There is a great balance act when you're building an open world game; You need to have a main storyline compelling enough to have the player want to go forward with it and at the same time you need to have enough side activities to justify having the game being open world. A big open world without stuff to do in it only feels like a reason to run around (or drive) only to get to the next story beat. Sleeping Dogs succeeds at being a fun open world game with a few weird mechanics here and there but mostly interesting stuff to show.
After being a bit disappointed by some broken scripting at the beginning of the game, I was thrown into an interesting narrative that I wanted to know more about. You start the game with a very small amount of side activities that you can do but they are diverse enough to change things up between story missions. The map is full of small icons to tell you where shops and parkings are, and you're free to go choose if you want to do police missions or triad missions. Of course, there's a link between these two, you can't only do police missions forever, you'll need to mix it up if you want to unlock more of them as the story will go forward by doing these. You also have other things to do such as driving around the city to find lockboxes or statues or shrines, beat up random thugs and buy clothes.
I like that you can get set bonuses for equipping clothes that match together. You also need a Face rating to be able to equip some of it, so it's metered that way. There are a bunch of clothing stores in Hong Kong and you'll need to remember where you can buy something when your Face is leveled enough. The concept of Face is interesting, I think I've seen it before in other games based in Asia, it basically represents your presence. You level it up by beating thugs and completing certain missions. You also have a face meter that goes up during fights and when it gets full you regenerate health and intimidate your enemies, I can't say that the intimidation seems that useful, maybe it should be more obvious what the effects are.
The game feels schizophrenic in some ways, you are asked to do missions to infiltrate the triads such as driving fast and crashing rival cars on buildings, shooting guns at random things, placing bugs, breaking into places and beating up thugs but you also lose cop experience whenever you fail to jump over railings or when you bump your car into city property while driving around. I understand that the main character is a cop but having me lose exp because I've hit some crates on the sidewalk while trying to escape three criminals is kinda silly. It would've been better to dock Cop Experience when you hit civilians or when you fail certain objectives that are more significant than 'jumping over fences for fun'.
You get triad experience by being creative while you fight. I really like the combat system even though some parts of it are too tough for me. While the cop experience starts at 3 and drains, the triad exp starts at 0 and goes up while you execute heavy attacks, defeat enemies and slam people into dumpsters. I don't feel like I have enough experience with the game yet to obtain 100% experience for triad missions, but it's pretty fun to do environmental attacks where you ram people into speakers, electrical boxes and through aquariums (maybe killing them? Isn't Wei a cop?).
Basic melee attacks are executed with the left mouse buttons, strong attacks are done by holding that button, some enemies will block and you can grab them with the F key, enemies will (sometimes) glow red before they attack, then you press the right mouse button to counterattack. That's all pretty good and I've managed to beat up normal enemies easily. The problem comes with tougher foes that will grapple you and then unleash strong attacks unless you press a specific key in time. I always fail these because I'm mashing left and right mouse buttons to attack and counter, so when a guy grabs me and the F prompt appears, I almost automatically fail and get hit for a third of my life. Maybe a little more time to input the keys required to get out of these devastating attacks? These tougher enemies are my bane in this game. Guns are okay too, there's a small bullet time mechanic and you can take cover, the usual.
Otherwise you find statues to unlock new melee moves and shrines to increase your maximum life. You can drink Dragon Punch to increase the damage you deal, get massages to get 'face' faster and drink tea to have more defense. There are a bunch of places on the map where you can buy these things so it's no big deal that you can't carry them.
At no fault of its own, SD does something that I hate in open world games, and it might be a pet peeve of mine, but I'm not a fan of densely populated cities where people yell at you or gasp every time you run by them and otherwise act as obstacles when you're trying to get from point A to point B. I know that running might be a bit bizarre, but no need for every single person to point at me and go 'hey this guy is running, how weird!' This is annoying more than anything else. Driving is okay if you don't mind dodging the traffic and you can always take the taxi.
Otherwise, Sleeping Dogs surprised me with the variety of things you can do in it, I never expected to sing karaoke or to hack things with a little mastermind-like minigame (which is a bit too easy, maybe they should've put it on a timer or gave you less chances) or to do various things in story missions that are more than simply pressing the action button near them, like unscrewing and screwing back on vents.