Square-Enix (Eidos the 3rd of St. Andalucía) were kind enough to invite some of their fans down to their Wimbledon HQ for a quick hands-on session with the Hong Kong, open-world, thrill ride ‘Sleeping Dogs’.
What did I think? What did I learn? Why won’t you click on?
Let’s get this out of the way. ‘Sleeping Dogs’ has some history and it would be foolish to completely ignore the full story behind this game.
What we have here is the remnants of what Activision were trying to turn in ‘True Crime: Another IP We Can Bleed Dry’, or whatever they were going to call it. Activision decided that the game United Front Games were working on wasn’t going to be ‘AAA’, wasn’t going to challenge GTA V and therefore wasn’t going to be published by them. It was dropped, leaving the game and the studio in something of a quandary.
Step in Square-Enix who pick up the game in its near complete state. Not owning the ‘True Crime’ IP (bet they’re gutted) the name had to change, and so it has! Sleeping Dogs is born!
This is NOT to say that Square-Enix have picked up a half-finished game on the cheap and told UFG to finish it off. This game’s undergone a serious gestation period within the womb of Square-Enix (gross!) with time and attention being given to ensure that this is its own game.
Onto the game. What is it? Well, it’s a good 3 months away from being released, for a start, so a lot could change. The basic premise is that you play as Wei Shen, an under-cover cop in Hong Kong. Nasty Triads are up to their nasty Triad business and you’re there to stop it. The story was only glimpsed upon but there seems to be bad gangsters, old school friends who are mixed up with said gangsters and, most likely, double-crossing turning into triple-crossing.
The voice overs sounded great and the cut-scenes were engaging enough, though how ‘involving’ the story will be when getting stuck into the side missions and oodles of content, we’ll see.
The main aim of the demo was to show off the running and fighting taking place within the game. The running felt pretty solid, being somewhat similar to Assassin’s Creed, with Wei crashing into, over and under a whole manner of obstacles. The location of Hong Kong looks perfect for this type of action with the location consisting of a whole manner of markets stalls, high-rise buildings, open air harbours and dank alleyways to parkour your way through. The demo itself was pretty restricted and ended up funneling you through a somewhat scripted chase, but here’s to hoping that the final game manages to pull this off.
Of course, when you’re finished chasing someone down, it’s time to beat them down. The hand-to-hand combat on show in Sleeping Dogs felt pretty dang solid. Each punch felt brutal and solid, with an intuitive countering system a la Arkham City. What was nice to see was the implementation of the environment within the combat. Get into a grapple with one of your adversaries and elements of the locale that can be used to cause pain are highlighted. I hate to go on about this, but these moves are brutal and hit like a cement block dropped from 50ft. Sticking a man’s nose into an air vent fan or making a man’s head meet a car door like you’re Vinny Jones in Snatch shouldn’t feel this good or enjoyable. But it does.
My only hope is that the moves you unlock throughout the game keep the combat fresh and rewarding, whilst the environmental kills could become stale if there’s not enough variety. At this point the combat could do with one little tweak, as sometimes enemies would hang out of range which would force you to break your combo and walk over to your next punching bag.
Driving looks to have more of an arcade feel to it. This was plainly obvious from the trailer as a man jumping from car-to-car like it’s 2005 and we’re playing PSPs (Pursuit Force reference!). A variety of vehicles look to be controllable, with bikes and boats being shown. It has to be said that no flying machines have been shown yet. Hmm.
The shooting was also absent but looked secondary to the fighting, with the real idea to get in close, disarm, pop off a round or two and then go back to kicking and punching people in the face. Naturally the shooting mechanic is accompanied by a cover mechanic, though this looks to be used as nothing more than an excuse to vault over things in slow-motion popping rounds into craniums. Crikey this game’s violent.
With any open world game extras are needed. UFG have this covered with street races, Triad and Police missions to complete. These look set to help you unlock bonuses and better weapons / guns/ combat moves as your standing improves. As well as the serious business, there seems to be a great many ways to relax within Sleeping Dogs. Crank out some karaoke to impress the ladies, have a mojito whilst at the local cock fight or simply lose your money (and your fingers) at a gambling den.
Finishing up, Wei has access to a phone which had room for contacts, so let’s hope there’s no annoying “KAH-ZUN!” Involved. More importantly, the phone also had a ‘social club’ option where you could see how everyone else is getting on in the game and compare high scores and what not. No mention of multiplayer, though I feel time would be best spent on getting the core game as great as possible.
Luckily, it’s looking pretty great. I’m seriously looking forward to seeing how it turns out and a big well done to the people at Square-Enix for letting us into their dungeon to see what they’re working on.