Hands-On: Sleeping Dogs
Last week Friday, I had the awesome opportunity to get my hands on Sleeping Dogs, a game that started out as a sequel to the famed but flawed True Crime series. Thankfully Sleeping Dogs is not another True Crime game, a fact that was repeated numerous times, but something I only believed after getting my hands on this title. Sleeping Dogs is not another True Crime; In fact, it’s looking a lot better than most sandbox games being released lately. With a new unique setting, some really brutal fighting, a story with homage to classic Hong Kong crime stories and more, Sleeping Dogs quite took my attention and grabbed it hard.
Let’s get the formalities out of the way first. Sleeping Dogs is centered on undercover cop Wei Shen, who has infiltrated the deadly Triads in Hong Kong in order to try and bring them down from the inside. If you’ve ever seen a Police Cop drama and a Kung Fu film and wondered what they’d be like together, you’d get Sleeping Dogs. The story looks like it’s dripping with a Chinese “Departed” type plot, which is not really a bad thing when you think about it. The game is set in a highly detailed, living, breathing realization of modern day Hong Kong, giving New York a rest for the time being. The result is a game that looks and feels a lot like GTA in a Chinese setting, but Sleeping Dogs borrows more than a few elements from other massive titles, and blends them together in interesting ways. Fighting from Arkham City, driving from Need for Speed, over the top antics from Just Cause and the general structure from GTA means that Sleeping Dogs is almost immediately recognizable, just in different colours.
The demo began with a enjoyable chase scene through the alleyways that litter the streets of Hong Kong. It’s amazing just how alive the entire city feels, with citizens going about their daily duties while you walk through the crowded markets. I even had one NPC offer my character some cheap goods. Having just visited Hong Kong recently, I could easily see the amount of work that was put in to give this setting an authentic feeling. I began chasing down my target through the crowds; hopping over fences, climbing vending machines and occasionally bringing down some poor bystanders with a flying kick to the head. Hey, you’re a cop, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Eventually you reach a conveniently placed group of baddies, all ready to beat your face in. It’s a good thing then that Wei Shen seems to have spent a few years with Bruce Wayne, learning how to fight like Batman; those poor henchmen didn’t stand a chance. Sleeping Dogs’ fighting system borrows its elements from one of the most robust systems out there, namely the “Freeflow” combat mechanic from Batman: Arkham Asylum/City. You use one button to attack, another to block and a third to grab. The action is not quite as fluent as in the Batman titles, but counters and blocks are just as easy to pull off. Grab an enemy and you can sprint with him towards any glowing objects around you, initiating some brutally violent finishing moves. It’s all sorts of bloody fun, without the cape but with a lot more blood.
Sleeping Dogs is brutal. From devastatingly violent finishing moves, such as smashing heads into fan blades, burning them on stoves or shoving them in between a car door, blood is everywhere. The narrative seems to carry on this violent nature, with a cutscene from near the end of the narrative showing Wei Shen being tortured by other Triad members. Being hit in the face with a hammer, followed by a power drill to the knee (yes, I know), just goes to show that you shouldn’t mess with the Triads. However, where the brutality in the fighting sequences may seem a bit out of place, the violent nature fits right in. It’s a story about gangsters with a lot of money; people who would do anything to protect their business ventures. This type of stuff happens in the dark corners of our society, so it’s quite interesting to see it so graphically portrayed in this title. It feels real and gritty, and I loved every second of it.
Since this is a sandbox title, a lot of attention must go to vehicles. Sleeping Dogs boasts around 80 different vehicles, all taking cues from real-life cars and brands. Just like with the Grand Theft Auto franchise, vehicles aren’t licensed, but you can almost tell what each vehicle was designed after. However, unlike GTA, driving is being handled by some real professionals in Sleeping Dogs. Developers who have previously worked on Need for Speed titles were given the reigns when dealing with driving, and having done my fair share in game, I can honestly say you can feel it. Cars handle and react extremely well to your inputs, aside from a few hilarious bugs that cropped up in the beta code. A lot of care was taken with driving in this title, and it’s nice to see that it wasn’t sloppily handled. Vehicular combat also makes a strong appearance, differing from most when it comes down to the execution. Instead of just trying to line up shots while going at 120 on a motorcycle, Sleeping Dogs puts you into “slow motion” when you want to take out other enemy vehicles. Shoot out tires, take out the driver, or jump straight on the boot of an enemy vehicle. It’s over the top, unrealistic fun, much like everything in Just Cause.
Borrowing a bit from Max Payne, but staying true to some old True Crime mechanics, Sleeping Dogs does have its fair share of slow motion moments when it comes to gunplay. However, even this feature has its own rules attached to it. Instead of having a dedicated “focus” meter, Sleeping Dogs initiates the mode when it thinks you need it. Vaulting over cover or switching from cover to cover while shooting will initiate some slow motion, allowing you to pop some heads in spectacular fashion. There weren’t many guns on show, and gunplay as a whole didn’t really stand out. It functions the way it should, but that’s about it.
Other than that, Sleeping Dogs offers side missions, as every sandbox game should, but we weren’t really allowed to dive into those fully. Visuals have a bit of a unique flair to them, but there was nothing really special or outstanding to note. This is still beta code, so a lot can be improved from now until release. Counters need to be a touch more responsive, melee fighting could be tweaked to feel smoother, and those odd visual slowdowns will probably be mended. Sleeping Dogs isn’t looking to be ground breaking, or a spiritual successor to the failed True Crime franchise. Instead, it looks to me as if this title is the first step in the right direction for a franchise that could really build into something special. Taking features from other games isn’t hard, but making them fit into a completely new setting does take a lot of dedication. I’m happy to say that I was previously wrong about Sleeping Dogs, and after getting to spend some time with it, I was left pleasantly surprised. If you’re a fan of anything to do with sandbox titles, or if you haven’t had a good dose of GTA style fun lately, then keep your eyes on Sleeping Dogs.
Thanks to Megarom for the invitation, as well as Samsung, Tritton and Xbox South Africa for supplying all the awesome hardware.