GAME REVIEW: SLEEPING DOGS
For a game that owns one of the most unprepossessing titles yet, Sleeping Dogs is astonishing.
GAME: SLEEPING DOGS
It's so good, it has jumped to the top of my "best of the year" (so far) list.
Its real title should probably be Sleeping Dogs, Hidden True Crime because it started out as True Crime: Hong Kong, the third in that stalled series.
Because the New York version was not as successful as expected, Hong Kong was shelved - only to be reactivated several years later by a different developer.
In doing so, Square Enix has done the world a favour. As those who played the Los Angeles and New York versions will know, True Crime was a gamer's game. Sleeping Dogs continues the tradition. It's an open-sandbox, third-person adventure, where the plot is often entirely incidental to the fun.
You play Wei Chen, a Chinese American cop who returns to the land of his birth to infiltrate the triad gangs.
As the action unfolds, you have to balance your reputation as an honourable (undercover) police officer and your street cred as a gangster. Letting this seesaw tilt too far to one or the other side affects how the game plays out.
This is not the charm of Sleeping Dogs. What keeps the controller in your death-grip is all the other stuff you can do, and the ease with which you can do it.
Fighting, driving and shooting have all been improved - though staying behind the wheel for two minutes without hitting anything (a trophy requirement) is more difficult than it sounds.
Endless hours can be spent wandering around the city, completing side-missions and challenges. The sheer breadth of the game allows you to be a virtual tourist; it's like playing an interactive Google Maps.
After umpteen games set in big US cities, it's a breath of fresh air to discover Hong Kong in such detail.
It is wonderfully playable, the controls are easily mastered but the objectives are challenging.
It has set the bar high for the next instalments of some of the other big open-game franchises.
I'm usually big on storylines and, though Sleeping Dogs has a coherent plot, the humour is a bit basic and the "acting" pretty average. The main campaign is quite short and the graphics are so-so.
But none of that matters. There's so much fun stuff to do that weekends, never mind hours, will go by without you noticing.