When I first picked up Sleeping Dogs at PAX East 2012, I thought to myself, "Wow, this game looks pretty polished for a relatively freshly announced game." How quickly we forget, right? Sleeping Dogs used to be True Crime: Hong Kong, and judging by how much of the game seems to be in place already, I'd say they were wrapping up production on True Crime: HK before the plug was pulled.
Sleeping Dogs is an open-world, crime shooter with some racing elements. Sleeping Dogs' most noticeable asset is its location: the mean, neon streets of Hong Kong. We often say the world a game is set in can be just as important a character as any companion NPC, games like BioShock fall under this. In my first few minutes playing Sleeping Dogs, I felt as though its interpretation of Hong Kong could be just as important.
The game begins in a Chinese food restaurant; I guess in China they just call it a restaurant. A group of men clad in tattoos, wife-beaters, and gold chains are arguing. Someone owes someone else money, and I have feeling they want me to beat it out of him. I got this.
Outside the restaurant were the streets of Hong Kong. There was confetti on the streets, neon lights on every wall, and Chinese lanterns hung from every corner. The street was filled with rows of kiosks. Each stand had a merchant with his or her own dialogue trying to persuade me to buy whatever product they were peddling.
I spotted the guy who owed me money, Ming, because of my keen eyesight and because there was a giant red circle over his head indicating it's time for a chase. Holding down A sends your character speeding after the perp. At this speed, it becomes easy to run up walls, under polls, and to scale buildings in your path. It's not Ezio climbing, but it is pretty parkour. As I chased Ming I plowed into NPCs, who I might add all dressed trendy.
Some of the female characters, dressed in miniskirts, were on their cell phones as I ran past. If I was clumsy, and I was, I would run into them knocking their phones out of their hands, leaving them screaming. I thought it was a nice attention to detail and nod to realism.
Ming eventually got away, leaving me with a few of his thugs to deal with. Up until this point of the demo, I was impressed, but the melee combat felt like it needed some work. The B button was grapple and X was punch. There wasn't much else for me to do. I don't know if I wanted combos, but some variety would have been preferable. Each thug went down after a few punches to their ever bloodying face, and no one attacked me while I was taking care of someone. That's great for me, not so great for the level of realism I thought they were going for.
When this brawl was winding down, I noticed I had one guy left and the dumpster to my right began glowing red. I didn't have a gun, so I couldn't shoot the dumpster. The logical next step was to drag the thug over to it. When we were close enough, I initiated a mini quick-time event, shoving his head under the dumpster lid and then his whole body inside. Okay, I'm impressed again.
More chasing, and more beatdowns were on the menu. When I caught up with Ming on top of a roof I noticed another red glowing item, this time it was an air conditioning fan. I dragged a thug over and shoved his face into the spinning blades. Go ahead and imagine how that looked, because it was awesome. After I confronted Ming, the cops showed up. They call me Mr. Chen and arrest me. Fade to black.
The next scene in the demo had me playing as a well dressed man in a beige suit, in a fancy apartment. I headed downstairs to see a different side of Hong Kong. It was night, raining, and there were less people, less neon. I must have been in a classier part of town, because I walked over to the garage to see I had a motorcycle and a fancy sports car to take out for a spin. I chose the car.
Like in real life, I can't drive. I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to the people of fake Hong Kong, I ran over many of you. It got to the point where even when I was staying on the road NPCs would freak out and throw themselves even further out of the way. I don't know if that was a result of the game not being completed, or being so advanced it knew to make up for my atrocious driving skills. I reached my location, another fade to black.
In the next scene, I'm the same man from the beginning, but I'm in the custody of men dressed in black suits and armed with hammers. Mr. Chen is being tortured. After the scene played out, Chen was left weak, bleeding, and shirtless. Somehow he managed to crawl over to some of the power tools the triads left behind and freed himself. With my help, Chen was ready to kick some triad ass.
I strangled the first baddie to show up with a light bulb cord. The next didn't die quite so nobly; while he was peeing, I punched him and drowned him in the toilet. Downstairs some men were hanging out around a TV -- oh, and would you look at that, a power saw table was in the corner. The moment I saw that power saw glow red, I knew what had to be done. Exposed pipes to my left? Yes, I would like to impale someone. Since I still wasn't armed, these combat scenarios were still melee and still felt clunky, but the variety of objects I could use to kill enemies made these battles downright fun.
As I continued with the escape, I finally came across a thug with a gun. The shooting mechanics seemed hit or miss. The first gun I acquired was a shotgun, and it could only hit enemies who were very close. But a red tank that could be blown up that was the same distance away got away without a scratch. My aim could have been off, but it felt unbalanced, at least in the beginning of the battle. Once I picked up an assault rifle, I was a force to be reckoned with. A few more rooms, a few more bullets, and I had my escape. Fade to black again.
There was a part four to the demo, but it was a car race. I decided I had caused the NPCs of Hong Kong enough damage for one day. From what I saw in the demo, Sleeping Dogs has serious potential. Melee combat needs some work, but the story and the environment were compelling enough that I was able to look past the flaws, and the demo left me wanting more, the key to a succesful convention showing.