Here's the short, TLDR version of the following review for those of you that already trust my opinion. Ready?
Should you pick up Sleeping Dogs? YES.
Now, I'm willing to allow that a small portion of my enthisiasm for this game rests on the fact that the summer so far has been absolutely dismal in regards to new releases, so that to have any good release hit the shelves is a cause for joy. However, Sleeping Dogs does a lot of things right, and ends up being a really entertaining game with a lot of stuff to do, and it's worth the play through based on its own merits alone.
To pre-answer any questions, I'm aware that Darksiders 2 also came out this week. I only just picked up the first Darksiders this summer during the Steam Summer Sale, and I have not finished it yet. I intend to, and when I do I will look into Darksiders 2, which looks great, but for now I have not bought it/am not playing it. My game right now is Sleeping Dogs.
Obviously Sleeping Dogs is an open world sanbox game, and so the first natural comparison to draw is to GTA4, which is sort of the benchmark for the genre, I think we'll all agree. So using that as our control, I'll attempt to explain where Sleeping Dogs rises above the bar, and where it falls below it.
Sleeping Dogs takes a lot of cues from GTA4 (and a few from Saint's Row), so expect a largely similar format. You have an apartment, you have vehicles, you have clothing, you have a plethora of mini games/side quests, you have a cell phone which you press Up on the d-pad to access, etc. There is a lot of familiar territory here, so you'll feel right at home with a lot of the controls and concepts if you're a fan of other sandbox games. I don't count this as a bad thing... it's nice to see some of the better features of other games make it over, and to not necessarily have to learn a whole new control scheme.
Storywise, Sleeping Dogs seems pretty solid, if not a bit cookie-cutter so far (so far... I haven't finished it yet). The game plays out like any number of great Hong Kong action films. One area things differ is that you're a cop undercover as a criminal. So you actually have two agendas, and appropriately, two matching experience tracks. Each experience track (police and triad) offers access to different perks and bonus moves, all of which are fairly useful in the right circumstances.
This is one of the bigger areas where Sleeping Dogs feels unique, because you have to balance being a good cop with being a good criminal. While on a mission, if you're running over pedestrians and causing lots of property damage, your overall experience score for the cop track will go down. It can actually be pretty difficult (if not impossible) to keep your cop experience on part with your triad experience.
Still, it adds an interesting duality to the gameplay experience, and the mechanic even bleeds over into the game's atmosphere a bit. How deep undercover are you willing to go, and will you end up doing things that you shouldn't be doing as a cop, because you enjoy being a criminal so much?It's pretty neat.
Another area where Sleeping Dogs sets itself apart is with the combat. The fighting/combat in Sleeping Dogs is leagues better than anything GTA/Saint's Row does. The majority of the action will be melee fighting, and for this you have a stable of really cool martial arts grapples, counters and comboes with which to dispatch your opponents. The combat actually feels a lot like Batman: Arkham Asylum's fighting, in that you get a visual cue when an opponent is about to attack, affording you the opportunity to try and counter it. Melee fights are usually you versus five or more guys, so its important to pay attention.
Gunplay takes a bit of a back seat to melee, but is no less engaging. A simple cover system, combined with the ability to vault over objects and momentarily slow down time to line up shots gives it a very "Hard Boiled" action movie look. Still, as good as the gunplay feels, I still enjoy getting up close with fists and melee weapons more.
Add in the game's pretty decent free-running system, and you've got a really fun and engaging action experience.
Sleeping Dogs is set in Hong Kong, and it's an enormous breath of fresh air from open world games set in New York, or a similar doppleganger. The city feels dirty, and lived in, and there are so many people and sights to see. It feels a little weird at first, remembering to drive on the left hand side of the road, and to get into cars through the right-hand side, but after the first hour it becomes second nature.
This is the first sandbox game where I actually prefer motorcycles to cars as a primary mode of transportation. Hong Kong features a lot of busy streets, and a lot of narrow alleyways, and the bikes afford such great maneuverability that it's sometimes hard to make the decision to drive a regular car. No matter what you drive though, it all feels pretty good.
Sleeping Dogs does so many great little things, that the game really just needs to be experienced. A lot of it is familiar territory, and unfortunately it can be a glitchy game sometimes. Not to any great extent, but I've certainly had a few odd bugs show up here and there. A lot of the game retreads familiar territory, but on the bright side that territory happens to be a lot of fun. It does enough new (or better) to definitely make it worth playing though.