Sleeping Dogs Hands-on Preview
A third mission, “Fast Girls,” was available hands-on. Accompanied by two comely females, Wei enters into a street race. The girls decide to stay in the car, prompting a hilarious response from a rival driver: “the extra weight will slow you down, idiot!” Unfortunately, this also results in repetitive, vapid commentary during the race itself. One line — “my heart is beating SOOOOO fast” — outstayed its welcome by a large margin.
The race takes place on an improvised course through the city. Driving physics seemed relatively arcadey, and pressing the X button deployed a brief speed boost that was useful for ramming other racers as they zoomed past, causing them to spin out.
In addition to racing, Sleeping Dogs provides plenty of other subsidiary activities. Wei’s clothing can be extensively customized, as can his fleet of motor vehicles. The game also offers a number of distinctively Hongkongese activities, including Mah Jongg and even cockfighting (can’t be cruel to animals if they aren’t real, one assumes). Multiplayer is not an option, although Skupa, the United Front developer, promised an extensive array of leaderboards and challenges that will enable friends to compete against each other.
Over the course of the game, Wei will generate experience along three tracks. The first, “Face,” is a general-purpose track that represents respect and accomplishment. Earn enough Face, and you’ll gain access to additional mission-givers and the content they provide. If you’re careful during missions, and avoid civilian casualties and property damage, you’ll earn XP along the “Police” track, which confers special bonuses. So too the “Triads” track, which rewards more delinquent behavior.
There’s no question that the game can deliver on its unique, creative setting — hands-on experience left no doubt of that. Nevertheless, much of the game seemed derivative: The UI was effectively a GTA clone, and the combat screamed Batman, though Skupa refused to cop to the influence. Success will depend on whether or not the developers can deliver on their promise of best-in-class mechanics — otherwise, there’s not much to distinguish Sleeping Dogs from its open-world competitors.
The character of Wei Shen is another crucial factor. In an early cutscene, Jackie Ma makes a veiled reference to time spent in the U.S. During the interview, Skupa alluded to dark secrets in Wei’s past. The developer also defined the character in terms of a conflict of “identity,” certainly a potent theme. Will Wei succumb to the temptations of the Triads? Or maintain his cover, and eventually save the day? Will he have depth and personality, or just a panoply of bitchin’ tats? Answers will arrive, along with Sleeping Dogs itself, sometime during Summer 2012.