Sleeping Dogs Hands-On Preview – A New Police Story
Written Monday, May 07, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Here's a little-known factoid for you about Sleeping Dogs. It didn't actually start life as True Crime: Hong Kong, but as another game called 'Orange Lotus', before Activision decided to rebrand the game to tie-in with an already established franchise. That was before the publisher then decided to chuck the whole thing in the bin. Enter Square Enix who rescued the game from extinction, renamed it Sleeping Dogs and pushed the project forward, giving United Front Games the support it needed to get the job done. And based on what we've seen and played so far, it might just be an incredibly canny decision on Square Enix's part.
It's not been that long since we last played Sleeping Dogs at GDC, sampling the free-running chase to take down Ming and a street race, but this time around we're allowed off the leash a little more, presented with some new sequences and a chance to explore the vibrant, bustling city of Hong Kong. As undercover cop Wei Shen, you're job is to infiltrate the Sun On Yee Triad organisation, taking down the Red Poles (Triad lieutenants) and working your way up to the Dragon head, who's the Triad big cheese.
In the first part of our demo, we're shown a mission in which we have to grab the treacherous Johnny the Ratface for the menacing Mrs. Chu. Johnny's gone AWOL though, which means Shen needs to track him down by triangulating the signal on his mobile phone to draw a bead on him. This involves a little mini-game that means scanning for a signal and then listening in on phone calls around the city. Once you hear something suspicious, you can zone in on it, and hopefully find your target in the process.
Tracking Johnny, Wei Shen eventually pursues him in a car chase that concludes at Ratface's hideout. At this point, Wei Shen has Johnny's thugs to deal with, so he pulls out a tyre iron from the trunk of his car and sets to work rearranging their faces. Handily, every car has a tyre iron in its trunk, so if you ever need a weapon, you'll know exactly where to look. However, Wei Shen can handle himself in a fight with or without a weapon, and he's not averse to finishing enemies in brutal, often grotesque ways, like mashing someone's face into a ventilation fan. It's messy, but it does the job.
Apprehending Ratface, we stuff him into the trunk of our car, whisk him back to Mrs. Chu and leave him to acquaint himself with the Triad matriarch's cleaver. Nasty stuff. Successfully completing the mission grants you three kinds of XP, namely Triad XP, Police XP and Face XP. Triad and Police XP is awarded for completing tasks on behalf of the criminal organisation and law enforcement respectively, so rising through the Triad ranks while taking a villain off the streets will earn you XP for both, whereas Face XP is rewarded based on your style, image and methods. Face XP increases your fame in a sense, meaning you'll be recognised as a member of the Triads and gain access to side-missions called 'Favors'.
Our hands-off section concluded, we're subsequently left to our own devices, picking up with a sequence that has Wei Shen smartly dressed for a meeting with a high-ranking Triad named Tong. Of course, the entire meeting turns out to be a set-up that Shen walks straight into. Knocked unconscious, Wei Shen awakes to find Tong readying his torture tools that include pliers, scalpels and a power drill. A fortuitous distraction later however, and Shen finds himself on the floor, crawling towards a saw blade to cut through the ropes bonding his hands together.
Quickly freeing himself, Shen strangles one of his captors with the hanging wire from a ceiling light and then limps towards the room's exit. Trapped in a Triad building under construction, Wei finds himself stumbling into what looks like an open-plan recreation room. Boasting a half-finished heated wooden floor, a huge TV blasting “White Limo” by Foo Fighters and some thugs cooking something up in the kitchen, Shen surveys the area. To the untrained eye, it's just a lovely lounge area and entertainment setup, but to Wei Shen it's a room bristling with opportunities for dispatching his enemies in the goriest way possible. Limp miraculously healed, Wei Shen leaps from the catwalk overlooking the lounge and gets stuck in with some swift martial arts justice. As we've noted in our previous preview, combat in Sleeping Dogs is not unlike that found in Batman: Arkham Asylum/Arkham City, with an exclamation mark icon prompting a counter attack while single button presses string together punch and kick combos.
At this stage, the combat mechanics aren't particularly deep, but they're pretty damn gratifying, enabling you to grab opponents, throw them to the ground, stomp them or run with them to the nearest glowing red object. These marked objects represent brutal environmental finishers, enabling Wei Shen to push faces into gas hobs, circular saws or lumps of drywall, or alternatively lift and impale bad guys onto wooden spikes, slam their heads into refrigerator doors or hurl them down an elevator shaft. Sleeping Dogs certainly doesn't pull any of its punches where violence is concerned. Later in the mission, we find ourselves taking up arms and trying out the cover-based shooting section too, and grabbing a gun is as simple as leaping over cover and tackling an enemy to the ground to disarm them.
Once armed, we work our way through the reinforcements, shooting red explosive canisters (classic), heading for an exit out of the construction site. Sleeping Dogs' shooter gameplay leaves a lot to be desired in this preview build, and you can't even shoot from the hip, which seems like a major oversight. It works well enough, but it's clearly in need of some polish and refinement.
The same could be said of the game's driving model, which doesn't really reflect UFG's experience working on ModNation Racers. Take into account that some of the UFG team also consists of ex-Black Box employees who've previously worked on Need for Speed, and the driving portion of Sleeping Dogs seems somewhat lacking. With illegal street racing, high-speed stunts and car chases, we feel like the driving could use some attention, along with the shooty bits. Tighten these aspects up a bit, and UFG could have something special on its hands.
That said, it's clear that Sleeping Dogs has a lot going for it as far as its open-world is concerned. Its slightly fictionalised version of Hong Kong is detailed, interesting and full of various activities. There's massage parlours to visit, surveillance cameras to hack, hidden lockboxes with safe dials to crack, ambient challenges to complete, stores to purchase clothes and food from, with a range of buffs and attributes attached to items, as well as a range of vehicles including motorcycles, cars and boats to hijack.
Despite exploring only a small corner of Sleeping Dogs' neon-drenched Hong Kong, we can already tell that there's plenty to do, and after rooting through Wei Shen's wardrobe to find a black and yellow Bruce Lee and Game of Death homaging jumpsuit and an Ong Bak “Bon Gak” outfit, it's evident that there's also a sense of fun being injected into the game alongside its nods to Asian cinema. And that can only be considered a good thing.
Sleeping Dogs is slated for release on August 14th in North America and August 17th in Europe.