I'm not very far into Sleeping Dogs yet - I've completed a few more than a half-dozen missions - but it feels like I've been playing for quite a long time considering the game hasn't seen fit to give me a gun yet.
Normally by the one-hour mark in an open-world crime game I'd expect to be letting off steam with at least a semi-automatic pistol in a public place, but with United Front's offering I'm still to unlock the firearms tutorial, let alone have an arsenal of my own. I haven't even got a second car for my garage yet1.
The story's pretty good so far, though. Unlike recent Grand Theft Autos, you're not playing a conflicted criminal but an undercover cop. Even if Niko's primary motivation in GTAIV was to escape his previous life of mayhem and crime, it didn't place the same moral obligation on me as a player as knowing that I'm supposed to be the good guy. Beating up rival gangsters as savagely and inventively as Wei does is to be expected in the shady world of undercover investigations, but in Sleeping Dogs' less satirical setting a GTA-style rampage in the night markets is likely to be as frowned-upon by your triad superiors as your police handler.
The game's presentation of undercover policework seems to be taking a lot of its cues from Scorcese's The Departed - which is really strange, considering it was adapted from the Hong Kong-based Infernal Affairs. I'm not sure why it feels so American; it could be because the majority of the dialogue is in English, or the copious swearing - which I don't remember being so frequent in IA. It's been a few years since I last watched Infernal Affairs, but I also remember it taking place in more pristine locations than the seedy markets and back alleys of Sleeping Dogs.
The game plays pretty well but I've not had an entirely smooth route up the triad ladder so far; hand-to-hand fighting flows smoothly for the most part, although I've had trouble with counters. Sometimes the window for pressing the button seems really long, other times I'll hit it twice and still fail to block an attack. Driving is a bit floatier than I'd like, but I can't tell yet if it's the handling or camera that's the source of the disconnect. I've not had an opportunity to try the gunplay so far, but I remember it being pretty slick from the demo. Escaping the police, in my experiences up to this point, is primarily about finding a narrow place to double-back on yourself, causing the AI cops to slow down enough that you can slip out of their awareness area.
The side missions, or the ones I've discovered so far, aren't especially compelling, which could be a problem as the game progresses - if the plot stumbles or I hit a tough mission and need a break, I'm not sure I'd have enough else to do around the game's Hong Kong. There are only so many simultaneous "collect [X] items" subquests that I can keep enthusiastic about, and Sleeping Dogs has introduced three so far. There do seem to be a lot of leaderboard challenges however - driving without crashing or leading the police on a chase for as long as possible - so more "emergent" distractions do exist.
I have my fingers crossed that I'll be able to see this one through. The two previous games I'd downloaded from PlayStation Plus - Arkham City and Vanquish - failed to hold my interest enough to complete even the main story, let alone any side content. I had, however, previously finished both of their campaigns on the Xbox, so an all-new experience should provide more compelling entertainment.
1 I did buy a car - it cost me $63,000HKD - but after starting the next mission it despawned and has disappeared from the vehicle selection screen. There's been no clear indication of how to permanently add a new vehicle to your fleet.