New 'GTA' wannabe awakens

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Entertainment,Ryan Vogt

"Sleeping Dogs," an open-world crime procedural set in Hong Kong, feels a lot more exotic than "Grand Theft Auto," and not just because you drive on the left side of the road.

The game offers an island metropolis with all the grit and glamour you'd expect, a clash of cellphones and dragon dances, a place where red-glazed ducks hang in the windows of a restaurant on the bottom floor of a gleaming skyscraper. To this capitalist's paradise arrives Wei Shen, who grew up here, moved to San Francisco at age 10, and is back as an undercover cop to gain the trust of some of the neighborhood guys he grew up with. The story is gratuitously violent, even by video game standards, but the script makes time for nuance and humor -- a van sold at a chop shop is described as a "pre-stolen vehicle."

"Sleeping Dogs," originally planned as an installment of the "Grand Theft Auto" ripoff series "True Crime," feels distinct from its "GTA" ripoff forebears in ways other than its setting. The combat system is sophisticated, offering a wide array of attacks without becoming automated, in the manner of Batman's latest video game adventures. Driving, despite some odd camera mechanics, is designed around aggressive ramming that is at times transcendently satisfying. And the hacking mechanic by which you take over security cameras to catch street thugs dealing drugs is a nifty little logic puzzle that never gets old.

The problem is that apart from these elements, the game still feels a whole lot like "GTA." The missions -- follow that car, beat up that guy -- are straight out of a playbook we've leafed through time and time again.

'Sleeping Dogs'
» System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
» Price: $59.99, $49.99 PC
» Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

"Sleeping Dogs" remains a unique entry in the genre, and will hold folks over until "Grand Theft Auto V." But if you really want to get out of the rut, try "Saints Row: The Third."

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