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'Sleeping Dogs' is a eye-opening joy ride

"Sleeping Dogs" was developed by United Front Games

"Sleeping Dogs" was developed by United Front Games in conjunction with Square Enix London Studios and published by Square Enix. The open-world game, action-adventure video game is currently available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Windows. (Credit: Square Enix)

Open-world gaming has a ton to offer yet some titles have found themselves lost within their own sprawling massive cities. The developers at United Front Games were up for the challenge and impressed publisher Square Enix with the original IP.

Players assume control of Wei Shen, crossing the line between federal agent and criminal. Wei is an officer of the San Francisco Police Department assigned by the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau on an undercover job to oversee and ultimately put an end to the Sun On Yee, a Triad society that parades the streets of Hong Kong. Wei's character and story propel him above recent open-world brands; however, his under card's importance to the plot become both predictable and forgettable. Character models also pale in comparison to Wei and his old friend Jackie.

Luckily, the voice acting is top notch with big-time acting names such as Lucy Liu, Tom Wilkinson and a brief run-in with Spidey's Emma Stone. I really liked the use of both English and Cantonese dialogue mixed together. Learning a new language can be fun when there is gang violence awaiting players at every corner.

The game map to this re-envisioning of Hong Kong has much ground to uncover, but getting there can be painful. No enemy will pose more of a threat than the camera angle when driving around the heavily occupied streets. The right thumbtack, which operates a behind-the-car viewpoint, is just too distracting rather than beneficial. Good luck driving backward without shouting out swear words in Cantonese.

Camera angles aside, the arcade-style racing was fun largely because of the vibrant and color-filled city around me. The heartbeat of Hong Kong carries a pulse through street merchants and random people carrying out their everyday lives. The game monitors your interaction around Hong Kong, and penalizes you if you decide to go trigger-happy on inhabitants. Thankfully, the game is easy to save and reload, so you won't have to drive back to a safe house if you want to take your target practicing to the streets.

The developers did an amazing job on the soundtrack and effects of the game, bringing the sandbox game to life even better than the most successful titles of its genre. Side missions like waging bets at cockfights and going on dates are unique distractions but the drug bust missions become a bore-ride rather than a joy ride. Though it does make good use of Wei's in-game hacking abilities.

Hand-to-hand combat system can be tough to get a rhythm to but once the timing is on par so is the eye candy, fitting due to the lead character's background. The melee combat is actually more fun than the arsenal of weapons obtainable. Aside from ammunition, leveling up Wei can be accomplished as well. "Sleeping Dogs" features role-playing elements with three different XP point values: Triad XP, Face XP and Police XP.

There is no multiplayer to be had, which is a disappointment because some of my favorite online gaming memories have come from falling from the sky in a helicopter with friends and laughing all the way down. Instead, the game does feature an online stats and leader board for players to compare their in-game scores.

"Sleeping Dogs" is a refreshing open-world gaming experience with a ton of upside. The city contains hours of hidden collectibles and gameplay all gift-wrapped in Hong Kong's ambience. With a variety of things to do outside a compelling story mode, "Sleeping Dogs" is worth a purchase and a prime candidate for a Game of the Year nominee.  

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