Sleeping Dogs is all about duality. Underneath the veneer of neon lights and fancy cars, rival gangs fight over the all-important profits of prostitution and drugs. The main character Wei Shin is an honorable police officer, but quickly commits extortion and murder to complete a personal vendetta. Sleeping Dogs is the rare open-world crime game in which the mechanics support the dual motivations of the protagonist.
Wei Shin was born in the projects of Hong Kong, but his family fled to the States to try to get his sister off drugs and Wei blames the gangsters who got her hooked. In San Francisco, he trains as a cop but gets recruited to return home and use his contacts to become Hong Kong's star undercover agent.
A strong supporting cast of voice actors - including Tom Wilkinson as the English police chief and Lucy Liu as a love interest - keeps the story from becoming overly melodramatic, but the narrative still comes frightfully close to superficial. You quickly gain a bevy of girlfriends, and go on dates throughout Hong Kong. I appreciate the attempt to humanize Wei, but driving around a bride-to-be to pick flowers doesn't jive with the brutality of gang executions and drug busts. The lighter stuff does have a strong emotional payoff that almost justifies the bride demanding her wedding be "perfect."
The city of Hong Kong is masterfully rendered and there are many activities to keep you busy. The whole map is open for you to explore, peppered with citizens that need your help, races and car collection tasks that increase your "face" rating for helpful upgrades. But what sticks out is that as you infiltrate the Triads with the main story missions, you can help out the police along the way. You want to keep your cover intact, but you can use your new status to impact the criminal underworld in a positive way by undertaking open cases involving gang members. You can help Officer Teng arrest a murderous street-racer by challenging him or catch a vicious drug lord in the act of committing murder. The minigames connected with some of these activities are challenging but not punishing. Planting bugs requires some dexterity aligning the two thumbsticks, and hacking into surveillance cameras has you using logic to figure out a four digit code.