Hands-On Sleeping Dogs Preview: Heads in Spinning Fans
One of the highlights of my day was jamming a fool’s skull into a rooftop fan and watching the wild sprays of flying face blood as high-speed blades chopped up the poor sucker’s mug. More on that later though.
True Crime, an open world action franchise that crossed elements of Grand Theft Auto and Max Payne on the previous generation of consoles, started off with True Crime: Streets of LA nearly a decade ago and spawned a sequel only a couple years after that. But when True Crime: New York City underperformed critically and commercially, the trilogy-completing next sequel fell into development hell. A trailer for True Crime: Hong Kong was released two and a half years ago, and gameplay was presented at E3 2010, but franchise publisher Activision canned it last year.
Square Enix then revived the project by United Front Games, the second developer to work on the sequel, when they bought the game (but not the name) from Activision. Without the franchise rights to True Crime‘s name, Square Enix retitled it Sleeping Dogs. This year at E3, we got a chance to play the (now more polished) part of the over-the-top game that was revealed a couple of years ago, and we also got to check out some new gameplay on top of that.
As an undercover cop trying to infiltrate the triads of Hong Kong, you’re sent to go “take care of” Ming, a drug dealer who’s betrayed your superior and has defected to some guy called Dogeyes. Once you’re done exploring a bustling market (maybe grab some noodles or fish dumplings for a health regeneration boost) and have found and confronted Ming, it’s off to the races. He’s fleeing, and you’re pursuing. Like a Hong Kong action movie, the foot chase requires you to use elements of freerunning to quickly jump over food stands, smoothly climb up and/or over walls, and deftly avoid the bystanders that Ming shoves into your path.
That’s as close as you’ll get to a Jackie Chan flick because the cinematic combat that follows once you run into some of Ming’s crew is clearly R rated. Of course you’ve got your standard options during a melee: strike (to unleash some kung fu combos) or counter (to maybe trigger some sweet limb-breaking animations). But the most truly satisfying thing you can do is grapple an enemy and use the environment to finish him off, like the ultraviolent example I opened this preview with. From the grapple position, you can throw or keep beating goons if you want to, but all I wanted to do was to find surrounding hazards.
Slam his head into the wall. Toss him into a dumpster. Send him into an electrical box for a crispy ending. These were the best playable parts of Sleeping Dogs before the demo ends as the police arrives and arrests you. Looking back at the presentation from a couple years ago, which showed the same sequence of events, there are definitely some improvements since Sleeping Dogs was still known as True Crime: Hong Kong. Besides a more refined look and smoother animations, a major difference is the increase of NPCs in the market before and during the foot chase.
After playing what we’ve already seen from back in 2010 at E3, we were treated to a new preview of even more ridiculous gameplay that focused more on shooting during gameplay that looked very similar to the club scene in the Saints Row: The Third trailer and driving sequences in which, like in its True Crime predecessors, included a lot of shooting out tires of cars and sending them flying in epic slow motion. In addition to bikes and boats, Sleeping Dogs will also feature plenty of seedy underground figures, explosive gun battles, RPG elements, and what I’m most looking forward to: gruesome melee deaths. We saw teases of meat hook impalements and faces getting smashed in with dropping anchors or heavy chains, to name a couple.
Mike Fischer, president of Square Enix, has compared the game to The Departed, Batman: Arkham City, Need For Speed, and Mass Effect. That’s some elite company, and we hope Sleeping Dogs deserves those comparisons when it’s released on August 14, 2012.