Preview: Sleeping Dogs
With its cinematic approach to the gameplay, Square Enix’s upcoming title Sleeping Dogs is certainly bringing many new interesting elements to the open world genre. Originally announced as True Crime: Hong Kong; after a very troubled development schedule in which Activision dropped the game, Square Enix have now revived the title, rebranding it as a new IP. Have Square put enough into this title to make Activision regret their decision? Find out in our preview.
It’s hard to identify exactly how much Activision attempted to funnel the title into the True Crime identity, especially given the fact that it wasn’t initially under development as the next entry, but it does seem to still share some similarities to the aforementioned series. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how it fares given a fresh identity, but if my preview session is anything to go by, it’s shaping up very nicely with tonnes of memorable experiences.
Sleeping Dogs’ main protagonist Wei Shen is a detective who returns to Hong Kong to help support the police in infiltrating the triads years after growing up there, and throughout the campaign you can choose to support the police, or be loyal to his old friends. The characters are well detailed, animated, interact with each other convincingly, and also feature high quality voice acting from numerous Hong Kong cinema stars alongside some other famous actors including Tom Wikson (Batman Begins, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Shakespeare In Love).
Square Enix have done a fantastic job with both the setting and feel of Hong Kong complete with huge skyscrapers, glamorous cars, up-market houses and an impressive financial district. You’ll pass by restaurants, be entertained by street performers, get stuck in congested streets, and even visit vendors where you can purchase Herbal tea, giving your player a form of boost.The first mission I jumped into was a chase scene where Wei is trying to impress a triad member – showing off his skills and dedication – while chasing after a rival gang member for information. Running through the crowded market, knocking unlucky civilians out of your way, you’re able to run and jump over certain obstacles, as well as run up small walls to grab onto ledges to move quickly through the environment. The constant flow of fast paced action is great, as is the realistic atmosphere the helpless civilians provide both by getting in your way and being knocked around. After being led into a trap, I got to try out the combat system against six thugs who had surrounded me. I was looking forward to cracking some skulls. The fighting was fluid and easy to grasp, with enough variety in the punch’s and kick’s to keep the foes at bay. Countering is also an option, and since they’re all contextual, you’ll be throwing enemies into garbage cans, trapping them under shutters, shoving their heads into both electric boxes and fans, all whilst hearing their helpless screams. If you enjoyed Batman: Arkham City’scombat then this game will suit you nicely as it’s very similar and flowing. You’ll need to rely on timing the counters when you encounter enemies with weapons, as being overly offensive won’t get you very far. Throughout both story and side missions you are given XP which falls into three categories. Face XP provides you higher reputation in Hong Kong, allowing you to access more side missions and partnerships, and is dependant on how well you dress. There are a lot of potential outfits including Bruce Lee’s Game Of Death costume. Police XP is rewarded if you successfully complete the mission as good as possible, relating to civilians killed and damage caused. Lastly there’s Triad XP, which is given to you for doing certain things for said gang. The XP system is very interesting, and although not all of its features were detailed to myself, there was mention of certain perks that you could earn such as the ability to hold extra ammunition.
The level I got to play next was very story heavy, so be wary of spoilers! During the next mission ‘The Election’, things don’t go to plan and it ends up with Wei’s capture after a botched meeting with Mr. Tang at a bar in the financial district. Similar to GTA IV’s mobile phone system, Sleeping Dogs appears to also utilise the device, but how much it will feature is yet to be seen. The Triads aren’t messing around and they brutally beat and cut Wei. After he breaks free from the beating, he notices a thug taking a piss, and what better way to say “thanks for your hospitality” by drowning him in his own piss. As you proceed to escape the apartment you encounter more thugs who wish to fight, this time in the kitchen. This is where more of the other environmental kills appear, resulting in being burned alive on a cooker, killing one with a fridge door, chucking another onto a pipe, another into a wall and lastly placing one on a board with a saw attached, cutting into his head. The environment will be a key feature when fighting enemies and I can’t wait to see what other ways I can brutally take down my foes.
After escaping onto some scaffolding, you’ll see some nice effects such as the rain that glimmers off Wei as he runs over the wet slippery roof tops. Nearer the end of the mission, I was able to use a gun for the first time, as well as experience how the slow-motion system worked. The guns reacted realistically and worked very well, and can shoot through light cover. The cover system worked like a charm and didn’t feel fiddly. Taking down enemies with headshots, and shattering windows during the firefights was a very satisfying experience. After you jump over an obstacle while aiming, you’re granted a period of slow-motion where you’re able to shoot enemies more accurately, and the headshots provided a particularly rewarding feel. Ending on quite a cliff hanger, the final cutscene sees Mr. Tang and Wei Shan face to face, but cut quickly to black before I saw anything.
There are lots of things for players to experience in Sleeping Dogs, and many famous Hong Kong areas to visit as well, though not at a full size scale of the city. The mini-map lets you locate missions, safe houses, vendors and cloth stores, and you’re able to toggle through the missions by clicking the left thumb stick. Police presence is always something to be aware of, both during missions and free-roam play, though they were disabled in this build. You’ll be able to highjack moving vehicles during chases, along with the ability to use police satellites to track down certain gang members for missions.
The last mission we got to play was “Fast Girls” where Wei Shan has to compete against rival racers to take over turf. While I was initially expecting the driving to be fiddly, United Front Games (including ex Black Box staff) have put their racing expertise to good use, providing a driving experience with responsive controls and good physics that felt realistic, along the lines of Need For Speed: Most Wanted. Motorbikes are also on offer for those of you who prefer two-wheels.
After what I have played I can easily say that Sleeping Dogs is becoming one of my most anticipated titles of the year and I am really looking forward to the final product. The game may not be as innovative as some players might want, but it definitely brings a more cinematic approach to the open world-genre. Bringing great combat and physics to the genre is also impressive, and in a number of regards it certainly feels superior to other similar titles. Delivering fun street racing, and a cohesive version of Hong Kong City, I’m very anxious to see more.