Preview: Sleeping Dogs
A few days ago, I was fortunate enough to visit Namco Bandai’s HQ in Sydney to get some hands-on time with the upcoming title from Square Enix London and United Front Games, Sleeping Dogs. Being unfamiliar with the title I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after a few hours getting to see what the game was all about, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed.
Sleeping Dogs places you in role of Wei Shen, a Hong Kong police officer who goes undercover to infiltrate the Triads and bring down their leaders, the ‘Red Poles’. During my hands-on, I was able to play through missions from two different stages in the game. It was great to see Wei move up the ranks within the Triads, from having to prove himself as a trustworthy associate at the beginning, to eventually becoming a Red Pole himself at a later point in the story. Overall, through both the gameplay and the cutscenes, I feel the developers have done a fantastic job in really creating that Asian crime-world setting and not making Sleeping Dogs seem like just another gangster game.
One of the things that sets Sleeping Dogs apart from any other GTA-esque title is how the developers have taken inspiration from franchises such as Assassin’s Creed and added elements such as free-running to the gameplay. Admittedly, while it isn’t implemented quite as fluidly as in Assassin’s Creed (you’ll need to press a button before each obstacle as you’re running to clear it), it works fairly well and doesn’t break up the action when you’re engaged in one of the many chase scenes throughout the game (which isn’t a complaint, mind you). One thing in particular I liked about how this was used was if you jump over a wall/table and there’s an enemy armed with a weapon on the other side, you take-down that enemy and can pick up their weapon in the process – neat!
Another feature that Sleeping Dogss pays tribute to is the combat system that we’ve seen from the last two Batman games. In a brawl, you can press the ‘attack’ button repeatedly or hold for more powerful attack (or even a combination of both), along with the ability to grapple, throw and counter enemy attacks. Much like free-running, the implementation in Sleeping Dogs sadly isn’t as great as in Batman and this was something I had trouble with during my hands-on; I would find myself being unable to counter enemies despite the fact I had pressed the button at that correct time. What I did enjoy was the ability to grab and throw enemies into environmental objects for special finishes, such as electrocuting them on a power box — or my favourite — impaling them on a group of sword-fish blades!
Sleeping Dogs is an open-world sandbox game that gives players the option to participate in both missions that further the main storyline, or side-quests — each at their own leisure and pace. Side missions include running errands for citizens, hijacking and delivering vehicles, cock fighting, races, fight club, drug busts and hit and run events. Each (side-)mission completed will earn the player both money and XP that go towards three different categories – Cop XP, Triad XP and Face XP; all unlock special bonuses and abilities for Wei. Collectables for this game come in the form of finding and opening briefcases (which contain money) and lighting prayer sticks at health shrines (which improve maximum health). As mentioned earlier, everything comes together quite well to give this game that true Triad setting and feel.
The shooting mechanics in this game are also fairly solid — and in some respects, better than what we’ve seen in games like GTA IV and Saints Row. On foot, you are able to shoot from cover (I found the accuracy was sketchy at times due to a poor reticule) but where this game really shines is when you need to shoot from within a vehicle. Unlike most third-person shooters (where I’ve found firing from cars to be a constant struggle between controlling the vehicle and aiming the weapon), Sleeping Dogs helps by slowing time and allowing the player to take a better shot. What I loved was the fact you could shoot out the tires of a pursuing vehicle and this would see them either veering out of control or flipping into the air – and believe me, it NEVER got old! The game also features something called ‘action hijack,’ which allows you to jump from one vehicle to another as long as you’re going at a fast enough speed and are close enough to the other vehicle.
While the build I was playing was lacking somewhat in the finer details, it wasn’t the final product so I’m sure the end result will look and play even better. Overall, Sleeping Dogs seems like a genuinely interesting and fun game and comes across as a good mix between the serious GTA IV and the overly ridiculous Saints Row The Third. The vehicle physics are relatively easy to control, the combat is great, free-running is fun and the gun-fights are exhilarating. Sleeping Dogs is certainly a game worth looking out for come its release on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 on 16 August 2012.