The gang of enemy triads closes in around me as I approach. Some carry knives, others batons – one looks to have a meat cleaver gripped in his angry palm. I break into a run, tackling the nearest enemy to the floor with a sickening thump, dislodging his weapon before pummelling his face with my fist. I stand up, take note of the situation, and prepare to take down all that stand in my way. I am Wei Shen, a Red Pole with the Sun on Yee, and I have never had so much fun not letting Sleeping Dogs lie.

Sleeping Dogs, the new open world sandbox game from United Front Games and Square Enix, came as a bit of a surprise. With a long history that saw the game transform from an original concept to a True Crime sequel before Activision pulled the plug, the game has finally been released by Square Enix under its own IP. And it’s a great move, because the team at United Front Games have created a gripping game that combines elements of many other titles to find its own feet to stand on.

The story of the game focuses on Wei Shen, an undercover police officer infiltrating the Sun on Yee triad group in Hong Kong. As Shen gets deeper and deeper into the triad culture, it becomes harder and harder for him to reconcile with the fact that he is a police officer charged with upholding the law. An expert fighter, Shen makes a name for himself as a capable henchman, not just with his fists but with his mind as well.

The game itself, from first impressions, does look a little bit like Grand Theft Auto: Hong Kong. Certainly, the mechanics of driving, hijacking and gunplay feel a lot like the Rockstar game. But what sets Sleeping Dogs apart is the emphasis on combat. With an emphasis on hand-to-hand battles, each combo is delivered with devastating physicality, reminiscent of the Batman Arkham Asylum and Arkham City games.

One impressive – if a little violent – addition is the ability to use environmental objects as part of an attack, whether it be slamming an opponents head in a car door or throwing them onto the spears of a group of swordfish heads.The environmental element means that every battle is somewhat unique, keeping the game interesting from start to finish.

Like most open world games, there’s a combination of storyline missions and side missions to keep you entertained. Side missions can be everything from taking girls out on dates, doing “favours” for other triads and street racing. Collectibles litter the virtual world of Hong Kong generally requiring the smack down of some bad guys and occasionally the unlocking of a chest using your police-issue smartphone.

While the side missions tend to be a little formulaic, it doesn’t get tired. Somehow United Front Games has managed to keep even the most repetitive of missions interesting.

A large part of that comes down to the quality of the voice acting. While predominantly spoken in English, the littering of Chinese throughout the script lends the game’s Hong Kong setting validity, while Will Yun Lee (whom you might remember as the bad guy from Bond flick Die Another Day) gives a captivating performance as Wei Shen. Having Emma Stone, Tom Wilkinson and Lucy Liu on the cast certainly helps things along too.

While there’s no multiplayer, there are a wide range of social challenges that let you compete against your gaming friends for bragging rights. Whether it’s the fastest lap in a street race, or the highests number of head shots during a gunfight, pretty much every metric in the game is counted, analysed and compared to your gaming mates.

If there’s a flaw with the game, it’s the camera. The third person perspective is regularly interrupted by a poorly placed camera – especially while driving – that will either see you crash while driving, have your attacks countered while fighting or some combination of the two.

But it shouldn’t be to turn you away from this amazing game. Combining the best parts of the sandbox games you love with a gripping story and a stunning Hong Kong setting, Sleeping Dogs is a fantastic game.