I knew nothing of the True Crime series, and was only vaguely aware of the third title that hung in limbo. But when Square Enix announced they would be releasing the game re-branded as Sleeping Dogs, it was hard not to take notice.
The biggest difference between Sleeping Dogs and most open-world shooters is it’s distinct focus on hand-to-hand martial arts, rather than constant run-and-gun play. While firearms are in the game, they take a back seat to classic Hong Kong beat-em-up action. Combat itself relies on combo-based moves and counters that really reminded me of Rockesteady’s stellar Batman series.
These moves are both stylish and brutal, and like every other aspect of the game we saw, very much recreate the feel of the classic movies they are based on.
Wading through the crowds at PAX East, I was able to check out the game for myself. I was also lucky enough to find a few quiet moments to talk with Producer Dan Sochan, who had a lot to say about the game.
Steve: Open world games are great for gamers who want the freedom to go out and do whatever they want, but I find these games often struggle to maintain a clear focus through to the end of their stories. Is there anything you’ve done with Sleeping Dogs to try to maintain that focus?
Dan: We’re very mission driven — we’ve put a lot of time and effort into the missions. We worked with a lot of Hollywood writers who have worked on movies and projects like these, things like Infernal Affairs and The Departed. We were able to use their expertise to create a narrative where you want to know more. Where you’re not sure who you trust anymore. Where you have to do these sorta terrible things to stay undercover. So it really drives the gameplay, where you’re not just running around, but driving, shooting, shooting from cars, and all sorts of different things to move the story forward.
S: Have there been any changes to the game since Square Enix took over?
D: It’s been great. Square really understands open world games and fluid combat systems. The game was mostly the way it is now, but we’ve been able to spend time with them to polish the controls and combat. The additional time has been amazing for us. We always believed in the game, so we just continued working on it. We just knew we had something special here.
S: What kind of side missions can we expect in the game?
D: There’s definitely no shortage of secondary content. There’s police cases, where your building up cases against someone while still trying to maintain your cover. Taking photos of evidence. Hacking. Planting bugs. There’s ambient thugs around the world, and you can kind of rough them up. Capture them on security cameras and they get arrested and it’ll clear them out.
Through these you gain reputation, with which you can access a better apartment, clothes, and stuff. They’ll also provide futher contacts for even better missions.
S: So this content is still very tied to your overall role as an undercover cop, and offers real benefits for completing. You’re not just delivering pizza for a few extra dollars to buy shoes with.
S: Is there any kind of player progression?
D: Yes! The player at the beginning isn’t the same player as he is by the end. Missions can give you cop points or Triad points, or both, depending on how you handle the missions. Then you can unlock new moves and combos.
S: I always like to ask, what part of the game are you most excited about?
D: We’re excited to bring all those martial arts aspects to the hand-to-hand combat with environmental objects. Like you see in the movies — where you have to use things in the environment to kinda save your bacon so you can get out of there alive.
Our challenge was that he’s not a super-hero. He can’t just fly across the room to hit someone. So we had to incorporate a lot of martial arts; roundhouses and things that let you pull off these moves fluidly but still feel intuitive.
S: Was it difficult to incorporate firearms into a game so heavily focused on hand-to-hand combat?
D: It really was. We didn’t decide to even add firearms until a little later on, but I’m glad we did. They’re treated more like a power-up; you don’t carry a weapon on you. You’ll have limited ammo and you’ll often have to get a firearm by disarming an enemy first.
S: Thank you very much for taking the time to meet with us! Oh, and I think I legally have to ask this. Release date?
D: Late Summer, that’s all I can say at this point.
S: I think you know more than that. Sure you can’t tell me?
D: Sorry, PR has us trained well. But expect an announcement shortly! (Square Enix has since announced an August 14 release for the US.)
Sleeping Dogs seems to hit all the right notes — from a gripping, gritty atmosphere to brutal, fluid combat. Look for it on August 14 for PC, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360.Posted in Previews by Steve R Gibson on April 13, 2012