United Front Games must have a library of Hong Kong crime dramas in their office since Sleeping Dogs (the game previously known as True Crime: Hong Kong) captures the feel of Hong Kong cinema. I played the game at a Square Enix event, which began with undercover cop Detective Wei Shen in a restaurant, which was really a gangster front. He spoke (in English, with bits of Cantonese slang) to crime boss "buddy" Jackie who asks Wei Shen to collect money, gangster style, from a man named Ming.
Instead of showing glitz and glamour, Sleeping Dogs has a gritty style. The first area Wei Shen walks around in is a dingy kitchen illuminated by flickering florescent lights. An older women chops meat in the background and Wei Shen can walk into the dining room where you can hear a cacophony of conversations. I didn’t see an option to eat pork dumplings so I exited the restaurant and explored a neon lit market. The area didn’t feel as populated as Hong Kong since you could walk around and one amusing option is Wei Shen pushes people out of the way when he runs. This open area had street vendors to talk to. Fireworks during a lion dance as a I ran towards the first objective – a hawker with information. Talking to him revealed Ming and a street chase began. I sprinted past crowds, rudely shoving through shouting crowds, and in typical action movie style Wei Shen had to scale walls and gates. While Ming gracefully climbed up gates, Wei Shen stumbled from time to time, but catching Ming wasn’t a problem (he will wait for you if he gets too far ahead).
I think Sleeping Dogs was inspired by another Square Enix Europe title – Batman: Arkham Asylum since the hand to hand combat system is pretty familiar. Players use a button to attack and another button to counter right before an enemy hits you. Thugs ganged up Wei Shen, but after surrounding him they attacked one at a time instead of as a group. The demo took place in an early stage so that might explain why grunts in Sleeping Dogs have grunt level enemy IQ.
A key feature in Sleeping Dogs is the grapple button. Once a mobster is in your hands you can finish them off using objects in the environment. The first one I discovered was a "fan-tality" where Wei Shen shoves a gangster’s face into spinning fan blades. You can also slam an enemy’s face into a wall or toss them into an air conditioner. Objects you can kill with glow pink once you have an enemy disabled in a headlock. After tossing a thug off a rooftop, I faced Ming who came after me with a knife. He took more hits to beat up and after I defeated him the police stepped in and arrested everyone on the scene.
Square Enix had one more stage to show – a street race where Wei Shen with a car full of girls had to finish in first place. Flares lit up the route as I drifted through the streets. Wei Shen’s car takes damage if you crash into a wall, but his car appears to be invincible as a I watched another player earlier bring a battered car to the finish line. This part of Sleeping Dogs felt like an arcade racer, but I was told some scenes will have Wei Shen shooting and driving at the same time.
Wei Shen can use a gun on the streets too, but Square Enix didn’t demo gunfights. A control sheet explained right trigger (or R2 on PS3) shoots, LB (L1) makes him take cover, and LT (L2) aims his weapon. After a brief hands-on with Sleeping Dogs, I wondered why Activision dropped the title in the first place. Perhaps, Square Enix London helped polish it into the engaging game I got to play and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Sleeping Dogs when it comes out later this year on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.