The Average Gamer

Hands-On with Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs was on show at the Square Enix community day this week and I had a couple of goes at an Xbox 360 demo. It’ll be available at MCM in London this weekend along with a load of other games so clear your weekend schedule if you want to check it out.

The game looks like a Rockstar game. A lot like a Rockstar game. Like, you have the same glowing columns in the street to indicate your mission start points. You have a very similar cartoon-like map in the bottom left corner. You also have a home base with a bed where you can sleep and a wardrobe to change clothes. There’s even the comprehensive stats screen which makes it into most games these days – tea consumed, cameras hacked and other pointless-but-amusing figures like that. Familiarity is a good thing from the gamer’s perspective but it does make it easy to forget that Sleeping Dogs is actually being developed by United Front Games (ModNation Racers) and published by Square Enix.

You play Wei Shen, a Hong Kong police officer who goes undercover with the Sun On Yee Triad. Perhaps the most obvious visual distinction between this game and say, GTA, is Hong Kong itself. The streets are much narrower than anything you’ve seen by Rockstar, reflecting the overcrowdedness of Hong Kong itself. As befitting its HK film inspirations, you’ll stumble across street markets, neon signs and pedestrians everywhere as the people of Hong Kong go shopping and put on street performances.

This is important because you have three XP bars to manage for Shen’s reputation: Police XP, Triad XP and Face XP. In a memorable opening mission, I had to chase a crook through the crowded streets, racing up vending machines and sheer vertical walls in true Peking Opera School style. This is easy enough to do by pressing the A button as you approach an obstacle but leave it too late and you’ll slam face-first into a wall, giving yourself an XP penalty as the witnesses are unimpressed by your clumsiness.

Market stalls are another frequent blocker that you can swish smoothly over, sending produce flying everywhere. Pressing the A button not only adds a small element of skill here, it’s actually crucial. Remember John Woo’s Stranglehold from 2007? Automatically sliding across all the nearby tables while running made it very difficult to get anywhere and adding this small touch circumvents the problem very nicely.

Gathering XP unlocks talent in all three trees. I say “trees”, really for the Police and Triads, it’s just a single fork down two separate pathways. The Face “tree” doesn’t even have a fork. It’s a single line of bonuses like doubling the duration of your health regeneration boost from eating foot and the “Extra Special Massage” which increases the Face XP you get from a massage. Sounds like authentic fantasy-Hong Kong indeed.

Melee combat in Sleeping Dogs is entertainingly violent. Several times in my pursuit, I found myself fighting through groups of Triad members. Fighting controls aren’t exactly up to the gold standard of Arkham City but it’s still very satisfying to counter knife attacks with some very slick martial arts moves or throwing your head backwards to crunch into the nose of an opponent behind you.

In the demo I played, the counter window was very generous and the oncoming enemy was highlighted with an obvious red overlay. In that respect, combat becomes more like the group battles in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. You can be proactive, leaping forward to punch your enemies in the face but it’s often easier to just wait for an attack to be obviously flagged and finish him off once you’ve thrown him to the ground.

By far the most brutal part is the environmental attacks. Instead of waiting to counter, you can grapple enemies and hold them for a few seconds. Nearby environmental hazards will be highlighted, again with a red overlay. Shove your enemy towards one of these and hold down B when prompted. You’ll be rewarded with a suitably gruesome close-up of blood gushing from your opponent’s face as he’s minced by an extractor fan, or a lovely slow-motion shot of Wei Shen tipping him into a skip. As you might expect, putting down a rival Triad member for good will show more loyalty to the Sun On Yee.

There’s more to Sleeping Dogs than just the combat. As you’ve probably seen from the trailer above, you have vehicles, gunplay and the all-important wardrobe. You’ll never pass for a real gangster if you’re wearing the wrong type of watch or the wrong shoes. As you play through the game you’ll unlock accessories – watches, chains, hats and more. Get the right combination of shirt and shoes and you can strut about proudly in the “Venerable Face Set” that gives you a 15% bonus to Face XP.

It’s an interesting game with a fantastically-realised environment. The demo I saw was limited to a fairly uninspiring plot introduction of OH NOES! Undercover cop has been arrested! Cue personality clashes within police followed by reveal and begrudging release but the voice acting and animation was superb. Fans of karate black-belt actress Kelly Hu will recognise her voice in there too.

Scheduled for an August 2012 release, this game is looking good. I really want to see how the gun combat and vehicles will play out. Here’s the official Sleeping Dogs site if you’re looking for more info.

Sleeping Dogs is available for pre-order on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. The limited edition will include content from UFC fighter and martial arts consultant George St. Pierre: his signature flying punch with bonus attack damage and a GSP outfit, as well as a SWAT outfit, SWAT police car and other digital bonuses.