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Sleeping Dogs preview

A lot of people see the game industry as a bleak place where business comes before innovation.  Granted, we don’t think that way, but there are instances when the harshness of the industry is too hard to shake.  Case in point, when Activision pulled the plug on its highly anticipated True Crime: Hong Kong project last year, stating that the open world that United Front Games was trying to create just “wasn’t going to be good enough” for them. 

Many feared that the studio would scramble, trying to recover, but luckily enough, Square Enix found potential in the game that Activision so hastily dumped, picked it up on their own terms, and renamed it Sleeping Dogs.  Despite the odd name, we decided to give it a fair chance in itself when we checked it out during Game Developers Conference last week.

The story is still roughly the same.  You’re a young undercover cop trying to infiltrate the Hong Kong criminal underworld, using your brute skills in fighting and shooting to bring down bad guys and form closer alliances with the targets you’re really after.  No one said it was an easy job, but your character is definitely the one for it.

The demo for Sleeping Dogs that we saw was divided into three parts.  The first had us relentlessly chasing a fink through the city streets of Hong Kong, upon learning that we wanted to interrogate him regarding a deal gone wrong.  It’s here you really get an idea of the open world United Front is trying to create, and how closely accurate they are to getting the atmosphere of Hong Kong’s seedy underbelly nailed down.  Patrons jump out of the way; storekeepers look startled; and obstacles are merely stepping stones for you to climb over as you pursue your target, who is always highlighted so you can keep track of him.

The second part of the demo involved the new open-world fighting engine that United Front put into Sleeping Dogs, one that closely resembles Batman, but obviously without the comfort of a cape and cowl.  Ming, the thug we pursued, calls upon his buddies to stop you.  From there, you can take them down with quick combo attacks, while occasionally countering their incoming strikes and making them pay for it.  But what’s interesting is how your fighting environment comes into play.  You can throw a thug over a rooftop balcony, slam his head into a nearby metal pipe, or slam his face directly into a heating duct, watching the blades do a little damage on top.

This part of the stage concluded with a fight against Ming himself, who has to be countered in order to do any real damage — hardly anything new in a boss fight, but this part of the game definitely poured on the brutality.  We certainly liked it.

The last part of Square’s Sleeping Dogs showcase had our hero take part in a winner-take-all street race, where a pair of girls — and a load of cash — are on the line for the first place victor.  The racing itself is quite solid, with plenty of cool drifting mechanics (it is Hong Kong, after all) and high speed antics.  What’s more, you can use aggression to your advantage, knocking cars out of the way and into oncoming obstacles, like walls and trees.  The girls get a little chatty with each right move you make, but overall it’s still an entertaining race, one of many scattered throughout the game.

And that’s it.  Seeing all three of these parts of the game merge together is quite a sight, as it really gives you an idea of what all you can do around Hong Kong, along with side missions, boating, and plenty of other wild antics.  It just leaves us wondering… why did Activision cancel it?  The graphics may not be Grand Theft Auto level, but they’re quite good, with lots of attention to the Hong Kong environments and plenty of action.  The dialogue is good too, even if it is overly gangster-like.  Then again, this is a tale of true crime… even if that isn’t its name,

Kudos to Square Enix for seeing the potential behind Sleeping Dogs and giving United Front’s vision a second chance to live again.  We’ll see if it pays off this August when the game ships for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. 

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Robert Workman
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