My love for cinema is probably equal to my love for video games, if not higher. The two have a lot in common and it’s often the first entertainment medium brought up in arguments and discussions of various aspects of gaming as a comparison. In particular I have a very fond love for martial arts movies and Hong Kong cinema in general. When I heard that these films were the greatest source of inspiration for Sleeping Dogs my interest in the game grew a thousandfold.
If you’re not familiar with Sleeping Dogs here’s a little bit of back information (check out our interview with Dan Sochan for more information): the game began as an original IP, then was picked up and re-branded to become a True Crimes sequel with nothing else changed, and eventually returned to being an original IP. While it has the background information of formerly being a True Crimes game I feel it’s important to state that it’s been an original experience from the beginning and nothing has changed in that regard.
At first Sleeping Dogs certainly looks and feels like any other third-person sandbox game taking place in a city with all the familiar trappings that go along with that. You’d be forgiven for thinking from a glance that it looks similar to something like Grand Theft Auto but in practice it becomes clear that this is an entirely different beast.
Not to put down any other open world game out there but Sleeping Dogs has a wonderful claim in that every aspect of the game feels incredibly solid from the melee fighting, the free-running, the shooting and the driving. Each feels as if it were the focus of the game in its own right and the transition between one to the next is seamless.
The key to navigating the city is a simple single-button parkour/free-running system which is both incredibly intuitive and very fluid looking. The game fully embraces its cinematic roots and the focus here is on looking cool and feeling like an action movie through and through and it succeeds in this in spades. The free-running nature is embraced even more when you take the sweeping layout of a city like Hong Kong into consideration.
When I say the game wants to feel like an action movie that applies to every aspect of it and it does so in an incredibly satisfying way. The combat system is similar to the Arkham games which ties right into the fluid feel of the free-running. However Sleeping Dogs includes a very fun environmental kill system which very quickly turns into its own game of “what things can I kill these guys with?”
Akin to a movie like The Transporter or old Jackie Chan flicks you’ll be using everything strewn across the battlefield as a weapon and things can get quite messy in an insanely delightful manner very fast. Whether its something as simple as throwing a guy over a ledge or slamming his head into a plaster wall or something much more sinister involving the equation of “face + table saw” or using the burner of a stove to give them a make-over, you’ll quickly fall in love with this part of the system.
There’s just something incredibly satisfying about taking a guy and stuffing him into an exposed air vent on the roof of a building.
Getting an environmental kill is as simple as grabbing an enemy with the grapple button and pressing the action button at context sensitive areas, however you have to weaken them first so its not just a “press b to win” type of thing. Even further than that there are a few different enemy types and one in particular is impossible to grapple and will actually try to throw you around. This forces some tactics of crowd control before you can go impaling people on exposed rebar. But at the end of the fight you totally get to impale some dude on exposed rebar.
This all ties into the cinematic experience I keep bringing up to the point that while Sleeping Dogs is a purely single-player undertaking it’s a game that can be played with company over and everybody else will have a blast just watching. There’s something special about a game that can cause people watching over your shoulder to cry out in excitement at the action going on.
To break up the action you can of course pick up a gun through your adventure and the transition from brawler to third person shooter is incredibly seamless. The shooting feels solid and I imagine if one were able to consistently hold onto a gun you could easily play the entire game with mostly shooting should you feel like it. In an interesting design move you only have a single gun on you at any time, rather than sporting some insane arsenal to constantly fall back on.
During both types of combat I found the AI in the game to be pretty smart. Enemies would take cover if you were shooting at them and wouldn’t just pop their head out at random waiting to see if you were going to stop any time soon. They seemed to make a conscious effort to not stand right next to explosive items in the environment and when fighting hand to hand actually fought you in a group rather than the “lets each take a turn getting our asses handed to us” tactic.
You had to constantly be on your toes and while part of this was learning how the game functions with it being my first time playing it I found that things weren’t necessarily on the easy side of things and you have to be on your toes at all times.
Similar to the brawling and shooting the driving is just as well done with plenty of action movie touches to keep things interesting. At one point I snagged a motorcycle just to get to a mission faster and found that pressing A had you sit up on the seat a little bit. After a brief explanation I pulled up beside a passing moving truck and a button prompt appeared which had me leap from the motorcycle to the back of the truck, hanging off the edge.
Later in the demo we got to take part in a street race which in true action movie style centered around a girl and some competition over here of some fashion. At the heart it was a simple checkpoint style race to end in first place and with very tight arcade-style driving controls it would have remained such, except this is Sleeping Dogs where it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you have to look cool doing it.
To that end the game features a simple mechanic while driving where with the press of a button when another car gets close you can shove into them, pushing them out of the way. Normally this will just slow them down a little bit but with some timing and finesse you can easily send them smashing into a building or down the wrong path, putting them out of the game for much longer.
Sleeping Dogs is all about style. The entire game has a focus on looking cool and doing awesome stuff, while at the same time not sacrificing anything under the hood to get this done. While the demo I played was still an Alpha build I found the game to be feeling incredibly tight across the board already.
Whether you’re a fan of Hong Kong cinema or action/martial arts movies, open world games or just telling a great story Sleeping Dogs is something you’re going to definitely want to keep an eye on. I can safely say that prior to PAX East I honestly knew next to nothing about this game and within the first five minutes of playing I knew it was something I would be following very closely.
A true cinematic experience, make sure to follow this one closely.