Sleeping Dogs Hands-On Preview – Going Wild in Hong Kong
Written Thursday, May 31, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
This is the third time we've gone hands-on with Sleeping Dogs in almost as many months, so you'd be forgiven for thinking we've covered pretty much everything. You'd be dead wrong though as it happens, because despite Square Enix keeping any narrative specifics close to its chest, there's still a metric crap-ton of stuff to see and do. Even when you take into account the limitations imposed for our hands-on session, we get to sample a decent slice of Sleeping Dogs' version of Hong Kong. In fact, we're effectively let loose in a quarter of the city.
North Point is Hong Kong's north west district and a less affluent part of the city, all neon signs, seedy massage parlours and dodgy back alleys. It's bustling and vibrant, and the perfect place to go on a rampage. Our hands-on begins with an active mission in which Wei Shen must return one of a collection of Jade Statues that when returned to his Sifu (sensei), enable you to learn a new move of your choosing. Shen is a martial arts expert, so he's handy in a fight even with his basic move set, but with an arsenal of additional kung fu abilities to unlock, you can make him utterly deadly.
Weaving through the streets, following the designated green line on the GPS mini-map, we soon find ourself at the dojo, where we return the statue and decide to learn the charged roundhouse. A series of fast, jabbing kicks followed by a single charged explosive roundhouse, it's a formidable move to augment Wei Shen's combat prowess, and it's just one of many that you can learn. It's also just one of multiple skill trees that you can upgrade, with weapon-related attributes to boost and health shrines dotted all over the city to discover. Light some incense at each shrine, and you'll be rewarded with a permanent health extension.
There are temporary buffs that you can also acquire through eating and drinking, or by visiting a massage parlour or apothecary for different kinds of medicinal supplements. With lockboxes to find and CCTV terminals to hack, there's certainly no shortage of collectibles to track down. Even collecting articles of clothing by purchasing them from the various market stalls grants certain benefits, with complete outfits giving you additional Face points and so on. As we discussed in our last hands-on, Wei Shen's standing in the world is affected by three types of XP, namely Face, Police and Triad XP.
Face pertains to your car, clothes and reputation, meaning the greater your Face level, the more recognisable Wei Shen becomes, building a rep within the Triad organisation. It's all a balancing act however, because as an undercover cop, safe driving and clean arrests win Police XP that brings its own rewards. We quickly find this out during the solitary story mission we're given time with, in which Shen and his old school buddy Jackie pick up and deliver some knock-off goods. Jackie's a small-time Triad hood on the rise, and Wei Shen's ticket into the seamy criminal underworld. Except Jackie doesn't know it.
Throughout the course of the mission, you're given feedback on how your XP breaks down, so public damage knocks points off your Police XP, while Triad XP is guaranteed for simply finishing the job. It's a criminal scheme that quickly goes awry, resulting in a high-speed chase demanding some aggressive ramming to shake our pursuers. Fortunately, jostling with traffic and pursuing vehicles is a snap when all you have to do is press a button and a direction to swerve violently towards your target, driving them off the road. With the merchandise safely delivered, we're once again free to explore North Point, while helping Jackie earns us some well-earned Triad XP.
Our next port of call is Liu Mei Alley, where there's a cop mission to complete, which involves shutting down a known Triad gang operation, eliminating a hideout by clearing the hoods hanging out there and hacking in to the CCTV. This requires some more martial arts flair, which as we've mentioned before, plays a lot like Batman: Arkham City's combat, although this latest build eschews the exclamation marks for a more subtle red glow around attacking enemies that can be countered. It doesn't flow quite as fast as fighting with the Dark Knight, but then Wei Shen isn't Batman.
Once you've dispensed with the thugs and hacked the camera, you can go back to Shen's pad and access the terminal via your TV. Eventually, you'll have a whole network of CCTV links at your fingertips for keeping tabs on the Triads. There are more punks to beat up in various spots, with a place to flex your kung fu muscle near the North Point dojo where you can take on waves of opponents to earn more Face XP. These small side activities are dotted around the map, and as we're playing a content complete version of Sleeping Dogs, we're able to see the locations of offshore gambling dens, cockfights and more scattered across Hong Kong.
We also complete a couple of the game's 'Favors', the first of which involves taking pictures for T-shirt designs at a struggling clothes store. As you do. The next Favor sees us encountering Ting, who distracts Shen with a sexy pose, leaving him wide open for a thief to come and steal his wallet. Cue a quick on-foot chase that sees Wei Shen tearing after the thief and tackling him to the ground, before beating him to a pulp. With all of the activities available to us in the demo exhausted, we go exploring, thrashing around in a Chinese junk boat, stunt-hijacking cars and motorcycles while cruising at high speed just for shits and giggles, then picking on innocent pedestrians because we can.
Almost everything you do in Sleeping Dogs is tracked with pop-up statistics and tallies, like clean-driving, hit and run rampages and so on, which you'll be able to compare with friends and compete for high scores. A neat touch. Stunt-hijacking is a source of constant mirth too, as you can leap from any moving car or bike to any other vehicle in super-cool slo-mo. Jump to a truck, and you'll hang off the back of it, before shimmying around to hurl yourself feet first into the driver's seat. Jackie Chan, eat your heart out.
Sleeping Dogs is looking in pretty solid shape ahead of its summer release then, with only an iffy draw distance and a few bugs that need ironing out before United Front Games ship it. Smooth off the rough edges and Sleeping Dogs really could be a fine open-world game. And Activision will almost definitely be kung fu kicking themselves.
Sleeping Dogs is out on August 14th in North America and August 17th in Europe.