Sleeping Dogs Hands-On Preview – Square Enix Becomes Rescue Hound
Written Wednesday, March 28, 2012 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Activision has a habit of kicking titles to the curb, only to be picked up down the line by another publisher. First it was Brutal Legend, which was later picked up by EA, who were then sued by Activision – make up your mind, dammit! – and now it’s the turn of True Crime: Hong Kong. The saviours this time are none other than Square Enix, changing the name to Sleeping Dogs in the process. The Japanese publisher wasn’t about to let this one lie, and it seems like a savvy move.
Sleeping Dogs is your traditional free-roaming, open-world, sandbox action-adventure game where you play undercover detective, Wei Shen. It’s your job as an officer of the Hong Kong Triad Bureau to effectively infiltrate the criminal underworld of Hong Kong and clean up the streets. It’s an anti-Grand Theft Auto if ever there was one, but being undercover and acting like one of the criminal cartel effectively gives you a license to cause wanton destruction. Even the new box art is very reminiscent of the Grand Theft Auto box arts of yesteryear.
Sleeping Dogs, just like a certain Grand Theft Auto, amalgamates a ton of different game mechanics and genres all under one roof. There’s shooting, there’s free-running, there’s car chases and seeing as it’s set in Hong Kong, yes, there’s a whole lot of kung-fu fighting. In fact, everybody is kung-fu fighting… Carl Douglas would be proud. Everything seems to have an emphasis on the over-the-top nature with arcade controls though, rather than something a little more robust and serious than what GTA has seemingly become.
The free-running and close combat situations were the main focus of our first hands-on mission involving a night market chase. Kicking off with a short cutscene gathered around a table in the back of some downtown restaurant, Shen is tasked with tracking down Ming and teaching the son of a bitch a lesson.
You’ve only got to take one step out onto the streets of Hong Kong to see the efforts that United Front Games has put into making the streets feel alive, vibrant and a spectacle for the eyes. With street performers, dancers and plenty of market stalls, there’s plenty of life on the Hong Kong streets. On your way to meet your informant, Kwan, you can’t help but soak up the Hong Kong city nightlife. That was as much soaking up as we could do though, because after meeting with Kwan we caught up with Ming and proceeded to chase him on foot as he bolted through the busy streets.
The free running is rather simple, where holding down X will send Shen into a full-on sprint and it’s a matter of just pressing the button again whenever you have to vault an obstacle. With a tap of the X button before an obstacle, Shen will vault – if it’s not too high – whatever’s in front of him, whether that’s a head-high wall, a vending machine, a dumpster or an 8-foot high fence. Our only issue with the free running – and the free roaming for that matter – is that the camera seems to be a little jerky and you never quite feel as in control of it as, say Grand Theft Auto.
A little down the way and a short fight later, we find ourselves confronting Ming on the room of a Hong Kong building. The combat is rather well done in truth, with it feeling like a more simplistic version of Batman: Arkham Asylum/City. I say simplistic because there’s none of the gadgets and none of the complex combo strings. It’s a matter of locking-on, attacking, countering and grabbing. What Sleeping Dogs’ combat loses in simplicity though it more than makes up for in brutality. The grab in the game allows you to run foes into various contextual environmental hazards, so that means you can throw people off rooftops, ram their heads into an electrical panel, throw them into dumpsters and quite brilliantly, hold their face into a roof fan and watch the crimson cloud rise from the spinning blades. Yes, it might be rather simple, but it works a treat and is one of many strong facets that Sleeping Dogs has going for it.
The next aspect of the hands-on went from on-foot to behind the wheel, as Shen had to partake in some street racing to win a substantial wad of cash. It’s a simple A-to-B race with no real opportunities for shortcuts, which considering Sleeping Dogs is meant to be a sandbox title, is an interesting choice. The racing itself though is fun, the handling is rather tight and somewhat reminiscent of Midnight Club, for instance. The AI and the action on the track is also extremely aggressive, but being able to plough opponents into the railings and flip them at every corner is rather joyous. That said, the flagrant rubber-banding used by United Front Games is rather frustrating, but I guess without it, having got run off the track and finding myself 15-seconds behind with not much of the race to go, I’d probably have lost. Still, if UFG cut that totally, I get the feeling Sleeping Dogs’ racing aspects would be better off.
Even in its original format before Activision canned it, True Crime: Hong Kong didn’t look like what we’d consider cancellation fodder – especially considering some of the dross that Activision continues to pump out. So what looks like one company’s bizarre move could very well turn out to be a great coup for Square Enix. Whether Sleeping Dogs in its current format will turn out to be a successful business move for Square Enix remains to be seen, but from what we’ve played of the game in its recent incarnation, it’s big dumb fun, which is exactly what suits the game. It’s over-the-top. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s got many different facets to its gameplay. It’s chaotic. It’s fun. And more importantly, it’s superbly gory and brutal. So this is what it must have felt like to be Bruce Lee.
Sleeping Dogs is currently scheduled for an August 2012 release.