Sleeping Dogs is an action open-world title by United Front Games. Set in an impressively-realised fictional version of Hong Kong, it follows an undercover cop looking to take down the triads. At the core of the game is a deep and involved martial arts hand-to-hand combat system inspired by Hong Kong cinema.
Formerly known as True Crime: Hong Kong, Square Enix picked up the publishing rights when the project was cancelled by Activision back in early 2011. However, none of this seems to have affected the game adversely; we came away from a hands-on session thinking - if anything - the extra development time has allowed United Front Games to deliver a better experience.
The streets of Hong Kong
One of the most impressive aspects about Sleeping Dogs was the level of authenticity achieved in replicating Hong Kong - from the architecture and crowded well-lit streets to the more minute details like kitchens, dinner tables and shrines. Tens of thousands of photos were taken by the development team as research, and the effort really does show.
This extends to the ambient noise, too, as pedestrians all speak (and curse at you) in Cantonese using native voice actors. Meanwhile, prominent English-speaking Chinese characters in the story are all played by Hong Kong-born or raised actors, bringing believably-accented speech.
The look of the vehicles has also been nailed. Anyone who's visited Hong Kong may immediately recognise the shiny red taxis and the green-and-yellow rusty minibuses, and even better, they drive just as you'd expect them to - the taxi is fairly nimble, while the minibus is slow and incredibly tough to steer near its top speed. In fact, each of the 65 different types of vehicles in the game - ranging from sports cars to motorbikes - all handle in their own unique way.
Of course, like most other games of its ilk, commit a crime or two and cops will be dispatched to take you down. Early on, they'll use non-lethal means in an attempt to arrest you, but continue being a danger on the streets instead of fleeing and they'll draw their weapons and call reinforcements.
Martial arts, gunfights and slow-motion
In keeping with the Hong Kong vibe, most of the combat revolves around martial arts and hand-to-hand combat. Combos of button presses allows protagonist Wei Shen to pull off various moves, from simple punches to roundhouse kicks. When an enemy is throwing a punch, it can be countered with a button to give you the upper hand.
Furthermore, much like in martial arts films, the environment can be used to your advantage. If you grab another person, things you can interact with glow in red. There's a good variety in the takedowns - for instance, Wei can knock guys out with a payphone, hurl them into a garbage dump or take them out in more violent ways like shoving their face into a stove.
Everything combines to make a combat system that is satisfying to play, and it's a good feeling when you come out on top of a fight in which you were clearly outnumbered.
That said, players don't have to always rely on your fists to get the job done. As the game progresses, Wei will be able to get his hands on melee weapons (such as cleavers) and guns like your typical pistols, submachine guns and assault rifles. Standard cover mechanics are implemented, but the game is keen to keep the action fast-paced and actively discourages players from spending too long hiding.
Most forms of cover are destructible, and Wei can only recover half of his health through regeneration. In a bid to push players to take the fight to the enemy, the developer has also added a vault-shooting mechanic. By vaulting over cover, the action goes into slow motion, giving players that extra edge to line up head shots before anyone can respond.
Customisation and side activities
After each story mission - in which undercover cop Wei becomes further and further entrenched with the triads in a bid to take them down - the player is awarded police and triad points depending on how they play. Triad points can be gained from killing innocent people and damaging property, while being efficient at taking thugs down is rewarded with police points. These points go into an upgrade tree, allowing Wei to learn new moves in combat.
Customisation extends to the clothes Wei wears, as bonuses can be earned by completing an outfit (matching top, bottom and shoes). For example, heat level from the police can be lowered by wearing a cop uniform, and being dressed in tourist attire will humorously raise shop prices by 20%.
There's also an array of side activities to tackle including favours, illegal street races, karaoke and mah-jong minigames, and detective work which involves phone tracing, hacking and bug planting.
Sleeping Dogs is shaping up to be an entertaining action open-world game, and with the amount of promise the title holds, we're more than glad that Square Enix saw something in it. We're looking forward to seeing the final product when it hits stores this summer.
Sleeping Dogs will launch on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on August 14 in North America and August 17 in Europe.
> Sleeping Dogs interview: United Front Games on Hong Kong inspiration
Watch a trailer for Sleeping Dogs below: