You've just planted a surveillance bug on orders from your superior
officer. As you sneak away you receive a text message. Your connection
at the chop shop needs a high-end sports coupe. You spot the car and
tear the driver from the front seat, kicking him in the midsection
before speeding off to claim your money.
The line between hero and
villain is wonderfully blurred in the action role-playing game "Sleeping
Dogs" (Square Enix for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99; for PC,
As undercover mole Wei Shen you are tasked with
infiltrating the Sun On Yee triad in a fictionalized and fantastically
rendered version of Hong Kong. This simple premise sets up a series of
moral dilemmas: Can you push yourself to the limit to gain trust and
rise in the triad's hierarchy? Or will you waver and risk blowing your
"Sleeping Dogs" is played in the traditional
over-the-shoulder view of similar sandbox games such as "Grand Theft
Auto" and "Saints Row." While I could stoop to calling this a "GTA"
clone - the similarities are legion - the fluid combat, a few nice
touches in the shooting mechanic and the exotic locale help it stand out
quite a bit.
Finding the right balance to help the story progress
is key, and the great voice acting - including Tom Wilkinson and Emma
Stone, among others - and a solid script keep you engaged through a few
clever twists and turns. Wei Shen's moral ambiguity and his personal
stake in taking down the Sun On Yee begin to weigh on him as the game
moves forward, making him one of the more well-drawn characters in the
The role-playing elements consist of upgrades that fall
under both police and triad skill trees. The more police tasks you
complete, the more experience you gain to improve those skills; the same
for triad tasks. This design forces you to choose certain skills at the
expense of others, but you also need to maintain balance to throw off
suspicion on both ends.
Completing minor tasks builds your "Face"
meter, which determines how people respond to you and earns you passive
abilities such as hints on the minimap and a lackey who will bring you a
car whenever you want. Increasing your face level unlocks new apparel
and vehicles, giving you great incentive to bolster your street cred and
bag that sweet ride.
You can travel to various martial arts
schools scattered throughout the city to fight, join the street racing
circuit or just drive around listening to one of several radio stations.
Kerrang Radio, featuring British alt-rock, was my personal favorite.
is money to be earned betting on cockfights, and you can visit a
massage parlor to, um, ease the tension. (Yes, this game is rated
Mature.) And then there's a hysterical karaoke minigame: Let's just say
there's nothing like a heavily tattooed mob enforcer belting out Air
Supply's "All Out of Love."
The melee action, which borrows
heavily from the free-flow combat of Rocksteady's Batman games, will
make you feel like a martial arts master as you unlock skills such as
spinning heel kicks and flying roundhouses. And without question the
coolest outfit you can earn is Bruce Lee's yellow jumpsuit from the film
"Game of Death."
The shooting is tight and features some John
Woo-inspired touches, including an upgrade that gives you the ability to
leap from a moving car in slow motion with handguns blazing. "Hard
"Sleeping Dogs" is not breaking any new ground in
the action-RPG genre, but with an engrossing story line and plenty of
wild things to do around Hong Kong, it's an excellent title that
shouldn't be missed.
Ratings: Three and a half stars out of four.