurred.
Then there's the fighting, which is mostly hand-to-hand and, at times, excessively gory. But rather than relying on the same button-mashing techniques throughout, to get anywhere you'll need to understand the differing moves of each class of gangster and how to respond. If they're holding a meat cleaver, for example, don't go for a grabble, but rather counter their moves by throwing in a few kicks and then, for a finishing touch, grab their weapon and hack them to bits. Small children, look away now.
Another standout is Hong Kong itself, which is brought to life not just with sublime graphics of bustling night markets and rain-soaked streets lit up by a million light bulbs, but by an excellent artificial intelligence that really gives the impression of a living, breathing city. Even if you're crashing into every lamppost along the way, there's something quite special about cruising the streets in a fancy car on your way to the next mission, or firing a submachine gun from the passenger's seat as a gang of baddies on motorbikes pursue.
Regarding missions, what with your dual responsibilities, you have both police and Triad quests to complete and there are different points to earn and levels to climb for each. Missions range from all-out bloodbaths in nightclubs to more kooky affairs such as karaoke or feng shui, which help keep things unexpected. Then there are the numerous side adventures you'll stumble across along the way that will help you earn Face points that affect your standing among ordinary citizens (and give you access to some snazzy clothing options).
Sleeping Dogs is a brilliant game; an absorbing, edge-of-your-seat thriller that is both eye-wincingly violent and gorgeous to watch. It could well be the game of the year - the one that spawns sequels, prequels and film adaptations. Better call John Woo.
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