Published on March 11th, 2012 | by Cameron Woolsey
GDC: Sleeping Dogs Hands-On Impressions
Developer: United Front Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Release Date: TBA 2012
I first saw Sleeping Dogs only very recently with last week’s release of the story trailer. I was immediately intrigued by what promises to be an epic crime drama, rounded out with plenty of great fight scenes and excellent voice work. Earlier this week at GDC I sat down with Square Enix to try the game out for myself.
The story follows undercover cop Wei Shen who infiltrates the Sun Oh Yee triad and has to work hard in order to first, gain their trust, and then learn how to take them down. It’s certainly not an easy task and Shen will often find himself getting bloody for the sake of maintaining his cover and showing the triad leadership that he has what it takes to be trusted and useful.
(Enter Age and Refresh to play)
The demo included two scenes from the game. The first showcased some character interaction, chasing and fighting. Jumping in I soon found myself racing through the streets and alleys of Hong Kong after some unfortunate soul who had crossed the triad. It’s a typical chasing scenario and those who have ran after guys in the street in games know the routine. Players must hold down the sprint button and actively dodge meandering NPCs while hopping tables and fences in order to close in on the prey. If the player comes within close proximity of the scumbag, he suddenly turns on “The Flash” mode and bolts a half a block in seconds. Get too far behind and players will find him hanging out just around the next corner. Like I said, it’s an unfortunately typical feature which is common for action games of this type.
The real fun, however, happens when the chasing is all over. Now on top of a roof, Shen gets surrounded by six or seven gangsters looking for some trouble. The fighting in Sleeping Dogs is heavily influenced by Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. While Shen isn’t nearly as nimble as the Dark Knight and can’t exactly leap over heads, he still shares the same moves. Tapping the punch button will unleash a volley of flying fists on an enemy, but while your attention is focused other enemies will try and test their luck by coming in from behind. A symbol flashes above their heads right before the strike, alerting the player to hit the counter attack button which will cause Shen to quickly stop the incoming attack and lay the cheap scumbag out.
The game also mixes in some fighting elements of SEGA’s Yakuza series with Shen being able to grab guys and drag them to some stationary instrument of death such as a roof ventilation fan which can turn someone’s face into meat loaf, or just simply throwing their sorry asses off a building to save some time. Weapons such as knives, guns and blunt instruments can be used to a lethal degree, I was told. The fight I was in didn’t have any weapons I could get my hands on save for the guy I was chasing who brandished a butcher knife when I cornered him. I never got the chance to use it as I took out his half-wit cronies first.
The fighting is similar but it’s not a perfect copy. Shen doesn’t move as smoothly as Batman and his counter attacks lack flare and some animation frames. I’m usually fine if a developer uses a gameplay mechanic from another title especially if said element is popular and works very well. The borrowed fighting mechanic in Sleeping Dogs is not quite so perfect just yet, but I’m hopeful as this was just a demo which is not necessarily indicative of the final product.
The second part of the demo pitted Shen and a couple of cute ladies in one car in a late night sprint against racers through the streets of Hong Kong. The driving in Sleeping Dogs is remarkably smooth, perfectly blending arcade and street racing video game genres to create a sense of actual racing, but just arcade enough to remain fun for the casual racer.
Sleeping Dogs is a mix of other popular titles, which isn’t surprising considering its origin. Sleeping Dogs was once supposed to be the reboot of the under performing GTA wannabe franchise, True Crime. Originally titled True Crime: Hong Kong, the game was canceled by Activision in early 2011 due to the belief it would be just as crap as the previous two titles. It was picked up by Square Enix later that year and is now being developed by United Front Games. Are you still with me? I’m getting to my point.
United Front Games, which recently pushed out Mod Nation Racers, is a company consisting of developers who have worked on such games as Saints Row, Max Payne 3 and the Need for Speed franchise. The game is also being overseen by Square Enix London Studios which is a part of Square Enix Europe, once known as Eidos, the publisher behind, yes, Arkham Asylum. So now do you see? What’s interesting to me, and maybe not so much for you, is that Sleeping Dogs is a mix of multiple games because the folks developing it all have experience making the games that it’s replicating.
The build I played on was first introduced late last year, the producer demoing the game told me. There are some rough edges, but between the time the demo was developed and when the actual product releases should be enough time for United Front Games to push out a quality title. At least, that’s what I’m hopeful for, not because the gameplay impressed me, but because the story itself is the real draw. If everything goes according to UFG’s plan, Sleeping Dogs has the potential to surpass its True Crime roots and produce a better and far more engaging story than its predecessor ever could and may end up being more than just a sum of its parts.