Sleeping Dogs is an imaginative take on the open-world style of play established by Grand Theft Auto, and it takes the sandbox life-of-crime genre to a logical next step.
Set in a fictional version of Hong Kong, the game puts you in control of Wei Shen - a Chinese/American cop whose job prospects take a dangerous turn when he ends up working undercover in a triad gang.
Like so many games, Sleeping Dogs will put your morality to the test, with the separate cop and triad skill upgrade paths being a wee bit reminiscent of the Paragon/Renegade paths in the Mass Effect series.
Walking the line isn't as easy as it sounds. Because the experience - the graphics, the sound, the voice acting, and the writing - is so engaging, it shouldn't be a surprise to find yourself regretting certain actions or wishing you'd done something a little dirtier. The deeper you go, the harder it is to remain purely good - or purely evil, for that matter - and fortunately the game understands that. You can replay completed missions if they haven't been done to your satisfaction.
Whether intentional or not, it's a good thing that the character hardest to care about is your own avatar, Wei. It makes it easier to insert yourself into the Hong Kong underworld, and it makes the morality stuff much more personal.
The combat is less like GTA and more in line with the games in Batman's Arkham universe: simple button combinations and context-sensitive attacks that reward good rhythm with gory results. Given the nature of gang fights and ambushes, it's not uncommon to be completely outnumbered, and this combat system gives players a fair fight. Given how easily a careless player can die during a brawl, the countering and grapple systems are welcome features.
Yes, there are car chases at ramming speed, and guns, crowbars (and fish!) and all other sorts of weapons, but it's the martial arts stuff that puts Sleeping Dogs ahead of GTA. It scratches the itch that developed in many of us the first time we saw Bruce Lee or Jet Li lay waste to dozens of enemy goons.
Blessedly, Sleeping Dogs ignores the temptation to include an online multiplayer feature (in which I imagine players would simply wait for others to attack so they could casually jab at the Counter button) in favour of community leaderboards and stat-tracking.
The game has a few irritating bugs, but nothing that should put the game disc in danger of being thrown out the window.
Platform: Xbox 360, also on PS3, PC.