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Sleeping Dogs Preview

This dog has learned tricks from all over the industry!

It felt like the big message of E3 2012 was that 2013 will be one of the greatest years in gaming history. But what about the rest of this year? There are plenty of new and interesting games on the way, even if it feels like the games we’re really waiting for won’t drop for a long time. That leaves plenty of opportunity for some dark horse entries to find an audience and success. Enter Sleeping Dogs, the new open world action game from United Front Games and Square Enix.

Set in the seedy underworld of Hong Kong, Sleeping Dogs puts players in the shoes of Wei Shen, an undercover cop that’s in danger of getting in too deep. He’ll have to get the Triad to trust him, and the only way to do that is to rise through the ranks by any means necessary. The only question remains: where do Shen’s loyalties truly lie?

Video games are built on the backs of those that came before, and that is true of Sleeping Dogs in a big way. This title shares DNA with tons of games from many different genres, and while it may wear these influences on its sleeve, at least its pulling from some heavy hitters.

Take the melee combat, for example. The Batman Arkham games are the new Holy Grail when it comes to hand-to-hand encounters, and it was inevitable that games would start cribbing from the Caped Crusader’s playbook. Sleeping Dogs hits all of the main beats of the Arkham games when it comes to fisticuffs: Wei Shen is a master martial artist that can engage multiple opponents with aplomb. He can flow from enemy to enemy and brutally counter anyone that tries to sneak up from behind. Different enemy types will require special methods of dispatch, and in some circumstances you’ll have to succeed in a contextual Quick Time Event to come out on top. The only thing that seems missing is the acrobatic evades that Batman is known for, but it’s possible that Wei can unlock these as he trains in new abilities.

While borrowing from Batman would be enough for most games, Sleeping Dogs also takes a page from the cult classic Yakuza games. Wei Shen can grapple an enemy and maneuver them into an environmental “hot zone” to take them out in graphic fashion. Sleeping Dogs may well be one of the most disturbingly violent games I’ve seen in a while, and many of the more gut-wrenching attacks come from these environmental moves.

When it comes time to sling hot lead, Sleeping Dogs behaves much like other third person cover-based shooters. However, it appears that Shen needs to procure weapons on-site, and in this aspect Sleeping Dogs stands alone with an interesting new mechanic. Instead of waiting behind cover, Shen prefers to run towards an opponent’s cover point. He can then leap over the cover and perform a “vault disarm”, taking out the enemy and grabbing his weapon in the process. You can similarly disarm enemies on foot when your ammo runs low.

The actual shooting mechanic looks serviceable, but the demos I witnessed gave me the impression that the precision may not be as fine-tuned as most players would like. Of course, that could have been the fault of the person doing the demo, so take that for what you will. When Shen vaults over his cover point the game goes into slow motion, Max Payne-style. If you can keep up the head shots while in slo-mo you can keep the effect going, giving you the potential to take out a whole room of enemies in one stylish move that would make John Woo slow clap.

When you’re just tooling around Hong Kong you can of course commandeer any vehicle you like while on foot. Interestingly, Sleeping Dogs borrows from another—rather obscure—title in the form of Wheelman. Get close enough to another car when you’re in a chase and Shen can perform an “action hijack”, leaping from his vehicle to the roof of his target and finally taking control of the wheel. It’s a cool move that deserves to be seen in more games like this.

Hong Kong looks suitably detailed, and the infamous city has plenty of diversions for players when the Triad rat race gets too grueling. You can try out some high-stakes street racing, duke it out in an underground fighting ring, and even embarrass yourself with karaoke. All in all, Sleeping Dogs could very well end up being the sleeper hit of the year, assuming that developer United Front Games can take all of these disparate systems and make them work together.

There aren’t many open world games on the horizon right now, and with the summer looking pretty sparse, Sleeping Dogs may have a chance at becoming a hit when it makes its way onto store shelves on August 14.



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