Posted on February 17, 2012, Ben Richardson Sleeping Dogs Hands-on Preview
Sleeping Dogs didn’t always have such a cryptic title. Way back in 2009, the game was called True Crime: Hong Kong, which got right to the heart of the matter. Since then, Sleeping Dogs and developers United Front Games have been caught in development purgatory, which finally ended when the rights to the game were dropped by Activision and picked up by Square Enix London Studios, the game’s current publisher. Together, Square Enix and United Front worked to craft an open-world game with an unusual emphasis on quality fighting, driving, and free-running mechanics.
The game is clearly a labor of love for the developers, who did extensive research to ensure that it could convincingly capture Sleeping Dogs’ unique setting. A fact-finding mission to Hong Kong resulted in thousands of photographs and interviews with former Triad criminals. The studio was impressed by the city’s dense urbanity and what developer Mike Skupa described in an in-person interview as “canyon-like” streets. Despite Hong Kong’s complex geography, players will be limited to a single region: Hong Kong island itself, bristling with skyscrapers.
Initial inspiration for the game came courtesy of the city’s prolific film industry, which launched the careers of international superstars like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Chow Yun-Fat. Skupa reserved particular praise for Hong Kong classic “Infernal Affairs,” which was the basis for the 2006 film “The Departed.”
Like Leonardo DiCaprio in Scorcese’s Oscar-winning movie, Sleeping Dogs protagonist Wei Shen is an undercover cop. As the developer walkthrough began, in the bowels of a dormant San Francisco nightclub, we met Wei (back in virtual Hong Kong) in a holding cell. While petty criminals mill about, the heavily muscled, heavily tattooed hero reconnects with his childhood friend Jackie Ma, now a small-time hood. Wei intimates that he’s looking to get in on some action; Jackie is only too happy to provide.
Cut to: an interrogation room, where Wei meets his two handlers — one Caucasian, one Asian. The whole sequence in the holding cell, it turns out, was staged. Jackie Ma, they explain, is only the first link in a chain that leads to more powerful Triads. The HKPD suits question whether Wei is up to the task; he responds by playing the cocky rogue cop to the hilt. He grew up with these guys, he explains, and knows how to move in their world. The Asian suit isn’t buying it, but his grim-faced partner assures him that their plan will work. They send Wei on his way to carry out his mission.
The walkthrough then moved on to a mission, “Night Market,” which was also subsequently available for hands-on consumption. Events begin inside a restaurant, where Wei meets with Jackie and another childhood friend, Winston Chu, a hulking criminal who sics his undercover brother on a local hustler who’s been overstepping his bounds.
Walking away from the table provides the first taste of Sleeping Dogs in action, though the game is still in alpha. The level design demonstrates impressive attention to detail — United Front have done a great job bringing Hong Kong to life. Character animations were another matter — people seem to slide around the ground, and controlling Wei feels jerky and slightly uncertain.