With the feel of a 40 hour-long John Woo action flick, Sleeping Dogs follows the escapades of Wei Shen—a respected young cop who's returned home to Hong Kong from the U.S. in order to help the local police force infiltrate a ruthless Triad crime family. Wei's official goal is to dismantle, or at least upend, the Sun On Yee family—from the inside. But the heavily tattooed undercover cop also has his own score to settle: avenging his sister's death and snuffing out the miserable life of a low-level boss named Dogeyes. If you think that sounds like the beginnings of a story where the hero gets in too deep, and struggles with conflicting passions and loyalties, well, you pegged it.
Rung by Rung, Bone by Bone
As Wei, you start out on the lowest rung of the crime family ladder and quickly climb your way up to where you can be recognized by the uncles and aunts of the family. That means strong-arming local bus lines and vendors for a cut of their business, moving up to stealing drugs and blowing up a warehouse or two, then it's on to tracking down opposing gang thugs for a little bloody meat-cleaver interrogation.
And speaking of blood …
A slo-mo bullet time effect kicks in when your character vaults over a wall or leans out of his speeding car to take aim at baddies. This allows you to zero in on a crowd of foes to deliver a few blood-gushing headshots or shoot out the front tire of an enemy's car to send it cartwheeling in a fiery explosion.
But, truthfully, guns play second fiddle to Sleeping Dogs' real love: melee combat. The game's hand-to-hand martial arts-style combat system is deep and varied. As Wei fulfills various quests around the huge Hong Kong map, he earns points toward "Cop Experience" and/or "Triad Experience" meters. With each earned level he gets skill-tree bonuses that boost his moves and prowess. In addition, if Wei finds numerous stolen statues that are scattered around Hong Kong, he can return them to a local martial arts school and be gifted with new unique moves.
Wei is subsequently thrown into battle after battle where he's the lone man tasked to do his Bruce Lee best with a crowd of 10 or so opponents. There are four different types of enemies with their own strengths and weaknesses, so there's a layer of strategy required in each clash. The attacks look and feel powerful, and the bone-crushing animations give each bruising bash plenty of flinch-worthy punch. On top of that, Wei can, for instance, stuff some poor slob's face into a moving fan, or flip him down on a running table saw, or slam his head repeatedly with a refrigerator door.
That's when things get really gushy and gooey.
Driving to the End
Like the Grand Theft Auto games before it, there's quite a bit of car stealing and high-speed city traveling in the Sleeping Dogs world. Wei can hot-wire any of about 60 different vehicles before driving them like a maniac—running over or through everything and everybody in his path. And that's just his casual jaunts. Illegal street races up the ante, destroying cars and crushing screaming citizens all along the way. Hitting a concrete pylon at 150 mph will eject our guy through the windshield—but no problem, he can just jump back in the hot rod and motor on.
All of the above is just a part of what you do here, though. You may want to let sleeping dogs lie by this point, but Wei doesn't. And so you soon find yourself picking locks, hacking into security cameras, betting on cock fights and playing mahjong poker. And, of course, you'll be swearing like a, well, like an Asian gang member, in conversations packed with Cantonese and English profanities and obscenities (including f- and s-words). Oh, and singing karaoke, too. That's right, the karaoke club is the "hot girl" spot in Hong Kong, and many a thug lands there for a lap dance and a song.
It's worth noting that there's no explicit nudity in the game. There are, however, lots of women in skimpy, cleavage-baring outfits and many, many conversations rife with sexual topics—including oral sex, rape, pornography, torture and sex with minors. You can purchase an off-camera massage that is more than just a simple backrub.
In the end, after the many side missions, parkour-laden foot chases, intense shoot-outs, Asian gangland political battles and dirty cop betrayals, Wei does prove to be a good guy who uproots some very bad criminals and wins the day for justice. That makes this a pretty typical rough-and-tumble Hong Kong action thriller … that's extremely difficult to praise as a hero's story. After all, heavy-handed and gruesome gang violence is the focus of gameplay 85% of the time. And neither Wei nor we have the option of skipping past all the nasty wetwork.