It's not every day you see a game rise from the dead. But that's precisely what happened with Sleeping Dogs, the game formerly known as True Crime: Hong Kong. A Square Enix exec claimed that former publisher Activision was "crazy" for dropping the title, and after some time with it, I'd agree.
Open-world games are probably the most difficult games to develop. These games require a lot of dev power to create a city's worth of assets, and the varied game mechanics open-world games demand. I had my doubts that United Front Games, the studio behind the ModNation Racers games, could possibly have the manpower to create an open-world game with polish. Creating a GTA clone in Hong Kong certainly seems like a far more daunting endeavor than LittleBigPlanet Karting.
Sleeping Dogs does falter in places where Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto games shine. Most noticeably, it's nowhere as pretty as a game running in Rockstar's RAGE engine. There's a certain lack of polish, with the world feeling less detailed than other high-profile open-world offerings.
However, Sleeping Dogs makes up for those shortcomings by excelling at gameplay. Whereas hand-to-hand combat has never been a strength in Rockstar's crime adventures, it's the focal point of Sleeping Dogs. The combat system is rather easy to pick up, with the requisite attack and block buttons. However, your character can learn a number of new combos that really open up the way you approach fights.
The game's melee combat harkens back to classic coin-op arcade games, as there are a number of objects in the environment you can interact with. Yes, feel free to pick up that bat lying on the floor. But if you happen to find yourself near a key environmental object, you can perform context-sensitive finishing moves--smashing an opponent into a telephone booth, for example.
Driving around the environment feels great, as well. It should be unsurprising, given United Front's experience in developing racing games. However, it's refreshing to have an open world game where driving simply feels good. Watch out though, people drive on the left side of the road in Hong Kong.
Being able to drive around Hong Kong is a pleasure. While it may not be as iconic of a city as New York or Los Angeles, it is a beautiful city, one that deserves a proper video game adaptation. While the game doesn't offer building-level accuracy, many of the city's iconic landmarks, like Victoria Peak, are intact. I was impressed to see the world map, which spans not only Central, but reaches out to Aberdeen, Kennedy Town, and more.
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Being inspired by hard-boiled Hong Kong action flicks, Sleeping Dogs' story aims for that middle ground between "good" and "bad," as you play a cop that must do some gruesome things to keep his cover in the dangerous Hong Kong underworld. Unfortunately, while there is a morality system of sorts, it is quite simplistic. You can complete missions that gain favor in the eyes of the cops, and complete missions that gain favor from the gangs. As you level up your cred on both sides, you'll be able to unlock new abilities. You're allowed to replay missions as you see fit, so you're entirely free to maximize both good and bad. You'll want to have the best abilities, won't you? It's a tad unfortunate to see United Front Games not attempt something with a bit more complexity.
While Sleeping Dogs may not be the best-looking open-world game ever, its solid gameplay can make it a worthwhile contender in the genre. Sure, Grand Theft Auto V is on the horizon--but given its unique locale and Hong Kong action flick-inspired story, Sleeping Dogs has a lot to offer.
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